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Global Conflicts & Militarization

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Why The Attacks in India Should Surprise Nobody
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Religious fundamentalism fails to fully explain the heinous attacks on several Mumbai hotels. Could emerging linkages between India’s desperate poverty, inequality and increased access to information underlie the motive? By Deena Guzder.


28th November 08 - Deena Guzder, Common Dreams

Most Americans were shocked to learn that coordinated terrorist attacks struck the heart of Mumbai, India's commercial capital on Wednesday evening. After all, India is not Iraq or Afghanistan or even Pakistan. According to pundits such as Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, India is a shining capitalist success story and the next global superpower.

In the pro-globalization narrative, India's eager-beaver working class has benefited greatly from neoliberal economic policies. Intellectuals extol India as the world's largest democracy and an example for the rest of the developing world to follow. Today, India is a popular tourist destination for everyone from backpackers on spiritual voyages to white-collar executives on business meetings. 

Americans are largely shielded from the shocking reality of India. According to the World Bank's own estimates on poverty, almost half of all Indians live below the new international poverty line of $1.25 (PPP) per day.[1] The World Bank further estimates that 33% of the global poor now reside in India.[2] Moreover, India also has 828 million people, or 75.6% of the population living below $2 a day, compared to 72.2% for Sub-Saharan Africa.[3] A quarter of the nation's population earns less than the government-specified poverty threshold of $0.40/day.

Someone should tell the starving masses who have remained largely marginalized and subjugated that India is a "success story" because that's not reflected in most Indian's lives. Income inequality in India, as measured by the Gini coefficient, is increasing at a disturbingly destabilizing rate.[4]In addition, India has a higher rate of malnutrition among children under the age of three than any other country in the world (46% in year 2007).[5][6]

India is possibly the world's largest democracy by some definitions; however, as Mahatma Gandhi, once asked, "What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty and democracy?"

Pundits such as Friedman play golf with the global elite and then pontificate on perceived economic trends. In Friedman's book, The World is Flat, he suggests that "Indians should celebrate Y2K as its second independence day."Yet, by some estimates, the high-tech sector employs just 0.2 percent of India's one billion people.

Americans are largely unaware of the violent, systemic poverty plaguing India because the country is reduced to a caricature where everyone fielding Americans' inquiries in call centers is prospering.  Having lived in India for four years and visited the country every other year, I am painfully aware of the reality on the ground. India is a country where children are forcefully amputated by beggar-masters and sent to elicit money; where poor women sell their bodies to truck drivers and contract HIV at alarming rates; and, where American tourists nonchalantly spend enough money in one day to support a hungry family for months.

The recent attacks in India are morally repugnant, but the debate on how to curb terrorism needs to consider why people engage in such desperate acts in the first place. The perpetrators of yesterday's violence targeted two of Mumbai's most luxurious hotels: Taj Mahal and the Oberioi Trident. One night at either of these hotels costs, on average, Rupees 17,500(US $ 355) in a country where the annual salary is Rupees 29,069 (US $590).[7]

The death of over a hundred people on Wednesday should deeply upset the world, but it should also lead us to question the death of the 18 million people who die annually from the systemic violence of endemic poverty.[8] As Yale professor Thomas Pogge notes, the affects of poverty are felt exponentially more in certain parts of our "unflat" world: "If the developed Western countries had their proportional shares of [gratuitous] deaths, severe poverty would kill some 3,500 Britons and 16,500 Americans per week."[9]

Mahan Abedin, an insurgency analyst, told Al Jazeera after Wednesday nights attacks: "We have seen an increase in recent years in indigenous Indian Muslim organizations beginning to take a violent stance towards the Indian state and sections of the Indian society, particularly the commercial elite of places like Mumbai, in order to highlight, they would say, the sheer inequality of life in India." [10] Abedin continued, "there is a middle class of around 100 million who live very well but 800 million-plus people live in miserable conditions."

Even people who commit heinous acts of violence occasionally make a valid point. The latest attacks should not evoke a knee-jerk effort to ratchet up the so-called Global War on Terror but, instead, make us question how to avoid such attacks in the future. By showing genuine concern for the plight of the millions of people who are at risk of death from poverty and by honoring the sanctity of the lives of the most destitute, we have the best chance of defeating the ideologies of hate.[11]

Deena Guzder works for TIME Asia magazine in Hong Kong and is a dual-degree graduate of Columbia University's School of Journalism and School of International and Public Affairs. Please feel free to email her at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

References

1] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/India/One-third_of_worlds_poor_in_India/articleshow/3409374.cms

2] http://www.thehindu.com/2008/08/28/stories/2008082856061300.htm

3] http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/Editorials/Define_poverty_anew/articleshow/3423435.cms

4] http://www.legco.gov.hk/yr04-05/english/sec/library/0405fs07e.pdf 

5] http://siteresources.worldbank.org/SOUTHASIAEXT/Resources/DPR_FullReport.pdf

6] http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article1421393.ece

7] http://www.hindu.com/2007/02/20/stories/2007022011440400.htm

8] Thomas Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights p. 99

9] Pogge, Thomas W. World Poverty and Human Rights: Cosmopolitan Responsibilities and Reforms .  Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 2002 p. 98

10] http://english.aljazeera.net/news/asia/2008/11/20081127195677350.html

11] Jeffrey D. Sachs "Net Gains." New York Times. April 29, 2006 http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/29/opinion/29sachs.html

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The Old Ghosts of India Show Their Faces Again

28th November 08 - Robin Jeffrey, Sydney Morning Herald   

What happened in Mumbai will not shake India to its foundations. India is tough and has weathered bigger storms. But the highly symbolic attacks dramatise a much wider set of struggles: the product of growing wealth for some and a revolution in communications.

The spectre haunting the nation is the old ghost in new clothes - class conflict, propelled by the same communications revolution that enables it to launch moon probes and claim recognition as a global power. In the new media age, awareness of injustice and disparity is growing among the poor, along with a sense that "we're not going to take this any more."

It will be some time before anyone knows for sure who was responsible for yesterday's calculated lunacy. But we can be almost sure among them will be young men left out of the prosperity a growing minority of Indians have experienced. Religion sometimes propels violence, but deprivation and injustice are felt around the country. Last month 12 police were killed by suspected Naxalites in Bijapur, eastern India.

It was the latest encounter between police and Naxalites or Maoists, who are leading a resistance by tribal people and landless labourers in a belt snaking from Nepal down the highlands of eastern India. Near Kolkata, the attempt by Tata, a giant conglomerate, to build a factory for the new cheap mini-car the Nano was chased away by landholders mobilised against inadequate compensation for their land. Tata announced earlier this month it would build the factory elsewhere.

Scholars, policy-makers and politicians debate whether disaffection among India's 140 million Muslims results from poverty and disadvantage rather than religious alienation. A poll by Outlook magazine showed close to 80 per cent thought economic divisions were responsible for religious conflict.

In the most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, a Dalit (former Untouchable) woman, Mayawati, led her party to an election victory last year, becoming Chief Minister for the fourth time; that would have been unthinkable three generations ago. A government report last year estimated that more than 75 per cent of Indians spent less than 20 rupees (62 cents) a day to live.

But Mukesh Ambani, one of the world's richest men, is completing a new $1.5 billion house in Mumbai. Until the current generation, two things mitigated India's disparities of wealth: the ideology of caste and the isolation imposed by poor communications. You accepted the role of the caste into which you were born and believed that your next life would be better; you aspired eventually to escape the cycle of rebirth.

But in the past 25 years a communications revolution has transformed India. Once it had virtually no television; now there are more than 50 TV news channels, and a quarter of the population have mobile phones. The lavish Ambani lifestyle is now portrayed on TV and discussed in newspapers whose total circulation has multiplied by six times and approaches 100 million papers a day. Governments based on the old elites realise the dangers. Class disparities allow outsiders such as Mayawati to build new political parties.

Ridiculed by the mainstream media, Mayawati and her associates used mobile phones to organise hundreds of local campaign meetings and won 206 seats in a legislature of 402 members. She is the non-violent side of conflict. For two generations, violent upheaval in the countryside has been possible. Today the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, intended to provide 100 days of paid work a year to the rural poor, is a centrepiece of the national coalition Government's strategy to attack poverty and rural disquiet. Its critics decry the act as a temporary solution to win the votes of the poor, not lift them out of crisis.

Yet India's resilient political system opens various paths to the future. Mayawati's capture of legislative power suggests the capacity in a democracy, however flawed, for outsiders to become insiders; ultimately, that changes the system itself. At the other end of the spectrum of possibilities are gun battles in remote forests between marginalised zealots and the Indian state.

India is in the midst of six state elections with results to be announced on December 8. National elections are due in the first half of next year. Nationally, the ruling coalition of the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, and the Congress party president, Sonia Gandhi, will face a formidable challenge from a rival alignment centred on the Bharatiya Janata Party, which stresses Hindu identity to paper over class divisions. Events in Mumbai will almost certainly turn the national poll into a tough-on-terrorism election, which will favour the BJP.

India's communications revolution, which the perpetrators of yesterday's carnage are exploiting, will continue to propel its rulers to interact with the world and seek recognition as a great power. The same process will drive the poor to compare their lives with those of the rich and powerful. In the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks the challenge for the Indian state has not changed: it must find ways to dull the jagged edges of class disparity.


Robin Jeffrey is a professor of politics at the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.

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