September 06, 2005

Bunch of somethings

You know what I don't get? The competitiveness that seems to be out there post-Katrina. In the somewhat perverse exercise of comparing Katrina to Bombay on July 26, there's not just the facts and figures which people think shows Bombay in a "better" light. No, there's also apparent superiority in Indian-ness to be found in this exercise.

So in looking at just a few such comparisons, I've run into:

  • An article by the BJP ideologue S Gurumurthy (been trying to locate it on the web without success so far, will point to it if I find it) suggesting that Indian society is based on humanity and that's why we deal "better" with such a disaster than the West which is based on ... well, something else.

  • The reason why USA is most developed countries in the world is ONLY because there are no morals or humanity left in the country. It is bunch of hypocrates.

  • I think Indians should be proud of there acheivements and rich culture and Human values.

    (To be fair, the last two comments also got themselves flak where I found them).

    What makes people gloat like this? If you ask me, these comments and comparisons themselves undermine their claims. (Sort of self-referential that way). It's not that there is plenty in our own society to worry about. It's that the business of pointing to somebody else's suffering and saying we're better people than you is odious.

    ***

    Not odious, this. But it left me wanting to pick a small bone with my genial pal Petey. Reacting to Being Poor by John Scalzi, Pete has Being Poor My Arse.

    Pete believes Scalzi's list of indicators of poverty shows how little people in the USA know about how the rest of the world lives; and that prompted him to put together his list. Nothing in it to object to, but here's the thing: I find nothing in Scalzi's list to object to either. Nothing in it that says he has no idea how the rest of the world lives. Nor that he necessarily must have such idea, for us to take his list seriously.

    Scalzi's list is a pretty good indicator of people living in poverty in the USA -- and that's the critical phrase. In the USA. That poor people in India experience poverty on a different scale doesn't mean that poverty-stricken Americans don't live hard lives. I mean sure, you have ten thousand dollars to spend in India in a year and you can live pretty damned well. But try to live on that much in the States and it's going to be hand-to-mouth the whole year.

    A hard life doesn't deserve less empathy (or more) because others live equally, or even harder, lives. Poverty is not competitive. It just is.

    ***

    Postscript: I finally found the Gurumurthy article I mentioned. I wasn't quite fair in my recollection of what it said. Nevertheless, here are some of the phrases from the article that made me mention it here:

  • Commenting on how people fed the victims of the Bombay deluge, Gurumurthy says: For they were not victims, but "atithis", special people, in the eyes of a traditional Indian. They are entitled to respect, not condescending compassion.

  • Commenting on the violence in New Orleans, he says: [In contrast] the people of India turn into relief workers instantly. The reason is not difficult to find. India is essentially a tradition and community-run -- and not a system or state run -- nation. ... [S]ociety in India runs on the age-old principle of "dharma".

    Gurumurthy's article is here.
  • 5 comments:

    Sanketh said...

    Poor Indian graduate students manage on a lot lesser Dilip :). Trust me!!

    And guess what!! They still tax us a fourth of our stipend !

    Vikrum said...

    Dilip,

    Thanks for this great article. I am also appalled by this "competitiveness". I've heard things like:

    - "See that? See that? India is giving America aid? See, a superpower has been brought to its knees."

    - "When Bombay had the floods, people helped each other. You see, that's what people do. They help each other. They do not loot and rob like Americans do."

    - "When we had the tsunami, we refused American aid! And now we are giving them aid!"

    This is unrelated to the competitiveness aspect, but I've also heard asinine things like this:

    - "I'm amazed that that is America. So many blacks! I thought it was Africa."

    - "I am not surprised there is so much looting. Blacks are not like Indians. They are violent. Especially in America."

    You're right, Dilip: many people are using this disaster as a competition of sorts. I'm sick of hearing the same tired argument: "We are better than America because we dealt with our [tsunami, flooding, etc.] better."

    It's real simple: there was a natural disaster and a lot of people died. Even more people lost their homes and all of their possessions. Yes, this happened in America, the richest country in the world. Yes, the government completely mismanaged the entire situation.

    But at the end of the day, people are suffering. One should never get "competitive" over deprivation.

    TTG said...

    1)The New Orleans disaster just proved something I already new - it's not culture that's important - it's systems. When the system fails you, it doesn't what the bloody hell your culture is all about. Sure the two are related, but not always.

    2)When you and me agree on something, something must be wrong somewhere. But seriously, that whole being poor means excresence was DISGUSTING.

    I know a thing or two about hit-and-run point-scoring, but that was just plain LOW.

    Sriram said...

    I have come across quite a few such comments too and it is ridiculous. The American government (and its bloated bureaucracy of FEMA) deserve a lot of blame for their handling of this crisis. People also need to question why the Mississipi and Louisiana national guardsmen are in Iraq. But, I don't see how this proves one country is better than the other either! I agree with many of the comments here.

    On the issue of poverty - it is always relative. Doesn't mean the poor people don't deserve empathy and possibly sympathy, but a typical American poor person has a much better standard of living than a typical poor Indian. That is not something to gloss over.

    In SF, one of the issues I saw discussed on the news was "homeless obesity". In most other parts of the world, as well as any other point of time in human history, this would have been an oxymoron.

    Bind Desai said...

    I agree the competitiveness is odious if it implies superiority or arrogance. But the USA gives advice far too freely and is seen as the role model for the world to follow. What Katrina has revealed is not only the horrific loss of life, displacement and human suffering but the longer and deeper warning that we had better learn not to 'master' nature but to coexist with it. American dependence on an oil based society is dangerous for it and the world.After 9/11 the US government could have startd to invest in rail and other mass transportation schemes not one cent extra was allotted for this. And India and China are foolishly pursuing an automobile based society...