Some Indian Deaths More Equal Than Others

Noticing how “the U.S. press slowly accepted that this wasn’t an attack on Westerners, that Indians weren’t merely collateral damage” in the Mumbai attacks, Alexander Cockburn is reminded (Nation, 12/3/08) of Victorian novelists’ “scores of selfless characters” for whom “the only thing was to protect the guests.” Other aspects of colonial attitudes have changed–though not necessarily for the better:

In the old days the Western press had absolutely no comprehension of fatalities among Asians in numbers less than 50,000–the lower benchmark for newsworthy fatalities. Now it’s the other way round. In Western news reports, Indians are individually categorized as among the 188 dead in the Mumbai attack. These days, the larger the number of dead, the less visible they become. The nature of the catastrophe makes a big difference too. No Western journalist chose to bewail a huge human catastrophe when [an Indian minister] supervised the destruction of 84,000 homes in Mumbai in 2004-05, nearly three times the number rendered homeless in Nagapattinam by the tsunami.

Wondering whether “the Times and Washington Post and their leading journalists… ever… admitted that their economic analyses of the past two decades have been lethally wrong,” Cockburn recalls that

there was no talk of “moral responsibility” in the Western press about the barbarism of making 84,000 families homeless…. 2006 figures issued by [Indian government] bureaucrats recorded 1,400 suicides (undoubtedly a huge underestimate) of Indian farmers in six districts in the Vidarbha region of his state, driven to death by a carefully planned “liberalization” of the farm economy…. That state terrorism was of Western origin, promoted by economists, World Bank officials and journalists like the New York Times‘ Thomas Friedman and Keith Bradsher, stepping onto Indian soil armed with Friedmanite recipes.

See the FAIR magazine Extra!: “World’s Worst Disasters Overlooked: Survey Identifies Biggest ‘Forgotten’ Crises” (5-6/05) by Carole J.L. Collins