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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Globalised Indifference

‘There is in our time no well educated literate population that is poor, there is no illiterate population that is other than poor.’
- John Kenneth Galbraith

Anthony McIntyre • 12 August 2004

Although the feeble minded sectarian antics of what passes for today’s Left serves to caricature the concept of class, recent fire tragedies have delivered a much needed reminder of its relevance. In Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay, more than 300 citizens perished in a supermarket fire largely because the doors through which they would almost certainly have escaped were barred to prevent shoplifting and looting. Profit before people. It was reported as the worst single loss of life in the country since the 1930s war with neighbouring Bolivia. The country is so poor that television cameras broadcast footage of fire fighters trying to stop water escaping from their dilapidated hoses by pressing on the punctures with their feet. No Brownie points for guessing that the supermarket was situated in a working class area and most of those who died hailed from the hovels of the urban poor.

The Paraguayan disaster was bad enough but it does not have the same potential to ignite revulsion and anger in equal measure as tragedies involving children. For those of us old enough to recall Aberfan, documentaries examining that event of almost 40 years ago still bring a grimace to the face, and a rage to the mind. That so many Welsh school children died was not accidental but was the outcome of Coal Board indifference to a poor working class community sitting at the foot of its sludge mountain, situated there as a cheap remedy to the Board’s waste problem. That same indifference which plagued both Asuncion and Aberfan was all too evident in another part of the globe last month when scores of Indian children in Sri Krishna High School in Kumbakonam, all below the age of ten and all from impoverished homes, died as the thatched roof of their condemned building caved in on them, ensuring that there was little work to be done at later cremation ceremonies.

‘I buried my eldest 10-year-old son and have now come to identify his brother Anish. My entire world has collapsed as I have lost both my children.’ – the pitiful words of Simon Antonidis, father of two of the Indian school fire victims. ‘My four-year-old daughter may have survived the fire, but she is unlikely to live. I only wanted to give her what I never had - education - and look at the way God paid me back.’ Ari Vinbam, in his despair and grief, may have found in God a suitable but ultimately misplaced target for his wrath. But as Richard Dawkins once observed ‘the universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.’

In a world governed by the rules of the market, the ‘blind pitiless indifference’ of capital is our lot.

Sensing that education can unlock an escape hatch leading away from destitution the vast bulk of Indian parents now send their children to private schools. The country has an appalling public education system. One report put it as follows:

Few schools in the public stream have proper access to drinking water, electricity, toilets, playgrounds, furniture or proper buildings. They also compromise on quality; with high rates of teacher absenteeism, unfilled vacancies of teachers, absence of teaching material and shortage of trained, motivated teachers, education becomes a farce in government schools.

Little to be surprised at when Manabi Majumdar asserts that this has led people to seek a ‘private solution to the public deficiency.’ Despite the atrocious safety history in the private sector schools it has not prevented the government from supporting them (although not financially) as part of what has been described as an attempt to 'shed its responsibility of providing social good.'

Consequently, private unaided primary schools multiplied by six while the number of government and local authority schools fell by 10 per cent over the same thirty year period. This, notwithstanding Myron Wiener’s observation that ‘even the most conservative neoclassical economists will agree that the state has a very positive, very important, role to play in the promotion of mass education, which cannot and should not be left to the private sector alone.’

Since its independence from Britain almost sixty years ago, high-grade state school education has never featured prominently on India’s list of priorities. Even the country’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, stressed higher learning alone. The primary objective of the Indian education system was to create a professional class. By 1987 little had changed. Rajiv Gandhi stated, ‘I do not think literacy is the key to democracy.’ Unbridled free enterprise apparently is.

Despite a population that displays a 40 per cent illiteracy rate Myron Wiener pointed out that India committed less of its resources to primary education than most low-income countries. An average Indian, for example, spends just about two years in school compared against five years for a Chinese citizen and nine in South Korea.

The human torch kids that lurched for the exits that did not exist, wailing like banshees as their young lives were ripped from them, did not die as a result of an accident. Poor Indian children were literally burned at the altar of the profit motive. And class we are told is a defunct concept. Only a particular class of bastard could regale us with such deceit. Supermarket incinerations and classroom infernos, like earthquakes, mercilessly target the most vulnerable – those at the bottom of the pile; the poor, the marginalised, the hopeless. Faced with the fact that Capital is intent on globalising indifference, the rejoinder of Arundhati Roy acquires the status of an ethical and human rights imperative – ‘the only thing worth globalising is dissent.’







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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

14 August 2004

Other Articles From This Issue:

At One with the West Belfast MP
Kathleen O Halloran

Disbanding the Provos
Tommy McKearney

Lessons from the Ceasefire
Mick Hall

Jobs for the Boys
George Young

Working Withing British 'Law' With A Vow NOT to Use Force Against the British
Sharon O'Sullibhan

Conditions for Irish POWs Today
Deirdre Fennessy

The Faithful...
Liam O Comain

Globalised Indifference
Anthony McIntyre

No Human Being is Illegal!
Sean Matthews

8 August 2004

An Ireland of Equals!
Kathleen O Halloran

A Socialist in West Belfast
Anthony McIntyre

A Living Tapestry of Tongues
Sean Fleming

Paranoia is Healthy: Michael O'Connell's Right Wing Ireland?
Seaghán Ó Murchú

'The Labor of Reading'
Liam O Ruairc

Seamus Costello, Joe McCann and myself. . .
Liam O Comain

Anti-Semitism at the World Social Forum?
Cecilie Surasky



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