The Ground Beneath Our Feet: Earthquake in India
far-off India, on the 26th of January, the anniversary of the Indian Republic,
the Earth shook. Scientists said it measured close to 8.0 on the Richter scale.
The 8.0 killer. Over 100,000 people perished. Perhaps the number is low. In
China, the earth shook in 1976 and killed 240,000. These numbers mean little.
Shall we line them up head to toe and see if they form a line that goes around
the moon, the Sun, the next galaxy?
have the ability to protect ourselves as much as possible from the ravages of
the Earth, but the social relations of production work against most of us. The
working-class and the poor live in high-rise homes built of concrete or else in
congested residential areas, prone to high death rates due to disease and to
earthquakes (and Nikos Raptor has made the case against concrete eloquently).
The rich, in less dense neighborhoods and in earthquake resistant homes (made of
wood or else reinforced with steel), do not suffer the burden equally. When the
Earth moves, everyone suffers, but some more than others.
first heard news of the quake as I saw a notice about Mike Davis' new book. I
love his work, from the sharp analysis of the US working class (and of American
exceptionalism), to his fine studies of Los Angeles (City of Quartz and, then
Ecology of Fear) whose lack of engagement with Latinos was made up for with his
very useful book 'Magical Urbanism: Latinos in the US' (all from Verso). The new
book is entitled 'Late Victorian Holocausts' and it attempts, or so the blurb
says, to ground the ecological devastation of the late 19th century in high
imperialism. Much the same should be done for the devastation of 8.0 killer in
in western India, has become the model of neoliberal growth during the last
decade. The socially conservative base that produced Gandhi took advantage, in
the 1970s, of a lack of a trade union tradition. When the Indian economy
experienced a mild slump during the decade, capitalists shut down their textile
mills, for example, in the red-zone of Mumbai (Bombay) and opened-up non-union
workshops in Gujarat. At the start of the 1980s, in the town of Surat, there
were only 105,000 authorized and unauthorized powerlooms, but by 1992-3 the
number rose to 250,000, and estimates for the present run to 400,000. In the
1970s, about 70% of the looms in the mills were second-hand, that is they had
been brought by truck from union strong Mumbai to be set-up in Gujarat. The work
regime in union-free Gujarat is brutal. 'I can show you the wounds on my hands,'
one worker told the late Arvind Das, 'but not the pain that I feel inside my
body.' (Arvind and Jan Breman published a useful book called 'Down and Out:
Labouring Under Global Capitalism' from Oxford University Press and the
University of Amsterdam Press, with glossy pictures by Ravi Agarwal).
Neoliberalism set in motion the expropriation of peasants from the soil (mainly
for this land to be recirculated to agro-businesses). These folk then come in
large numbers to the cities to work in overcrowded workshops. Rule alternatively
by the Hindu Right, the neoliberal Congress and local, feudal formations do
nothing to lift the burdens of the people. And yet to the World Bank and the IMF,
Gujarat has been a miracle. Growth rates are up, all is good in the world.
the Earth shakes, we all die, but more of those who are down and out in global
capitalism. I suspect it is crude to use the earthquake as an opportunity to
point out these details of Gujarati capitalism. But the people did not die by
the hand of the quake alone. The emergency services have been doing a valiant
job (and for details on this see www.lavochka.com/relief for daily updates), but
they have to deal with an infrastructure geared toward the removal of finished
products rather than to the well-being of the Gujarati people. The airports and
roadways are crowded not because of the 'corruption of the Indian state,' as the
newspapers here allege, but because of the mode of development pursued by the
Gujarati state (and authorized by those very newspapers who laud that mode).
dead are gone. Those who survive must go on.
know that many people have given quite a bit to help those who are in dire
straits. But we tend to give our money to the Red Cross or to other NGOs of whom
we know little (and each of them have very high overheads). In the U. S. the
Forum of Indian Leftists (FOIL) has joined with the Indian Relief and Education
Fund (IREF) and the Singh Foundation to raise money on behalf of Jan Vikas (a
network of mass organizations who have been tireless in the relief work). We are
asking people to send money via IREF and the Singh Foundation so that we can
streamline our efforts. Contributions are tax-free, so please give as much as
The Singh Foundation can be reached at www.singhfoundation.org or send your checks (made out to the Singh Foundation and marked to 'earthquake relief' in the subject heading) to Deepak Kapur, 620 Cedar Hill Road NE, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87122.
IREF can be reached at www.iref.homestead.com or at send your checks to IREF, PO Box 14360, Fremont, CA. 94539.
For more information, contact Vijay Prashad at 860-297-2518.