India on the Edge of Survival

[T]he dramatic rise in suicides in Andhra Pradesh, which have become a huge scandal….are particularly striking because they are so close to the jewels of the Indian economy, the high tech IT centers in Bangalore and Hyderabad, which evoke paroxysms of awe from the worshippers of neoliberalism.

The suicides are the other face of the same principles. The state has redirected resources from the rural population — the vast majority — to the sectors of privilege. That means cutting back on irrigation, rural credit, etc., while also driving poor farmers to agroexport: cotton for example. A slight problem then arises. Poor farmers are on the edge of survival, and commodities fluctuate radically in price. One bad year for cotton and the family is driven to usurious money-lenders, who they can’t pay back, so it escalates, and soon the farmer is driven to suicide in despair. The Indian agricultural economist Utsa Patnaik recently drew a comparison to the period right after the American civil war, which led to reduction of cotton exports to Britain and induced Indian peasants to produce cotton for the British rulers. After the civil war, cotton production resumed in the US, the market crashed, and the farmers couldn’t pay the money lenders. The reaction then was a peasant revolt, attacking the money lenders and destroying their records. Now it is suicide. She writes that under British colonial rule farmers were more militant and optimistic than under the neoliberal regime, a different and suffocating form of subordination. That’s only a small piece of the picture. Those who sing odes to the progress of India under neoliberal reforms rarely tell us that over half the population doesn’t even know they have taken place, and that maybe close to 90% of the population are in the black or informal economy, outside the range of government statistics, and barely surviving. Over half of women and children have anemia, probable brain damage. That is sometimes called a “pocket” that has been left behind by “globalization” within a country that is benefiting from it. A rather big pocket. It continues, in the real world.

…The problem is quite a different one, in both cases: preventing the disaster. Anemia and malnutrition can be prevented. The Tsunami could not have been, but the disaster that followed could have been alleviated, not just by warning systems (the US military base in Diego Garcia apparently knew right away) but also by saving the coastline from destruction — say, not destroying mangrove forests, which protect it, for tourist hotels.

Leave a comment