By Anjum Altaf
‘BIPS’ refers to Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – the most populous countries in South Asia.
‘Games’ refers to the Commonwealth Games, the last of which concluded on the weekend in Glasgow.
‘Puzzles’ refers to the intriguing questions revealed by the Games about BIPS. The specific puzzle we explore in this post is why the performance of Indian women is so much better than that of the other countries when the human development indicators of India are fairly similar to Bangladesh and Pakistan and actually much worse than those of Sri Lanka.
For the sake of reference, the human development indicators as presented by Jean Dreze Amartya Sen are shown in the following table.
At one level this post is a straightforward update of two earlier posts that had crafted a narrative from the results of the Commonwealth games up to 2010.
The first, Pakistan: Falling Off a Cliff, contrasted the steadily improving performance by India with the steady deterioration by Pakistan.
The second, The Rise of Indian Women?, highlighted the remarkable improvement by Indian women in comparison with Indian men.
The updated tables are presented below.
(For the purpose of this post, the total numbers of medals secured by Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in 2014 were one each, respectively.)
(The table above is for India. For the purpose of this post, women from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka did not win a single medal.)
The first table shows that while Pakistan’s performance continues to be stagnant, the Indian medal tally is also down sharply from 101 in 2010 to 64 in 2014. This needs to be explored further. My own guess is that this is an artifact of the specific games that are added and dropped in each version of the event. A true indicator of performance should focus only on those core games that remain constant across the years, for example, athletics and boxing.
The second table shows that the relative performance of Indian women continues to improve and by 2014 they have achieved virtual parity with the men. Starting from zero in 1990, Indian women secured close to half (45%) of the total medals won by the Indian contingent.
This is a remarkable achievement by any measure and needs an explanation. In the earlier post, I had ventured this was possibly related to the “transformation of the Indian economy starting in 1989, the rapid increase in the numbers of the middle class, the aspirations of this class for global recognition, the acceptance of global parameters of excellence and equality, the recognition of sports as one of these parameters, the resolve to be globally competitive, and the resulting reaching out for talent beyond the middle class itself.”
This continues to be relevant but the question still remains why women from the other three countries are so completely missing from the picture. Of course, one should normalize for the variation in population, but as the medals table for the Glasgow Games shows, population is not a completely determining variable – Jamaica with a population less that 3 million has a total of 22 medals with women winning more of them (13) then the men (9).
This then is the puzzle: Why are Indian women forging ahead so much faster than women in the other South Asian countries?
Answers are welcome.
Anjum Altaf is dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.