November 19, 2015 Print

India Awakes panel at the 2015 Liberty Forum & Freedom Dinner: Dr. Tom G. Palmer, Atlas Network's executive vice president for international programs; Barun Mitra, founder and director of Liberty Institute in India; and Tom Skinner, executive producer.

One of the most inspiring stories of the prosperity that arises from economic freedom can be seen in the documentary India Awakes, produced by Atlas Network partner Free to Choose Network. When almost an entire society begins to rise from poverty and approach prosperity, it’s important to understand how and why it happens. India Awakes, screened before a ballroom filled with attendees of the 2015 Liberty Forum & Freedom Dinner, explores the story of how a country mired in poverty for hundreds of years has seen a dramatic change of course in the space of only a couple of decades.

Watch the full India Awakes documentary:

After the screening, three participants in the film’s creation participated in a panel discussion: Tom Skinner, executive producer; Dr. Tom G. Palmer, Atlas Network's executive vice president for international programs; and Barun Mitra, founder and director of Liberty Institute in India. Mitra said that people who speak to him after seeing the film often express that it all seems too good to be true — but, he pointed out, although the film focuses on the many genuine success stories of the millions of people in India who have risen out of poverty in recent years, there is far more left to be done.

“For us living in India, it probably does not tell the full story, because it does not tell the dark side,” Mitra said. “We’ve heard the most optimistic side.” As much as India has transformed its regulatory process and liberalized its economy compared to decades past, the country is still mired in far more red tape and bureaucratic processes than is found countries with economies that are more free and prosperous.

Palmer pointed out that focusing on the progress that has been made so far is crucial to spurring still further change. “It is a happy, joyous movie,” Palmer said. “It is a great opportunity to bring about discussions.” The number of people in India who have escaped from “dirt-floor” poverty in the past 20 years are roughly the same as the entire population of the United States, Palmer explained, and this utterly remarkable economic transformation is inherently inspiring.

Mitra agreed, but pointed out that it’s often easier for him to see all the poverty and sorrow that remains in India despite the undeniable transformation that has happened for millions. He hopes that further economic reform will happen even faster.

“I just hope we won’t take another 20 years to surmount some of the challenges that we saw in that film,” Mitra said. “As my beard is getting whiter, I am becoming more impatient.”

Mitra also said that he thinks one strong message to arise from India’s economic reforms of the past two decades are their correlation with turnover in political office. For much of the 20th century, socialist India focused on appointing “enlightened” leaders who would plan the society in every detail — leading to the grinding, devastating, and widespread poverty from which India is only now beginning to recover. As government leaders have rotated out of office, however, their successors have tended to be more open to changing the status quo.

“I think the real story of India is that in the late ’80s and in the ’90s and now, Indian politics have become competitive, that governments change almost every time there is a ballot,” Mitra said. “It is political competition that is actually opening the door for economic reforms.”

It’s important that such an inspiring story be seen by as many people as possible, and Skinner spoke about the remarkable reach that India Awakes has had so far on U.S. public television.

“The film so far has had nearly 1,300 broadcasts on public television stations in the United States,” Skinner said. “That’s an incredible record in public broadcasting, because you have 300 individual stations all making their own decisions about these things. It’s presented through WTTW in Chicago to all the stations in the country. That amounts to something like 60 percent of the available public television audience in the United States. That is as good as American Experience, as Frontline, as any other program on public television in the United States.”

The film is also available on the Free to Choose Roku channelYouTube, Vimeo, and The filmmakers hope that by appealing to the hearts and minds of viewers, each production will have a long and influential shelf life.