Houston, we have a problem. Is it 36% or 3-6%?

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: Every Independence Day and Republic Day, a chest-thumping chainmail (subject: “Fwd: Fwd: Fwd: I love my India”) arrives in the in-box of Indians.

Garv se kaho hum Hindustani hain, it shouts—silently.

Because 34 per cent of the employees at Microsoft are Indians. Because, 28 per cent of employees at IBM are Indians. Because, 17 per cent of the employees at Intel are Indians. Because, 13 per cent of employees at Xerox are Indians.

Pumped-up pseudo-patriots, trained to detect Indian invasions of foreign shores, quickly hit the “forward” button, and the exhilarating email wings its way across the globe, adding a per cent here, a per cent there, before dutifully sneaking into newer in-boxes by the next I-Day/R-Day eve.

Clearly what goes around, comes around.

Because this Republic Day, it seems to have infiltrated the zzz-security email IDs of Shastri Bhavan which houses the offices of the Human Resource Development ministry.

Because the honourable minister of state, D. Purandeswari, stood up in the Rajya Sabha on March 10 and delivered the good news to the elders: that as many as 12 per cent scientists and 38 per cent doctors in the US were Indians, and in NASA, 36 per cent or almost 4 out of 10 scientists were Indians. And, 34 per cent employees at Microsoft, 28 per cent at IBM, 17 per cent at Intel and 13 per cent at Xerox were Indians.

That got Sujit Saraf thinking.

“A research scientist at NASA for a few years”, Saraf wondered how he had not noticed the hordes of Guptas, Venkats, Singhs and Srinivasans in the hallways of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. So he went to the NASA website and clicked on the demographic information, which brought up a chart for the workforce profile at NASA.

Since there is no racial or ethnic category called “Indian” in American organisations, he clicked on “Unspecified”. Since the possibility of 36 per cent Indians in NASA—which means one out of every three—was unlikely even in a software firm, he searched across all NASA centres after selecting S&E (science and engineering) employees from the chart. The number of unspecified employees was zero. Which meant Indians in NASA were bracketed under Asian or Pacific Islander.

That done, Saraf did some number-crunching for the latest issue of Tehelka.

“That number is 886 out of a total of 11,157. I threw in the 34 multiracial employees—D. Purandeswari will certainly want to claim those who have only one Indian parent. The number of such scientists was about 8 per cent of the total, of which a significant fraction are likely to be Indians. If you further restrict the search to those holding PhDs, the count is 293 out of 1,919, which is 15 per cent.

“These numbers, of course, do not tell the whole story. Many NASA scientists are sub-contractors, as was I, and are not counted as employees. Even if you include them all, however, and make the most generous assumptions about the number of Indians who have any connection with science at NASA, that number will likely lie between 3 and 6 per cent of the science workforce”

So, does the NASA workforce comprise 36 per cent Indians, or between 3 and 6 per cent? You take a pick. Meanwhile, pass this around. It might land in your mailbox by August 15.

Read the full article: Singhs and Guptas in NASA

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