Jaan-pehchaan

From Global Informality Project
Jump to: navigation, search
Jaan-penchaan
Informal practice commonly found in India
India map.png
Map of India, where Jaan-penchaan commonly takes place.
India flag.png
Flag of India.
Entry written by Denise Dunlap.
Denise Dunlap is affiliated to The University of Massachusetts Lowell, Manning School of Business, USA.

Original text: Denise Dunlap, The University of Massachusetts Lowell, Manning School of Business, USA

The age-old practice of facilitating business by exchanging favours is referred to in India by the Hindi words jaan-pehchaan (in Hindi this reads जान-पहचान). Batjargal (2007)[1] defines jaan-pehchaan as ‘Hindi networks,’ while other scholars define it as ‘[getting] something done through somebody you know’ (McCarthy et al. 2012; Puffer et al. 2013)[2][3]. Jaan may be variously translated as ‘life,’ ‘to know,’ ‘to be acquainted,’ ‘wise,’ and ‘intelligent,” while pehchaan may be translated as ‘recognition’ or ‘identity.’

While best known in northern India, jaan-pehchaan is known throughout the country’s 20 officially recognised languages. These include Assamese, Bengali, Dogri, English, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Konkani, Malayalam, Oriya, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Manipuri, Mizo, Urdu and others. Jaan and pehchaan are the most common variants; also common are jan, jān, pahċān, pehechan and pehchan. In 1965, Mohammed Rafi, one of India’s most admired singers, popularised the term throughout India with his song ‘Jaan Pehechaan Ho.’ The song begins with the lyrics, ‘Jaan-Pehechaan ho, Jeeana Asaan ho,’ which may be translated as ‘If I knew you through contacts, references or know-hows, then life would be easier.’ It was featured in the Bollywood film ‘Gumnaam’ (‘Unknown or ‘Anonymous’).

Zhu et al. (2005)[4] examined how Indian business people assess relationship-building in the context of jan pehchan, or ‘right connections,’ and found that they prefer the more indirect style of developing connections with ‘the right people for doing business’ (p. 75). McCarthy et al. (2012)[5] reported a dearth of research on how jaan-pehchaan connections are used in business in India. This result was not surprising given the widespread unwritten and oral manner in which personal communications are used in business across India.

To help fill this gap in the scholarly literature, the present author conducted a series of interviews from 2009-2014, asking over 30 Indian executives employed in India by US and other foreign multinational firms to describe how jaan-pehchaan relationships are used in both business and personal settings. The interviews described jaan-pehchaan as an umbrella term for unwritten social capital used within specific socio-cultural groups and related networks in India. They further noted that the trust developed within jaan-pehchaan relationships can lead to the use of favours to accomplish professional or routine personal tasks, and in worst-case scenarios may spill over into bribery. The interviewees also revealed that using jaan-pehchaan is an accepted way of doing business and that developing nurturing relationships, especially with close acquaintances, through the use of in-group favours, lends a helping hand to those seeing jobs, business loans or contracts.

One interviewee, a 52-year-old Indian working for an US multinational company, offered the following example. He had a particularly important contact working at an Indian company, engaged in a similar kind of industry. Initially, their relations were purely business-related. Over time, however, they developed into a family friendship, since the two men were of approximately the same age and social background. The contact had a son who wanted to enroll in a graduate engineering program, and approached the interviewee to identify good schools and help secure a place. By contacting his own former classmates who now held academic teaching posts, the interviewee was able to secure a place for the son and satisfy his contact’s request. Once this ‘favour’ was granted, reciprocity was expected. Predictably, this took the form of the contact’s providing privileged information about how the US multinational might better position itself against local Indian competition. Explaining that such favours are common in India, the interviewee added, ‘This is how the network grows.’ He considered such exchanges of favours to be entirely ethical since no law was broken. ‘Neither of us,’ he said, ‘subverted the system.’ Contrasting favours with bribery, he stressed that ‘Bribery is different because it is an attempt to subvert and break the law.’

These interviews highlight the important role that jaan-pehchaan plays in Indian business relationships. In this respect, and taking account of the high rates of growth occurring in key sectors of India’s economy – agriculture, industry and the service sector – Indian managers are finding themselves in an increasingly open business environment. They are, as a result, having to re-think how best to use jaan-pehchaan to advance their companies’ business interests in future (Zhu et al. 2005)[6]. One interviewee commented that until the early 1990s the expectation was that, when jaan-pehchaan was used within the intimacy of sambandhi (close family ties, in Hindi संबंधी), reciprocity of favours was the expected norm. The same had been true in business. It followed that those who lacked strong personal relationships found it hard to advance either their personal or their business interests. Today, the interviewee noted, following efforts by the state to liberalise the economy, such reciprocity is no longer ‘always’ required or expected. In the past, he implied, jaan-pehchaan played an even more critical role in lessening the opportunity costs borne by millions of Indian citizens who had to navigate around India’s slow, inflexible and bureaucratic rules of government.

It seems unlikely, however, that the importance of jaan-pehchaan connections will decrease substantially, given the collectivistic nature of India’s society. This has developed over centuries and is based on criteria such as caste, gender, language, religion and sect, rural or urban community, philosophy and culture. The caste system, dating back several centuries, served as a system of social stratification in which succeeding generations shared a common history and tradition of responsibility integral to their group identity. It centered on the teachings of Hinduism, which in this respect acted less as a religion and more as a way of life. The varna (class, social order) system referred to the four social classes into which society was divided. Each varna—Brahmins (religious leaders and administrators), Kshatriyas (the ruling elite and the military), Vaishyas (farmers, craftsmen and merchants) and Shudras (labourers and servants)— had its own ‘order of life’ which promised, if correctly observed, to enable the individual to break free from the bondage of material life and realise their true spiritual identity. Within each group, members formed links, through either marriage (sambandi) or occupation, whereby they protected and fostered their relationships and businesses. Meanwhile certain groups, known today as Dalits or Harijans, were traditionally regarded as untouchables and excluded from mainstream society altogether.

The varna system continues indirectly to shape business even today. For instance, India’s Tata Group is both a successful multinational conglomerate and a modern example of a successful company that continues to be largely controlled by the Vaishya community of businessmen.

India is not and should not be viewed as a homogeneous country where it comes to developing, fostering and using jaan-pehchaan connections. For instance, there are many in-group bonds across India and each forms well-established networks with norms, based on trust, that offer not only identity but also protection, leading to conscious and unconscious preference giving. A lack of cohesion among these various in-group networks or jaan-pehchaan connections can create serious difficulties for outsiders trying to navigate through this complex system (Schuster 2006)[7]. The social capital and trust embedded within these complex connections are multilayered and cannot be easily be replaced by traditional Western business contracts. Not having the ‘right’ jaan-pehchaan connections has been and continues to be a significant handicap for foreign businesses operating in India.

To conclude, all those interviewed by the author confirmed that the practice of developing jaan-pehchaan connections remains essential for successful business and that those without such connections, especially foreign firms, will find themselves at a significant disadvantage. Understanding the nature of these time-honoured relationships and how they work is therefore critically important since the loyalty shared within them can fundamentally influence the ability to achieve personal and professional goals and interests (Schuster 2006; McCarthy et al. 2012; Puffer et al. 2013)[8][9][10].

Notes

  1. Batjargal, B. 2007. ‘Comparative social capital: Networks of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists in China and Russia,’ Management and Organization Review 3(3):397-419
  2. McCarthy, D., Puffer, S., Dunlap, D. and Jaeger, A. 2012. ‘A stakeholder approach to the ethicality of BRIC-firm managers’ use of favors,’ Journal of Business Ethics 109(1):27-39
  3. Puffer, S., McCarthy, D., Jaeger, A. and Dunlap, D. 2013. ‘The use of favors by emerging market managers: Facilitator or inhibitor of international expansion,’ Asia-Pacific Journal of Management 30(2):327-349
  4. Zhu, Y., Bhat, R. and Nel, P. 2005. ‘Building business relationships: A preliminary study of business executives’ views,’ Cross Cultural Management, 12(3):63-84
  5. McCarthy, D., Puffer, S., Dunlap, D. and Jaeger, A. 2012. ‘A stakeholder approach to the ethicality of BRIC-firm managers’ use of favors,’ Journal of Business Ethics 109(1):27-39
  6. Zhu, Y., Bhat, R. and Nel, P. 2005. ‘Building business relationships: A preliminary study of business executives’ views,’ Cross Cultural Management, 12(3):63-84
  7. Schuster, C. 2006. ‘Negotiating in BRICs: Business as usual isn’t,’ in S. Jain (ed.), Emerging economies and the transformation of international business: Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRICs). Cheltenham: Edward Elgar: 410-427
  8. Schuster, C. 2006. ‘Negotiating in BRICs: Business as usual isn’t,’ in S. Jain (ed.), Emerging economies and the transformation of international business: Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRICs). Cheltenham: Edward Elgar: 410-427
  9. McCarthy, D., Puffer, S., Dunlap, D. and Jaeger, A. 2012. ‘A stakeholder approach to the ethicality of BRIC-firm managers’ use of favors,’ Journal of Business Ethics 109(1):27-39
  10. Puffer, S., McCarthy, D., Jaeger, A. and Dunlap, D. 2013. ‘The use of favors by emerging market managers: Facilitator or inhibitor of international expansion,’ Asia-Pacific Journal of Management 30(2):327-349