28, Issue # 87 - October 17, 2002
India is a country of 1 billion people. It is true that 35 percent are poor and have difficulty in making the two ends meet or even one square meal a day. This definitely is something to worry about, as 350 million poor people are lots of poor people. The majority, 60 percent or 600 million of population is middle class and provides perhaps the largest market for consumer goods in terms of numbers anywhere in the world. And the remaining 5 percent, that is 50 million people are rich and that is really a large number of rich people in any one country. India is at the same time both rich and poor. Yes, India is a country of paradoxes.
Philately in India is also full of paradoxes; it started as a hobby, well spread amongst educated middle class. Almost all, who were in school till the 1970s, were exposed to the charms of philately. It then gradually started its downhill trend and the number of stamp collectors in schools today, is miniscule.
This happened because Philately in India was hijacked by the rich people for reasons other than their love for philately. Stamps as alternative investments became a convenient place to employ 'black' money from the parallel economy. Those who had that kind of money invested in stamps, acquired control of philatelic organizations and events for security and safety of their investments and for speculations in the market.
The promotion of philately in the masses was neglected during the past three decades with the result that today it is not a hobby of the millions it once was. The philatelic crop was reaped for years without sowing seeds and taking care of the fields. Today the yields are naturally poor.
During this period there were no encouragement for the beginners and they were fast dwindling in numbers while intermediate collectors were virtually extinct. Yet India was still winning Golds at world philatelic exhibitions. India with all its poverty is still the largest consumer of gold and Indian's love for gold is well known. A newcomer who could invest money in million was assured a gold medal even in the first attempt by powers that be. It did not matter whether he merited the same.
The newbie need not learn anything about philately in the process since an expert can select and source the material and another can authenticate and provide the write up. If one has money one could buy not only stamps but also the awards of choice. It is part of the social fabric of India that one can openly bid for posts in organizations and events. This is normally done in the name of raising funds for a good cause but in the case of philately it was simply a matter of personal gains.
Yet the free spirit of enterprise is equally strong in India and collectors have strived and risen on their merit and gained international acclaim. The need of the hour is to encourage philately at the grass root level to build a strong foundation for the budding philatelists and provide them space to grow.