Despite ranking as one of the highest adopters of cryptocurrency among emerging markets, the majority of the Indian market is yet to embrace nonfungible tokens (NFTs).
In an interview with Cointelegraph, Totality Corp founder and CEO Anshul Rustaggi explained that social and cultural barriers, as well as anti-crypto regulations, are holding back NFTs from mass adoption — particularly in some of the lower-tier cities in the country.
India has a population of 1.38 billion people and is the second-most populated country in the world, sitting just behind China. Last month, the United Nations forecasted that the country could overtake its competitor sometime in 2023.
However, Rustaggi explained that crypto trading and NFT collecting are seen as speculative investments — a concept that is frowned upon in Indian culture and sits in a similar boat as gambling.
“India has a very love and hate relationship with speculation. So all of Asia, including India loves speculation. But morally, we like to always say bad things about it,” he said.
Rustaggi explained that even his time as a hedge fund manager in London was seen by his own mother at the time as “basically gambling with other people’s money:”
“With NFTs, the only way to earn money was speculation […] We haven’t yet as a society accepted digital goods.”
While surveys have found that most NFTs are bought due to their speculative nature, some collections can be seen as a “signal” for wealth and status, such as in the case of the Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT collection, which boasts a long list of celebrities and heavy hitters in crypto as hodlers.
However, Rustaggi says this concept hasn’t taken flight in India despite the strong emphasis on “social status” in Indian society.
“In India, social status matters massively, the largest expense we have in India is marriage. On average, 34% of your life’s expenses are for the marriage of your children. And, the thing is that it’s such a social event, you want to showcase your best to the world. So social status is important.”
Rustaggi says the speculative nature of NFTs has prevented it from reaching the same level of social “signaling” compared to a luxury car or a Rolex watch but noted:
“So I think that time for NFTs to become a great signaling will come in India. I don’t think it has come yet, but it will come.”
In late 2021, Totality Corp launched its first Lakshmi NFT, inspired by the goddess of wealth and fortune. Rustaggi said this was “by far” the largest NFT drop in India, bringing in a total of $561,000 from a collection of 5,555 NFTs.
Rustaggi said the drop was successful as it touted staking rewards in USD Coin (USDC) as an incentive to hold the NFT, which made it a “guaranteed return” rather than “speculation.”
Related: Indian government’s ‘blockchain not crypto’ stance highlights lack of understanding
Overall, however, Rustaggi believes that crypto adoption will remain challenged in India as long as there is regulatory uncertainty.
The Indian government has maintained a strong anti-crypto stance since 2013. Earlier this year, the government proposed and implemented two crypto tax laws which have since seen trading volumes plummet and many crypto unicorns leaving the country.
“The government in India definitely doesn’t want crypto anymore […] The government is outright saying ‘we like blockchain but we don’t like cryptocurrency,’ but it’s kind of ridiculous.”