A chasm between education and expectations leaves Indians unprepared for their country’s realities

The just-pass philosophy to surviving modern, aspirational India.

I was on a Bengaluru city bus on my way home from the airport recently when I overheard the conductor and the driver animatedly talking to each other about how “just-pass” Indians were the happiest in the country. They realised I was listening and started addressing me in Kanglish, a frequently used Kannada and English street patois. They saw my bemused expression and thought it reflected skepticism.

“Saar, namma maat keli [Sir, listen to what we have to say],” said the mustachioed driver, as he wove his big Volvo through traffic with dexterity, and gestured to his friend. “Eeega nodi [Now look here],” the conductor – a lean man with twinkling eyes and a two-day stubble – took over. “Many people, full education, but not happy. We people see, just-pass people, full happy.”

Adu hege?” How is that, I asked.

The conductor and driver looked at each other in triumph. They had an audience.

“Saar, just-pass people happy with Rs 100,” said the conductor. “Eating, drinking, sleeping anywhere. Naavu maarda kelege santoshavagirruteve [We can live happily under a tree]. Can sleep there, no hotel needed. College people needing hotel, still unhappy.”

Surviving modern India

As I alighted, I ruminated on what appeared to be a well-articulated, if rare, philosophy about surviving modern India, a nation low on education and learning but high on dreams, aspiration and expectation. A yawning chasm between education and expectations particularly manifests itself when thousands of unemployable graduates, including engineers, lawyers, even PhDs, line up for – in what is now a national spectacle – jobs as street sweepers and clerks. The chasm is evident when the media routinely report how jobless or semi-employed young scamsters or criminals get on the quick, easy and illegal path to wealth. The chasm reveals itself as young men – whether stone-throwing separatists in Kashmir, Hindu extremists involved in lynching minorities or various caste and religious groups that vandalise public and private property for a variety of reasons – who take to the streets to vent larger frustrations.

These frustrations are brought about by a heightened awareness of the lifestyles of the rich and famous, and the illusion that the good life – delivered through advertisements on mobile phones and television screens – is just around the corner. The key to understanding these frustrations is an exploration of the inability to find decent employment (although that is not the only reason for despair). “Work”, as the latest annual report of India’s labour ministry notes, “is part of everyone’s daily life and is crucial to one’s dignity, well-being and development as a human being”.

Finding a job and finding a job that satisfies your dignity and fulfills your expectations are different things, and India fails on both counts. “India creates too few jobs to meet the aspiration of its growing workforce, leaving many people underemployed, poorly paid or outside the labour force,” said the 2017 Economic Survey of India, released by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group of rich countries. “Despite strong economic growth, the employment rate has declined…and job creation in the organised sector has declined.”

Jobs crisis

Bad as this sounds, the reality may be worse. Less than 20% of Indians have a salaried job (half are self-employed, largely because they could not find a job) and even those who find employment are likely to be unhappy with what they do for a living.

No more than a third of India’s workers have a written job contract, according to the latest available data from the National Sample Survey Office. And of the elite among blue-collar workers – the 28% with a job in organised manufacturing – an increasing number are in jobs with little security. Over 13 years to 2013, the share of contract labour in organised manufacturing almost doubled, according to data from the Annual Survey of Industries. That is not ideal because contract workers earn nearly a third less than one with a permanent job. It is not very different with doctors, teachers and nurses, many of whom find themselves on contract even in government service.

If you consider official statistics, which are clearly unreliable and register partial and distress employment as work, India is doing well. Over two years to 2016, India’s overall unemployment rate rose by only 0.3% to 3.7%, the minister of labour told Parliament in January. (A respected Mumbai think-tank estimated that rate at 7.1% by February, or about 31 million jobless in a workforce of 425 million). But disaggregate even the older, official data, and it emerges that nearly a third (18%) of those with degrees (28% in rural areas) do not have a job. For instance, about six in 10 Indian engineers are unemployed.

The bare national truth about employment was captured by a 2016 report of the labour ministry: 77% of India’s households did not have a person with a regular wage. In short, the majority of Indians are doomed to a job that they do not want or accept in desperation, such as the engineer who lines up to be a sweeper.

In any case, expectations are not, as I said, only a function of jobs.

Almost all Indians – with a good job or not – also have mobile phones, devices that exponentially accelerate expectations. In previous generations, aspirations were limited because few were aware of what they were missing.

Glimpses of what might be comes at us all the time now – through WhatsApp forwards, YouTube videos, tweets, Facebook posts and cable television: Advertisements with perfect families in perfect homes; the lifestyles of the 1%; reality shows that make millionaires out of nobodies; a million ways to dream and aspire to a new life; and the stories of the sons and daughters of masons and auto drivers who became champion athletes or bankers. The message is, study well, work hard and the world is waiting. Much of that message is lost in the process of dodgy education, with only a tiny elite gaining access to the kind of education required to achieve the Indian dream. For instance, the latest National Achievement Survey of 1.54 million Class 10 students in 44,514 schools nationwide found, as the Hindustan Times reported, that students from state education boards – whose students form the vast bulk of schools and come from poorer families – do considerably worse than those of independent, national boards that cater to richer, better schools. Learning levels, as the Annual Status of Education Reports chronicle, are falling in private and public schools meant for the general population.

There is little doubt that life has improved for Indians, particularly over the last 30 years, but the reality is that only a fraction of Indians will achieve their ever-rising aspirations of wanting it all here and now. There is evidence that as Indians become richer, their aspirations are expanding disproportionately, and no government, regardless of the jobs it generates and education it provides, can do anything more than manage those expectations.

Growing inequality

Apart from the jobs crisis, Indians are suffering the impact of growing inequality, weaker social support networks, a less generous society, and fewer reasons to experience positive emotions such as laughter, at a time when they are feeling more negative emotions such as worry and anger, IndiaSpend reported in May 2018, after the UN World Happiness Report found Indians richer but less happy over the last three years and the least happiest people in South Asia.

To be happy then, is a function of moderating expectations. Obviously, that is easier said than done, which is why the driver-conductor duo of Bengaluru were clearly onto something with their low-expectations philosophy.

Just before getting off the bus, I asked them about their educational achievements. The driver braked for a scooter trying to cut in front of him and, with a wide grin, said: “Just pass saar! All classes, just pass; but in life, full enjoy.”

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Movies can make you leap beyond what is possible

Movies have the power to inspire us like nothing else.

Why do we love watching movies? The question might be elementary, but one that generates a range of responses. If you had to visualise the world of movies on a spectrum, it would reflect vivid shades of human emotions like inspiration, thrill, fantasy, adventure, love, motivation and empathy - generating a universal appeal bigger than of any other art form.

“I distinctly remember when I first watched Mission Impossible I. The scene where Tom Cruise suspends himself from a ventilator to steal a hard drive is probably the first time I saw special effects, stunts and suspense combined so brilliantly.”  

— Shristi, 30

Beyond the vibe of a movie theatre and the smell of fresh popcorn, there is a deeply personal relationship one creates with films. And with increased access to movies on television channels like &flix, Zee Entertainment’s brand-new English movie channel, we can experience the magic of movies easily, in the comforts of our home.

The channel’s tagline ‘Leap Forth’ is a nod to the exciting and inspiring role that English cinema plays in our lives. Comparable to the pizazz of the movie premieres, the channel launched its logo and tagline through a big reveal on a billboard with Spider-Man in Mumbai, activated by 10,000 tweets from English movies buffs. Their impressive line-up of movies was also shown as part of the launch, enticing fans with new releases such as Spider-Man: Homecoming, Baby Driver, Blade Runner 2049, The Dark Tower, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and Life.

“Edgar Wright is my favourite writer and director. I got interested in film-making because of Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the dead. I love his unique style of storytelling, especially in his latest movie Baby Driver.”

— Siddhant, 26

Indeed, movies can inspire us to ‘leap forth’ in our lives. They give us an out-of-this-world experience by showing us fantasy worlds full of magic and wonder, while being relatable through stories of love, kindness and courage. These movies help us escape the sameness of our everyday lives; expanding our imagination and inspiring us in different ways. The movie world is a window to a universe that is full of people’s imaginations and dreams. It’s vast, vivid and populated with space creatures, superheroes, dragons, mutants and artificial intelligence – making us root for the impossible. Speaking of which, the American science fiction blockbuster, Ghost in the Shell will be premiering on the 24th of June at 1:00 P.M. and 9:00 P.M, only on &flix.

“I relate a lot to Peter Parker. I identified with his shy, dorky nature as well as his loyalty towards his friends. With great power, comes great responsibility is a killer line, one that I would remember for life. Of all the superheroes, I will always root for Spiderman”

— Apoorv, 21

There are a whole lot of movies between the ones that leave a lasting impression and ones that take us through an exhilarating two-hour-long ride. This wide range of movies is available on &flix. The channel’s extensive movie library includes over 450 great titles bringing one hit movie premiere every week. To get a taste of the exciting movies available on &flix, watch the video below:


This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of &flix and not by the Scroll editorial team.