New Delhi: Sania Mirza’s latest Grand Slam triumph at Wimbledon is a testament to what Indian women are capable of achieving, but there is a long way to go before change sets in for most women who wish to take up sports as a profession in this country, feels badminton ace Saina Nehwal.
In the past few years, the likes of Sania, Dipika Pallikal (squash), Saina, Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa (all badminton) have done India proud with their unprecedented feats.
However, World No.2 Saina admits that despite the global success of Indian women in sports, there is a lack of enthusiasm for sports education for girls in the country.
“Changes are happening and girls continue to outperform and excel in life, but there is still a long way to go when it comes to sports. Women are traditionally not encouraged to indulge in sports,” Saina told IANS in an email interaction on her association with Microsoft’s #MakeItHappen campaign.
As part of the campaign, she has motivated Indian youth to follow their dreams – via a video titled “Umeedein” – and shows sports being brought into an all-girls school.
“Apart from being a relevant topic, it is close to my heart and one that has the potential of giving this country many more proud moments,” said Saina, who brought home the first and only Olympic medal for India in badminton.
“The video carries a message for the Indian youth to follow their dreams. I wanted to communicate to parents and stakeholders to let girls experiment and give them freedom of choice so that they can opt for the best possible career for them,” she said of the initiative.
The Hyderabadi also stressed while “female education is something everyone can get enthused about, but when it comes to girls taking up sports as a profession, that enthusiasm vanishes”.
“One of the reasons is the assumption that sports cannot be a profession for girls and that it distracts them from doing well at studies. In my experience, I have met a lot of girls who are equally interested in sports but lack a proper direction to take their interest forward,” said the 25-year-old.
“They are still being pushed to do well at studies and try and build a career in professions ‘perceived’ as made for girls. People, especially, from tier-II and tier-III towns are often disadvantaged as they do not get as many opportunities as people from the metros. We need good sports people who can make our country proud.”
Saina’s said her professional entry into the sport was by chance.
“I was spotted by coach P.S.S. Nani Prasad Rao in Hyderabad. He agreed to take me under his wing as a trainee at the Sports Authority of Andhra Pradesh (SAAP) summer camp in 1999. I have been fortunate to have always got encouragement and support. I was spotted while playing at school. Hence, I am a big believer of encouraging girls to take up sports,” she said, adding that there’s no ideal age for sports education.
Saina also hopes her story, “among other stories of success, can help bring about a nationwide change in the mindset of people who still go by old perceptions”.
India has done well to stay ahead of the curve in the technological revolution
The sectoral change in productivity has been the highest in the telecommunications sector since the reforms of 1991
India has managed to provide the cheapest telephony services around the world
For the most part of human history, the change was glacial in pace. It was quite safe to assume that the world at the time of your death would look pretty much similar to the one at the time of your birth. That is no longer the case, and the pace of change seems to be growing exponentially. Futurist Ray Kurzweil put it succinctly when he wrote in 2001: “We won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century – it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate).” Since the time of his writing, a lot has changed, especially with the advent of the internet.
India has done well to stay ahead of the curve in the technological revolution. The country’s hyper-competitive telecom sector has led the revolution from the front. In fact, according to Reserve Bank of India data, the sectoral change in productivity has been the highest in the telecommunications sector since the reforms of 1991, growing by over 10 percent. On the other hand, no other sector has had a productivity growth of above five percent during the same period. It is no wonder that it has also been one of the fastest-growing sectors of the Indian economy, growing at over seven percent in the last decade itself.
Such an unprecedented pace of growth has been brought about the precise levels of change that Kurzweil was so enthusiastic about. Today’s smartphones have the power of computers that took an entire room in the 1990s, and the telecom sector has had to keep up with a provision of commensurate internet speeds and services. Meanwhile, India has managed to provide the cheapest telephony services around the world, which has hit rock bottom after the entry of Reliance Jio. This has ensured access to those even at the bottom of the pyramid.
Even though consumers have come to be accustomed to fast-paced changes within the telecom sector, the entry of Jio altered the face of the industry like never before by changing the very basis of competition. Data became the focal point of competition for an industry that derived over 75 percent of its revenue from voice. It was quite obvious that there would be immediate economic effects due to it. Now that we’re nearing a year of Jio’s paid operations, during which time it has even become profitable, we saw it fit to quantify its socio-economic impact on the country. Three broad takeaways need to be highlighted.
First, the most evident effect has been the rise in affordability of calling and data services. Voice services have become practically costless while data prices have dropped from an average of Rs 152 per GB to lower than Rs 10 per GB. Such a drastic reduction in data prices has not only brought the internet within the reach of a larger proportion of the Indian population but has also allowed newer segments of society to use and experience it for the first time. Since the monthly saving of an average internet user came out to be Rs 142 per month (taking a conservative estimate that the consumer is still using 1 GB of data each month) and there are about 350 million mobile internet users in the country (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India data), the yearly financial savings for the entire country comes out to be Rs 60,000 crore.
To put things in perspective, this amount is more than four times the entire GDP of Bhutan. Therefore, mere savings by the consumer on data has been at astonishing proportions.
Now, this data has been used for services that have brought to life a thriving app economy within the country. So, the second level of impact has been in the redressal of a variety of consumer needs — ranging from education, health and entertainment to banking. For instance, students in remote areas can now access online courseware and small businesses can access newer markets. Information asymmetry has been considerably reduced.
Third, a rise in internet penetration has distinct positive effects on economic growth of a country. These effects arise not merely from the creation of an internet economy, but also due to the synergy effects it generates. Information becomes more accessible and communication a lot easier. Businesses find it easier to operate and access consumers. Labour working in cities has to make less frequent trips home and becomes more productive as a result. Education and health services become available in inaccessible locations. Multiple avenues open up for knowledge and skill enhancement.
An econometric analysis for the Indian economy showed that the 15 percent increase in internet penetration due to Jio and the spill-over effects it creates will raise the per capita levels of the country’s GDP by 5.85 percent, provided all else remains constant.
Thus, India’s telecom sector will continue to drive the economy forward, at least in the short run, and hopefully catapult India into 20,000 years of progress within this century, as Kurzweil postulated. The best approach for the state would be to ensure the environment of unfettered competition within the industry. Maybe other sectors of the economy ought to take a leaf out of the telecom growth story. The Indian banking sector comes to mind. However, that is a topic for another day. (IANS)
(Amit Kapoor is Chair, Institute for Competitiveness, India. He can be contacted at Amit. Kapoor@competitiveness.in and tweets @kautiliya. Chirag Yadav, a senior researcher at the institute, has contributed to the article.)