WASHINGTON: It's an Internet myth that has taken on a life of its own. No matter how often you slay this phony legend, it keeps popping up again like some hydra-headed beast.
But on Monday, the Indian government itself consecrated the oft-circulated fiction as fact in Parliament, possibly laying itself open to a breach of privilege. By relaying to Rajya Sabha members (as reported in The Times of India) a host of unsubstantiated and inflated figures about Indian professionals in US, the government also made a laughing stock of itself.
The figures provided by the Minister of State for Human Resource Development Purandeshwari included claims that 38 per cent of doctors in US are Indians, as are 36 per cent of NASA scientists and 34 per cent of Microsoft employees.
There is no survey that establishes these numbers, and absent a government clarification, it appears that the figures come from a shop-worn Internet chain mail that has been in circulation for many years. Spam has finally found its way into the Indian parliament dressed up as fact.
Attempts by this correspondent over the years to authenticate the figures have shown that it is exaggerated, and even false. Both Microsoft and NASA say they don't keep an ethnic headcount. While they acknowledge that a large number of their employees are of Indian origin, it is hardly in the 30-35 per cent range.
In a 2003 interview with this correspondent, Microsoft chief Bill Gates guessed that the number of Indians in the engineering sections of the company was perhaps in the region of 20 per cent, but he thought the overall figure was not true. NASA workers say the number of Indians in the organization is in the region of 4-5 per cent, but the 36 per cent figure is pure fiction.