Swadeshi 2.0— Harnessing Innovation for Inclusion

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Market-led technological development is primarily based on utilitarian ideals and comes with its own intentional and unintentional perils, often leaving the social good behind. Swadeshi 2.0 must ensure ease of access and indigenisation of technology

-Purva Bhatt & Subhadra Papriwal

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India has to seek solutions to upcoming challenges using its own framework and technology
The entire world is undergoing the most significant social experiment. The world from now will be juxtaposed as BC- Before COVID and PC-Post COVID. All countries are re-engineering their priorities, preferences, and technologies in favour of humankind. Suddenly the news of technological advances such as Amazon’s Alexa or Google’s Duplex has been sabotaged by indigenous technological innovations that assisting humanity to combat the contagion.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the fore excruciating stories of distress, hardship, and grief. Though humankind has lost on multiple ends yet post COVID we will be clinched with- experience. The post-COVID situation would present us with an option of “reset” button, which should be conceived as an opportunity to set new and indigenous defaults.
Most of us at least once must’ve smirked or even got infuriated when our grandfather insisted us to remove footwear outside homes. We often were amused how our grandmother was so particular about kitchen hygiene or her caution regarding eating at a Public restaurant or her making us chew neem or tulsi with charnamrut to boost our immunity. We all have at least once if not consciously then subconsciously been guilty to consider daily rituals performed by our grandparents as unscientific hence foolish.
However, presently the entire world is conceding and embracing Indian lifestyle changes. The ritual performed in a typical Indian household are essentially practical applications of scientific knowledge, which per se is also the definition of technology! If not to the traditional wisdom, we finally have to succumb to contemporary technologies. Whether sanitizer dispensers or robotic units, now all the restaurants, industries are compelled to use them in order to ensure food and personal hygiene. These technologies were embraced by members of society in the form of rituals, traditions or customs. As there has never been a concept of ownership of knowledge in Indian civilization, therefore the contributions made by scholars such as AryaBhatt, Sushrut, Charak, Kanad, Brahmagupta, Pingala were also seen as the property of society as a whole. The knowledge, wisdom, and experience of sages and seers which was much beyond limited the limited construct of western scientific knowledge, was simplified in the form of rituals and hitherto passed on from generation to generation in the form of culture. This flow was hindered while aping the market-centric development model of the west.
This dominance of the market-centric development can be opposed against society-centric development in India. Whereas the former can be blamed for creating discordant between technological development and social good, India, which followed society-led development model in the past never experienced such dichotomy. All technological advances were made keeping society at the core. Anupam Mishra in his book “Aaj Bhi Khare hai Talaab” narrates not only the indigenous water conservation techniques developed by the Indian society or Samaj but also the development and adoption of indigenous technologies by the Samaj for social good. Only in the state of Mysore, more than thirty-two thousand water-conserving systems such as lakes and ponds were present. This was done not by the state but was assumed as a responsibility by the members of Samaj themselves. Though the Raja made voluntary financial contributions, the ownership lied in the realm of Samaj.
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Technological innovation hubs should bolster and encourage grassroots innovations
From Ram Setu to Aarogya Setu India has been an exemplar in leading life through creating synergies of technology with the society. This can be held as the fundamental philosophy of India is based on Ekatma, the integral unity of Vyashti, Samasthi, Shrishti, and Parameshti. Therefore, all the cumulative knowledge, application, and development of technology helped in creating equilibrium not just between man and society but also further till the extent of cosmos.
As market-led technological development is primarily based on utilitarian ideals, it comes with its own intentional and unintentional perils, often leaving the social good behind. One must note whether it was healthcare, Ayurved, water management organic architecture, agriculture, metallurgy, craft, the traditional knowledge systems laid gravitas on prevention rather than cure. This thought, therefore, has been systematically sabotaged by neo techno-commercial giants, (for instance, the pharma giants). Yoga—A science of protection, a philosophy of aarogya, and technology of ensuring mental well-being was put on the fringe for centuries before well-being stalwarts of the west could recognize it. As this did not bring in commercial yield to tech tycoons, therefore, was denied recognition on the commercial canvas of the world. Indian civilization, on the other hand, never misplaced its technological priorities leveraging undue gravitas on the markets, it invariably placed social welfare at the core. The accessibility of technology wasn’t a luxury afforded by a few but was widely adopted by society as a whole. This is what can be referred to as Swadeshi Technology or indigenisation of technology. It is striking to note that amidst the pandemic there have been visible green sprouts wherein one witnesses such society led technological developments.
Post COVID19, India should increasingly locus on creating linkages and knowledge flows among multiple social, private, and public institutions to create a technological innovation ecosystem
The COVID-19 Research Consortium Program by the Department of Biotechnology and the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council is creating synergies by inviting pitches from market, society, academia to partner in developing with a focus on affordable diagnostics, vaccines, drugs to combat Covid19. The example of indigenous testing kits developed by Mylab demonstrates the ideal relationship between the state, society, and markets. Enveloped with the aim of social welfare, expediting decisions taken by the government, Mylab was able to manufacture Swadeshi Diagnostic kits, which costs nearly one-fourth of currently procured kits. India’s first organic disinfectant tunnel was built in just two days using local materials and workforce. The feet operated washbasin developed by Jammu Police or the low-cost PPEs conducive to the local conditions of India, to the low-cost ventilators and surgical masks, all substantiate the efficacy of results when all the members of society—doctors, scientists, engineers, students, entrepreneurs, policy members from the government come together to work round the clock to provide technological solutions fight microbe-ridden covi1d9.
India is strategically at an advantage to lead the upcoming technological development by offering an ingenious solution. Post Covid-19, India should levy increasing locus on creating linkages and knowledge flows among multiple social, private, and public institutions including universities, research laboratories, and small and medium businesses to create a technological innovation ecosystem. These should primarily be premised on the ideals of social development and embrace ingenious knowledge. Such technological innovation hubs should bolster and encourage grassroots innovations, expand the skills and knowledge base of its population, and facilitate social entrepreneurship. This will thus help India broaden its knowledge economy while making its technological innovations ingenious, socially inclusive and internationally competitive.
India should harness its technical adroitness to deliver social justice and welfare which it has already exhibited by developing its society centric technological developments like implementation of Aadhar Card and Aarogya Setu app
Instead of heeding to technological pessimists, India should harness its technical adroitness to deliver social justice and welfare. While the neo Luddites have always cast their whimsical aspersions on India’s readiness to embrace technological innovations, India has ever bereft them of speech while repeatedly exhibiting its society centric technological developments whether during the Pokhran Nuclear Test, implementation of Aadhar Card or the most recent Aarogya Setu app. Ironically it is the same Aadhar card used by the government of the day to transfer the direct benefit to alleviate the hardship of the vulnerable
The technocrats hence need to ponder as to how technology can be leveraged to ensure social justice. Can technology help a tribal family get its ration? Can it ensure the security of a Scheduled Caste girl living at a remote location? Can the 5G technology reduce road accidents in India to which almost 1.5 lac people succumb their lives, every year, can it help in affordable healthcare solutions, can technology create opportunities, provide access, augment the capacities and bargaining power vulnerable, destitute, marginalised?
Can technology give the common man of the nation gumption to dream?
The aforementioned isn’t a utopian dream or romanticised fallacy, but an achievable goal that can be achieved when India leads a sustainable technological path to development by primarily reflecting on its indigenous schools of thought and secondly embracing the concept of Swadeshi Samaj wherein the development is essentially society led.
(Purva Bhatt is a research scholar at Malaviya National Institute of Technology. Subhadra Papriwal is a political analysist and President of Karuna Foundation)