It is likely this article will not be read in any other way, but I want to make it explicit — it is not my intention to present it as a blanket defence of jugaad . The attempt is merely to make a case for a more involved and rigorous exploration of what jugaad is all about. The obvious provocation is Dinesh Thakur’s recent piece in The Hindu (Op-Ed, “The Indian way? No way,” June 12, 2013), which comes to the conclusion that along with the chalta-hai attitude, it is the concept of jugaad that lies at the heart of the monumental deception that was carried at and by Ranbaxy.

There is no doubt that what Mr. Thakur exposed as serious problems in the operations at Ranbaxy are completely unacceptable and a massive fraud on the unsuspecting public. What is problematic in his analysis, however, is his explaining away of the happenings there as jugaad , the “Indian way” of fraud. He describes jugaad “as a creative or innovative idea providing a quick alternative solution.” He argues further that “because the solution needs to be quick and creative,” and because “we never think of making the solution last… it is acceptable to make a compromise on the quality.” It is clearly Mr. Thakur’s implication that if it is fraud it has to be jugaad , just as anything that is jugaad will necessarily be fraud and or at least be poor in quality. It is a generalisation that many others have also made a number of times in the past and might even be acceptable if evidence was to be provided. It is a conflation, however, that appears to be based on very little, if any, empirical basis.

Complex and multi-faceted

This is not to claim or argue that jugaad is all good quality, but also to emphasise in the same breath that something is not poor, or of compromised quality just because it is jugaad . Huge fraud was committed at Ranbaxy, just as huge fraud was committed at Enron a few years ago, just like it was committed in the banking system that led to the recent international financial crisis, just as we have seen it happen through history and across geographies. One might argue that these other frauds were also jugaad , but then it becomes obvious there is nothing Indian about it. Fraud, to put it simply in the English language, is fraud.

There is increasing interest in and exploration — in management and innovation studies, in the social sciences and in science and technology studies (STS) — of the idea and the notion of jugaad . It is a term used commonly, north of the Vindhyas, from Maharashtra in the west, across north and central India onwards to Odisha and beyond, in languages that include among others Gujarati, Punjabi, Hindi, Maithili and Oriya. Jugaad is not just an inextricable part of many vocabularies, it is also an integral part of the way life is lived and the world negotiated. It is a noun as much as it is a verb; an idea and an articulation that has a wide range of meanings and usages that revolve primarily around problem solving or solution finding. It is, in fact, a complex, multi-faceted concept that has multiple interpretations. Jugaad can and does mean different things in different contexts and fixing onto it of the label of fraud and poor quality, as is done most often, is neither rigorous not fair. There is too much generalisation and too little of the specifics of the jugaad that is dismissed with considerable emphasis.

The concrete examples of jugaad are generally spoken of in the context of what is happening in the streets, in the poorer parts of our cities, in villages and in the rural heartland. It is not just here, however, that jugaad happens. Research that I am presently undertaking shows, in fact, that jugaad is alive and kicking even inside the scientific laboratory and in the scientific method — in the very bastion of the modern knowledge enterprise of science & technological research. In a recently published paper (“The making of an indigenous scanning tunneling microscope,” Current Science , 10 May 23) I have presented a detailed account of how junk markets, scrap materials, roadside spring making workshops, traditional knowledge practices and the notion of jugaad played a central role in the development, over 25 years, of cutting edge scientific instrumentation in a laboratory of the Physics Department at the University of Pune. The research generated from these instruments was then published and continues to be published in some of the world’s leading peer reviewed journals that include among others Applied Physics Letters , Langmuir , Surface & Interface Analysis and Advanced Materials . This could certainly not have been “poor or compromised quality” and neither were these made with the intention that the “solution will not last.”

I also argued in that paper that there is reason to believe that this is not an isolated case and “we don’t know of more such examples in India not because they don’t exist, but more likely, because little effort has been made to go looking for them in the right places on the one hand, and the refusal to acknowledge or accept them where they might exist, on the other.” Responses that have been trickling in confirm my proposition. Distinguished scientists from leading research institutions in the country have written in saying that they identify and understand it, because they have themselves built instruments and equipment using the concepts and methods of jugaad throughout their distinguished careers. Jugaad in practice, it emerges, is not at all as unmentionable or unusable as it has been made out to be.

A lifeline

It would also be relevant to mention here, particularly in the context of jugaad happening outside the laboratory, that a major chunk of the economic activity and employment in India is found in the informal sector, where there is no guarantee of employment, work or social security. It is in this context of resource deprivation and/or denial that jugaad forms a lifeline for the livelihood and survival support system for millions. It might not perform precisely the same function inside a modern laboratory, but it is, undeniably, a part of the same continuum.

The plea then, and let me reiterate it, is merely for a more thorough and rigorous engagement with jugaad . It is the least it deserves.

(Pankaj Sekhsaria is a doctoral candidate at the Department of Technology and Society Studies, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Maastricht University, the Netherlands. Email: psekhsaria@gmail.com )