Transcript: Globalizing Inequality by P. Sainath Part 2

Transcript of Globalizing Inequality – a lecture by P. Sainath, sponsored by the Center for Social and Environmental Justice of Washington State University, Vancouver. Video by pdxjustice Media Productions.

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We did it weeping in our hearts for we too live in slums and we know our turn will come. The police constables giving protection to the demolition also live in slums and they did not take any pleasure in the actions they were forced to undertake by the government of Maharashtra. The people doing the demolitions were from the slums.

Incidentally. a United Nations habitat report of around late 2003 makes the assessment that by 2030, 25 years from now, fully one-third of humanity will live in urban slums. One third. The largest number of those are going to be in india and Africa.

None of this got covered. Even in covering the Tsunami, even in covering… this is the mindset of inequality. What happened? The poor have no rights. Even in the coverage of the Tsunami.

Whatever was done for the Tsunami victims was a result not of their rights, but of our generosity. You are going to get a new house. Not because you are a citizen of a decent society, not because you are entitled to one, which you are, under the directive principles of the Indian Constitution.

You’re not going to get a house because of that. You’re going to get a house because I am sorry that half your family was washed away in the Tsunami. It’s not about your rights. It’s about my generosity.

We’ve reduced people to that. We’ve reduced the poor to the objects of our generosity and our sympathy.

You build your own home, we’ll demolish it. But we’ll give you a new one. If we choose to. That is, if we feel sorry for you.

How agonized we are over how people die. How untroubled we are by how they live.

If you look at the Indian stock market. Coming back to that central indicator of how economies are doing, the Confedration of Indian Industry, which has the most optimistic take on such figures says that the total number of people having any kind of investment in the stock exchange constitute less than 1.15% – I repeat – one point one point percent of India’s hundred and eighty million plus households.

1.15% of households. That’s the most optimistic figure of those participating in any kind of investment in stock markets.

Yet, as I told… when the stock market collapsed, in May 2004, it collapsed for all of two days. The country’s largest newspaper had a front page mimicing 9/11. “Ground Zero!” said the headline. 2,340 billion rupees lost. Notional money. Which came back two days later. Notionally. And it had an aircraft flying into the stock exchange building and the tail of the aircraft had the communist hammer and sickle.

Well, when the stock exchange collapsed for all of 48 hours, this was following what every political analyst across the spectrum says is India’s second most historic election since independence – 1977 after the emergency and 2004.

The finance minister of the country abandoned the first day of parliament, did not attend the first day of the new historic parliament. He came rushing to Bombay to the stock market to dry the tears and hold the hands of destroyed millionaires of dalal street.

Two days later it was okay, but he stayed there three days to make sure that the market behaved, then he went home.

It was… ah… meanwhile, an election that was largely fought on the key two states on the issue of farmers suicides, it took another 149 suicides of farmers in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh before the Prime Minister condescended to visit the place.

But a twitch in the SENSEX had the finance minister jetting out to Mumbai. That is the difference of attention that you get if you are poor or if you are rich.

So it is all about our generosity and our feelings and whom we are feeling sorry for today, or who we feel sorry for most of the time. If you start applying these measures to the various forms of generosity that you see, you get a very different picture from what you get from the Tsunami coverage.

One of my favorite forms of generosity is the drive to wipe out malaria in the third world. Some of you may have read about this – the distribution of – the planned distribution of millions of bed nets to protect people against malaria. Have you ever read about this?

It’s a plan involving the WHO, the World Bank and anyone else out to make a dollar.

Teh fun part of this malaria nets thing is, by 1980, India had more or less successfully contained malaria. It was almost wiped out by the early 1980s. In the 1990s we entered the brave new world of structural adjustment. Huge cuts in public services. Privatization of medical services in a large way. Soaring costs of medical attention. 21% of the Indian rural public no longer seeked medical attention for their ailments – that’s the latest figure we have – because they simply cannot afford it.

Now after all these cuts, malaria resurfaces with a vengeance in India and in neighbouring countries. Having caused it to resurface in the first place, now generosity demands that we distribute bed nets – millions of bed nets to people who don’t have beds.

Now, if you’re living in a hut, you don’t fix your bed net to a wall, because you don’t sleep close to the wall, because that’s where the crepy crawlies reside. The scorpions and other stuff. You try sleeping a little away from the wall.

I’m a rural reporter. I spend 270 days of every year for the last 12 years in the villages and self-preservation causes you to figure out these sort of things about where you sleep and where you don’t sleep.

So first, we’re getting these bed nets to people who don’t have beds, at the cost of God knows how many million dollars. It’s planned. Every time it’s been attacked, they have withdrawn quietly, only to try and bring it back through the next government.

Now, if anyone with even half a brain knows that even if these nets… oh, by the way, you’ll forgive the gendered language… it doesn’t mind, it’s theirs. It says that these bed nets will protect you against malaria because the nets are impregnated with anti-mosquito repellent. Whatever that means.

Now, anyone with half a brain knows that the malaria … we’ll exempt the experts, right? – we’re talking about people. Anyone knows that the malaria mosquito is not most active when you sleep. It is most active at dawn and dusk when people are in the fields.

Of course, you could make a bold new fashion statement by walking around in your net, but it might cramp your style.

The whole thing is one unmitigated racket. This is the generosity of the generosity, you know… the charity that begins at home and stays there. It has nothing to do with the eradication of malaria in these countries.

Speaking of malaria, one of the astonishing things you can look at in the spectrum of inequality across the globe both in the terms of what’s happening and how the media cover it, is what I call the globalization of communicable diseases.

Anyone in the audience remember this word – SARS? Rings a bell? Yeah, it does, doesn’t it?

You remember how SARS was perceived as moving about like the black death, mowing down millions in its deadly wake? You know how many people actually died of SARS in India? Zero.

SARS sero.

You can look at the World Health Organization’s website on the subject. Total number of cases identified in India? Three. But from the coverage you got from the media, you think that SARS… you know the subcontinent was in danger of its survival, right? The way it was covered.

3 cases from SARS. 0 deaths from sars. Why did SARS get so much attention? And by the way I’m not saying that SARS is not dangerous. You’re going to get a hell of a lot of SARS by other names in the not too distant future, because we have globalized communicable diseases through these strategies of the last 10-15 years. Through the policies of the last 10-15 years.

However, it’s important to look at why SARS or plague… you know in ’94 we had a plague in India. Every aircraft going out of India was sprayed while going out, sprayed while being received at in the airports in the West. The plague killed 53 people. SARS worldwide – in its 100 days according to the World Health Organization’s website, in the hundred days of its existence in the first round, across the planet, SARS killed 879 human beings.

That’s about half the number of people who die of tuberculosis every day in India.

But TB never gets the same kind of coverage. Because it kills the wrong people. SARS germs, plague germs kill the beautiful people. So they get that kind of attention. In the media, in the medical systems, in the government’s policies.

Plague germs, SARS germs, they are notorious for their non-observance of class distinctions. They board aircraft and fly club class to New York and that scares the pants off the world.

So they affect the wrong kinds of people. And I’m not just talking about poor countries. How many people are aware, that in August 2003… in OCTOBER 2003, the government of France, one of the best off countries in the world… The government of France acknowledged that in August 2003, 15,000 senior French citizens had died in a heat wave.

Now France has had heat waves before. Why did 15,000 people die in that heat wave and why is it that all those 15,000 citizens were elderly pensioners and retirees?

You know, the thing is, 879 people from SARS in 100 days. 15,000 people in rich France in the space of a month. And it didn’t make the world headlines, because they were largely poor, elderly pensioners whose health benefits had been subjected to severe cuts in the preceeding two or three years. That’s why they died.

If it had been 800 people of the flying classes, you got that kind of coverage. When 15,000 – and again, we’re not talking about Bangladesh and India – we’re talking about France. 15,000 senior citizens died, they didn’t even make news. You can get on to the net and look at the figures and the discussion. They had a special parliamentary commission to go into it, I don’t know what came out of it.

It may also be interesting to look at why China was the worst affected country by SARS. And that has a lot to do with what we’re discussing today. In the 90s… in the 80s and 90s we entered this world of structural adjustment, cut some subsidies, cut some basic services, withdrawal of entitlements of poor people, and privatization of just about everything including soul and intellect.

The Chinese government closed tens of thousands of factories. Now if you are a citizen of China, you have access to health through your workplace, through your school, your factory or the local network that you were aligned with.

When tens of thousands of factories were closed down across China, millions of workers lost access to health. The chain of command, the alarm system, the signal system by which a new disease got reported and got checked at the labs and the tertiary level, that system completely collapsed.

Therefore when SARS hit, there was no plot on the Chinese government’s part to conceal it. For most of the time, they really didn’t know, because they had destroyed the system by which they could have known. They destroyed it to save a few million dollars, and lost a few billion dollars, because the deprivations you visit on the poor, tend to come back to you.

That was the year when the Chinese GDP took its worst hit in a decade and a half. Also leaving severe scars on the GDP of Singapore, Thailand, and a number of other countries, also hit by SARS.

The great software festival of China was cancelled. China lost billions of dollars though it saved million, in throwing workers out of work. Throwing workers out of their factories. That happened with China.

Did I mention France? In this country, I have no idea. I don’t think there is a clear estimate, how many elderly American’s cross the border into Mexico and Canada to buy drugs. I do know that your Federal government has responded to it by conducting police raids on pharmacies in Michigan.

Not by trying to provide cheaper drugs to poor people, but by conducting police raids on pharmacies in Michigan and the Mexican border. To prevent people from getting cheaper drugs.

In Africa, thanks to the new institutional arrangements and the trips and the WTO… under the trade related intellectual property rights and the WTO, India… an Indian company which produced so far the cheapest – the company’s name is Cipla – which produced the cheapest anti-AIDS drug. Millions of Africans were denied the right to get this drug at dirt cheap prices, by the intervention of multinational corporations of the pharmaceutical sector.

After a huge outcry – after considerable outrage across the world, a compromise was reached, but the owner of the company will still tell you that he can provide it for much cheaper if it were not for the pressures working on him nationally and internationally.

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Vidyut is a blogger on issues of National interest. Staunch advocate of rights, learning and freedoms. @Vidyut

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