20 Questions For The 2020s
We ask experts—across different fields—to visualize the next decade and come up with their vision for the 2020s
Will we find a cure for cancer in the next 10 years?
Cancers occur at many sites and have many causes, ranging from viruses and tobacco to radiation. The molecular pathways of transformation from normal to malignant cells are similar despite this diversity. Rapid progress in molecular genetics and the development of new therapies for cancer hold the promise that several cancers can be cured, especially if detected early. So, effective cancer screening and detection programmes are essential.
Prevention is even more important, through avoidance of tobacco and alcohol abuse, healthy diets, physical exercise and limiting exposure to radiation, air pollution and chemical carcinogens. Vaccine-preventable cancers (such as cervical and liver cancers) can also be reduced if not eliminated. Curing all cancers may not be possible in 10 years but many can be prevented and several can be cured through advances in public health and clinical medicine.
—K. Srinath Reddy, President, Public Health Foundation of India
What should be the top three priorities for education in India?
In school education, no priority can be higher than sustained investment in in-service training, in order to compensate for the poor pre-service training with which most teachers are being recruited today.
Salvaging undergraduate education deserves to be the highest priority. A range of issues concerning the youth can be addressed by curricular reorganization. Reform of undergraduate education should move parallel to, and with designed intersections with, vocational education.
In professional education, especially in medicine and engineering, the current entrance tests need to be discarded. Their mechanistic character discourages the entry of versatile minds and impedes egalitarian competition. New entrance procedures, based on assessment scales will ease systemic and social stress, apart from improving intake quality. Any new strategy must also balance national, regional and sub-regional intake.
—Krishna Kumar, Educationist and former director of NCERT
What are the decisions that will impact the next decade?
Demonetization and adoption of the Goods and Service Tax have not gone according to plan. These, combined with the global market vulnerabilities have brought growth rates down and unemployment up. As a result, social-sector rights and programmes are undermined through inadequate resourcing. The controversial Aadhaar Act, and the anonymous Electoral Bonds to fund political parties, were pushed through as money bills. But, the most significant policy measures have come in 2019. The Right to Information Act was diluted, Article 370 was abrogated, the Human Rights Act weakened and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act was made more draconian. As we approach the new decade, the decision to implement a nationwide National Register of Citizens combined with the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act, will fundamentally impact India’s polity, and undermine the basic structure and principles of India’s Constitution.
—Aruna Roy, Former civil servant and social rights activist
Is India likely to evolve into an economic superpower in the 2020s?
An economic superpower must also be socially and politically strong and have a robust R&D backbone. These are pre-requisites to withstand global competition. Today, India faces internal instability and lags behind in technology. Its education system is beset with severe problems so that it has a large body of poorly trained manpower, which cannot cope with the challenge of rapidly changing technology. India’s 1.35 billion citizens have a per capita income of $2,000—5 per cent that of the advanced countries—and it remains a poor country with a high degree of inequality. India’s economy is stagnating after demonetization in 2016, whereas it needed to grow from strength to strength. Consequently, very little employment is being generated, which is frustrating the youth. Thus, the potential for becoming an economic superpower is being wasted and that has become a distant goal.
—Prof. Arun Kumar, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi
What are the new career options that will open up in the coming years? Which are the ones that may die?
Rule-based jobs that are repetitive and, at scale, can be learnt by machines, are, therefore, vulnerable. What will not get automated? Anything that deals with human emotions and human interactions is hard to automate because emotions do not follow rules. Also, it will be hard to automate the roles where the prime differentiator is the ability to motivate and inspire. Teachers, counsellors, doctors and nurses, who work with humans and their emotions and can inspire or motivate, change or shift emotions, will remain valuable in the next decade. Second, jobs that involve interdisciplinary collaboration will remain valuable. Finally, jobs that involve creativity—such as stand-up comedy, arts and entertainment—are unlikely to become obsolete. We may be moving from the era of the knowledge worker to the relationship worker.
—Abhijit Bhaduri, Human-resources expert and author
Which Indian laws should be rewritten or eliminated in the 2020s?
It is shocking that the world’s largest democracy still has laws against sedition. Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code punishes attempts to excite feelings of disaffection towards the State with a term that can extend up to life. Even though the Supreme Court has read this down to exclude criticism of governments and policies, this is routinely ignored by the police and the lower judiciary. In India, the process is often the punishment—and by the time a person is acquitted, they have already spent money and possibly a lot of time in prison as an undertrial.
Similarly, Section 295A against offending religious feelings is little more than a weapon in the hands of extremists to attack the free exchange of views. Criminal defamation is another offence that needs to be struck down. The right to offend is integral to free speech, and democracies must grow up and develop a thicker skin.
—Mihira Sood, Supreme Court lawyer and academic
Can gender equality and respect become a reality eventually?
To me, gender equality and respect in the new decade would mean equality for transgender persons as well. Equality as a framework has always been understood as something that is related to the binary sexes—male and female. If you were to understand it that way, it is primarily restricted to cisgender persons. But transgender persons are always seen as people who don’t necessarily exist in our imagination of gender equality. Gender equality and respect in the new decade have also assumed a different understanding with the horrible draconian Transgender Persons Bill, which has been passed by the Parliament of India. It essentially tries to erect a certain understanding of gender that is outdated, and is going to put many of us transpeople through violence because what it essentially does in principle is violate the principle of self-identification.
—Ray R, Trans-rights activist
What are some important rights we don’t exercise enough?
Majoritarianism leads to a loss of conscience for a democracy and destroys its pluralistic nature. Such a turn results in alienation of minorities. The Dalits and tribals, who are the most burdened, are small in number. The Indian Constitution guarantees to its citizens equality and fraternity. Every single citizen of the country is equal, important, and in a democracy, it is the majority’s responsibility to listen. One needs to remember that the yardstick for who constitutes a majority changes; today one could be in the majority but find oneself on the other side, just as easily. The ruling class—policy and lawmakers—cannot be the yardstick of majority. In fact, it is the poor who are the numerical majority in this country. We are still a country that has manual scavengers, hunger, rampant unemployment and poverty. The focus should be on solving these issues instead of creating a host of new ones.
—Bezwada Wilson, Human-rights activist
What are the critical steps needed to stall the impact of climate change?
Countries must raise their ambitions. The Nationally Determined Contribution targets (reducing greenhouse emissions) must be made to limit global-temperature rise to a maximum of 2°C. These targets must be based on equity and climate justice. Market mechanisms must be designed to promote high-cost and transformative actions and not lock the world into creative carbon fudging (faulty measurement and wrong source attribution of carbon emissions) again. Credits, or permits which allow countries to produce a certain amount of carbon emissions, should only be created for expensive mitigation solutions—the kind that avoid or reduce negative environmental impact. The net-zero target, which aims to balance any human-generated greenhouse gas emissions by removing them from the atmosphere, must allow countries to undertake drastic domestic action to reduce emissions.
—Sunita Narain, Environmentalist and activist
Will India be a multi-trillion dollar economy in the 2020s?
I see India on a continued growth path to emerge as the third-largest economy in the world behind the US and China. As the Indian economy grows, consumer demand would multiply thereby providing multiple new investment opportunities across industries. We believe that there would be very few markets in the world that can match India’s consumer power. We expect India to emerge as one of the most liberalized economies that every investor dreams for. While I would not like to predict anything in numbers, India becoming the third-largest economy would mean that the size will more than double. This would be possible if the government continues with investor-friendly policies and invests in social and physical infrastructure. India will need to focus on increasing its exports and attracting more investments in large-scale manufacturing if it has to emerge as a multi-trillion-dollar economy.
—Binod Chaudhary, Chairman, CG Corp Global, a multinational conglomerate
From top left (left to right): K. Srinath Reddy, Aruna Roy, Abhijit Bhaduri, Ray R, Sunita Narain, Kirthiga Reddy, Amit Khanna, Zorawar Kalra, Thomas Abraham, Krishna Kumar, Prof Arun Kumar, Mihira Sood, Bezwada Wilson, Binod Chaudhary, Prabha S. Chandra, Pratik Sinha, Parmesh Shahani and Reema Kagti
What innovations will change the future of technology over the next decade?
The next decade will see many innovations in frontier technologies. Artificial intelligence, robotics, health technology, biological engineering, the Internet of Things and quantum computing will enable the next stage of the information revolution. Some highlights are noteworthy. The first is silicon: The ending of Moore’s Law—the principle that computer speeds and abilities increase every couple of years, and we will pay less for it—ushers in exciting microchip innovations for the next 100x improvement in performance. The second, genomics: The cost of genome sequencing has decreased by 10 times in the past 20 years. Some companies are transforming patient outcomes via the power of genomics, but we are still at the very beginning! Third, immersive communication: Future computing platforms will offer high-fidelity visual, augmented and immersive experiences. 5G and hardware and software advances will enable mass adoption of augmented and virtual reality.
—Kirthiga Reddy, Partner, SoftBank, a multinational conglomerate
How will marriage and the basic Indian family unit change over the next decade?
Many people, mostly women, remain single longer and couples pick partners based on several relationships before marriage. Evolving mores of intimacy and sexual behaviour indicate that living together before marriage is also more accepted. There are more single people living independently or in co-living spaces, more single parents, more women in non-marital relationships, more same-sex couples. Marriage is being seen more as a commitment, aimed towards having kids, which itself is now a matter of choice, not the norm. Rather than regarding marriage as the outcome, higher emphasis will be placed on relationships that are long-lasting and meaningful. Women are finding it easier to dissolve marriages due to reduced stigma about divorce, better support systems and more options for better partnerships. It may seem like marriage will not remain sacrosanct, but in the long run it will lead to more fulfilling relationships.
—Prabha S. Chandra, Psychiatrist, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bengaluru
What parts of the current media landscape, according to you, will survive in the ’20s?
Indian media and entertainment will be worth over $150 billion, four times of what it is today. All the media formats that exist today will last through the next decade. However, the share of traditional media will start declining. Cinema is not going to die out soon, because the experience of watching a film in a darkened auditorium is a shared experience. Broadcast TV will eventually die out but not in the next decade. Maybe in some other countries it will die out in this period. Instead of accessing the medium of print, cinema, television through conventional means, you will do it through the internet—through multiple devices, at different times of the day, depending on where and how you access it. As for print, India is one of the few countries where it is growing. But one casualty, which we see already, is magazines. Except for a handful no one is making money, so they will peter out.
—Amit Khanna, Media/entertainment professional, screenwriter and author
How do we make social media fun but responsible in the next decade?
More and more people will realize that we have been led by these three or four social media companies that have become so big that they are not accountable to citizens or human-rights issues. Over the next decade, we may see that people will go back to a more decentralized, more democratic form of communication like it happens in the email world. There are no walled gardens there. For example, if you have a Gmail or a Yahoo account, you could mail from it to any person with an email ID. It wasn’t that emails could be sent to their account holders only. We may see tech platforms that will make it possible to, say, for Twitter users to interact with WhatsApp and Facebook users or any other social media account holder. Either the big companies have to move that way or there will be others who will build such platforms, making it easy for each one of us to interact with a larger number of people.
—Pratik Sinha, Founder, Alt News, a fact-checking website
What new food trends can we expect over the next 10 years?
I think in order to reduce our carbon footprints we will start eating less and less meat. Plant-based and vegan food restaurants are going to become increasingly popular across the world, and this is basically the future because there is no other way we can ensure the longevity of our species and the planet. We’ve got to wake up to the fact that eating animals is one of the biggest pollutants. Since India has many vegetarians its carbon footprint is anyway less.
The next decade will see other big changes in food and dining. You’ll see a large growth in value restaurants. Fine-casual dining—meaning fine quality food served in a very casual setting or below casual prices—will become a big buzz word. The global shift in terms of pricing will be towards fine-casual rather than fine dining. Regional Indian food will become stronger and stronger—you’ll see more and more restaurants coming up that serve them.
—Zorawar Kalra, Founder and managing director, Massive Restaurants
Arts And Culture
Will diversity remain or cease to thrive in the cultural space?
Diversity will increase everywhere, whether it is arts and culture or our workplaces. Diversity and inclusion are truly the way ahead. There is overwhelming research that shows that diversity makes for productive workspaces. A system that strives for inclusion and diversity ensures greater innovation in our workplaces and at a larger level, in our societies and country too. In fact, for young people and millennials today, diversity is an imperative. In the coming decade there will be a greater move towards intersectionality of class, gender, religion, caste, sexuality, regionality and other dimensions of diversity. All the other spaces people are working in, will veer towards this movement. There will also be more nuance in how people approach their identities—say the intersection of being queer and Dalit. It will be very interesting as more and more artists and cultural producers are adopting intersectionality as the lens with which they create.
—Parmesh Shahani, Head, Godrej India Culture Lab, a cultural ideas platform
Books and Reading
What will be the visible trends in publishing and reading?
The trends visible in the last few years have been mixed. We’ve seen an increase in bestseller numbers but a drop in midlist (what we call the average, non-bestseller book). That, to me, does not augur well if you look at basic readership—something we need to see growing, both in market and cultural terms. In terms of regional languages, there will be growing awareness of writing from the states and increased translations, but I’m not sure whether there will be any seismic change from current norms. Will English-language publishers get more into language publishing? The logical answer should be no, because in this day of let’s-try-everything, this has been tried for over 14 years now. Also in terms of the rule (and not the exception) it has not been found successful in terms of it providing either an additional platform for growing author readership bases or additional profit. This is not something one can dabble in as an additional ‘series’. It is a whole unique ecosystem by itself.
—Thomas Abraham, Managing Director, Hachette India, publishing house
How important will talent be in the new decade? Will only marketing influence the entertainment industry?
We always need talented actors, quality stories and good advertising for the success of a film. That’s how the entertainment industry worked in the past and it will in the future, too. I don’t see it as one against the other. We need both. If you don’t make a good film, no amount of marketing will help you. And even if you make a good film, you still need to market it well and smartly. Also, OTT (over-the-top) media or streaming has made a big influence on the entertainment industry right now. A lot of people feel that OTT platforms will hamper the growth of big-screen films in the new decade. But I feel both have their places. Big-screen films can never be replaced. They are here to stay forever but need great actors, unique storylines and smart marketing.
—Reema Kagti, Filmmaker and screenwriter
Any chance that the ugly Indian traveller will be a little less ugly?
The modern Indian traveller travels light, doing so by leaving all such unnecessary baggage as courtesy and politeness, and treating all those he encounters during his sojourns, from airline crew to hotel and restaurant staff, as his personal naukar-chakar. Little wonder then that the great Indian tourist is widely known as the great Indian boorist.
—Jug Suraiya, Humorist and author
Will sports be more inclusive?
I certainly hope that Indian sports will promote the notions of inclusion and non-discrimination in the next decade. The world is changing and becoming more and more inclusive. The sporting world also needs to change accordingly. Sport is for all and should be equally accessible to all sections of society, whether sexual minorities or any other group.
—Dutee Chand, Athlete
—Compiled by V. Kumara Swamy with Ishani Nandi, Naorem Anuja, Saptak Choudhury, Mohini Mehrotra, Sarbani Sen and Sanghamitra Chakraborty