The Ground Beneath Our Feet: Earthquake in India

classes and nations.


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

you can.


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.


can be reached at www.iref.homestead.com or at send your checks to IREF, PO

Box 14360, Fremont, CA. 94539.


more information, contact Vijay Prashad at 860-297-2518.




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