India’s tech industry is drunk on a toxic cocktail

What do you get when Western neoliberal values of silicon valley mix with India's hierarchical, divided and trustless society.

Some years ago, Modi government responded to worsening unemployment with standard neoliberal bullshit like “every graduate is an entrepreneur, jobs in new India are all about startups” blah blah blah… It wasn’t funny back then but it wasn’t surprising either.

For young graduates with social/cultural/financial capital this is great; a freedom pass, really. No longer did they need to convince their parents about why they aren’t going to try to get a job, and why they will sit at home and make a future for themselves with their friends. Most jobs today are insecure, thanks to big capital. Labour laws have been dissolved to make sure private company owners, directors, executives don’t have to share profits with their employees who are creating the wealth. This wealth has lobbied for privatization, essentially destroying the public sector leading to high rates of unemployment and underemployment.

India’s IT industry never really had a significant public sector anyway. So for engineers in computer science, information technology, computer applications etc. there are only two options today: either fight it out in the small private job market or, if you can afford it, start something of your own. Choice is great but for a many this isn’t really a choice, is it.

India’s startup “industry”, or rather culture, is actually worse than the stink of silicon valley. Not only do most startups have terrible work environments and ethics, while promoting marketing over anything else involved, they also have not even acknowledged the lack of diversity (gender, caste, language, regional) within their teams or leadership. Forget any radical attempts to fix the problem.

What makes things really toxic: None of the skilled workers in IT have any academic understanding of society, history or culture. Social studies has no real presence in curriculums of software developers. And anyway, right from the start we push the narrative that “humanities is for low scoring students”.

The end result is clear – information technology has become a driver of conservative social and political action in India. There was a time when we would debate whether tech has improved or helped different communities, probably did a little, but now the conclusion is quite clear.

Dominant caste Hindu men (almost always) are at the “forefront” of tech innovation. And they have the backing of this government and the ruling elite in general.

Terrible ideas like Aadhaar, biometrics/facial ID, cashless payments, even blockchain for voting are supposed to be products of these highly skilled innovators. And website’s auctioning Muslim women online are supposed to be their edgy hacks. From wikipedia battles over history, to exploiting social network APIs to push fake news, seems like India’s tech culture is another version of QAnon shit in the mainstream.

These “hackers”, “innovators” and “elevator pitchers” are getting something out of all this. Either political capital or financial investment. And we have nothing much to fight back with.

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