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 Day 19

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Misery for the Many, Benefits for the Few

India: Growing Inequality and Destructive Development

by GRAHAM PEEBLES

Upon a foundation of deep spirituality and philosophical treasures, proclaiming unity, justice and service, New India, horns honking in violation of the good; is racing, no time to spare towards the Alter of Materiality and Market Fundamentalism.

Under the careful guidance of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) The Indian government has for the last twenty years or so, (during which time the BBC 7/12/11 found “inequality has doubled”), embraced market liberalization and the global market; garlanded corporations with all manner of subsidies and damned the poor to greater poverty, destitution, suffering and, suicide in the case of farmers: Who by inaccurate government figures, that exclude women, Adivasi and Dalit people among others, are, in deep despair, committing suicide at a rate of two an hour.

In a country of 1.2 billion and counting, all the numbers are mega. Seen through corporate tinted spectacles India is a marketplace unlike any other, and providing business doors stay open 24/7, the international community – meaning America and her bedmates, will allow India to occupy Kashmir, murder, rape and displace the needy, and marginalize the marginal: Growth and profit the mantra of the times chanted hourly to the market God, headless, heartless, all consuming.

Have-nots and Billionaires

There are, according to Arundhati Roy, around 450 million Indians living in dire poverty, a total equivalent to all the poor in all the countries of Africa combined. ‘Dire’ poverty, meaning just existing, 12 Rupees or 30 (US) cents a day or less does not allow for anything other than bare survival. Is it possible to be healthy on such a sum: To eat nutritiously – to eat at all, to drink clean water, sleep in clean clothes, on a clean bed, brush your teeth with toothpaste, wear shoes whilst working, rummaging through waste mountains, or digging drought-ridden land, is it possible to be happy and retain ones dignity as one begs for the 12 rupees. All ‘normal’, recognizable requirements of living are regarded as luxuries, the Divine seen as a fresh loaf of bread and men women and children, shrouded in anxiety and despair, condemned to a life of drudgery and exploitation.

In amongst the agony and ugliness of such widespread poverty however, there is good news and billions of it: The fabulous Forbes list of money-men (what a brilliant world that such a list even exists), places India fourth in the world league table of the greatest number of billionaires – 61 at the last count. With a combined wealth of $250 billion: Billionaires incidentally who are rich billionaires, unlike the German or Japanese ones, who are poor by comparison. In addition to billionaires there are around 200,000 dollar millionaires; between them these billion million mega men, they are of course all men (worldwide women make up only 2% of billionaires), run the massive Indian corporations that in turn run India.

Middlemen and Women

At the same time as half a billion men women and children crawl through life on their 30 cents a day, a river of rupees flows ceaselessly into the judiciary, the body politic and corporate lakes, swelling stockholders assets. ‘Gush up’ as Arandhati Roy calls it in ‘Capitalism a ghost story’, concentrating she says: “wealth onto the tip of a shinning pin on which our billionaires pirouette”. That’s why in a nation of 1.2 billion, “India’s 100 richest people own assets equivalent to one-fourth of the GDP” (ibid). Power and rupees moving unceasingly into the pockets of the wealthy and mega rich, who are boosted by what Global Research (GR) 3/9/12 state is an “economic system that ensures the flow of wealth goes upwards via what academic David Harvey calls ‘accumulation by dispossession“. The overflow from ‘Gush Up’ feeding a new and marvelous middle class, estimated to be between 30 and 50 million, depending how we define this contemporary social gathering of credit card carriers and foreign holiday makers; according to India’s Economic Times (ET) 6/2/2011, an annual income of between $70 and $300 (quite a broad spectrum), puts one firmly within the comfort crease.

The population of a small to medium size country then; management, IT nerds, professional and semi professionals who have adapted very well thank you, to hallowed capitalist values. They shun the needy, shop and surf, happy to revel on their Harley’s, drink overpriced coffee and i-live on their i-phones and tablets. Is it fear one wonders or greed that consumes the aspiring revellers, content to watch as their countrymen burn on the Party Pyre.

To the utter delight of western corporations there is “a huge market being created for the white goods and automobile makers, [and] huge demand for the products.” Director Rajesh Shukla of the Centre for Macro Consumer Research (CMCR) excitedly proclaims, as reported by ET. Mention of such ‘demand’ sends tremors of excitement and anticipation through business small and large looking east from west; statements sufficient to silence western corporate politicians, happy to bury their heads in India’s eight to nine per cent GDP figures, and snuggle down; whilst the people of Orissa and Kashmir, Jharkhand and West Bengal, starve and are displaced, raped, and persecuted.

In an economic world that see’s all through the simplistic prism of markets and profits, Nation States are recognised as vast department stores, markets to be exploited until exhausted and returns maximised, the natural environment stripped of all that is of value, And what of the people; the rural poor who make up 70% of the population and those who crowd into the glowing, overcrowded filthy cities: Survive, swim if your fit, sink, drown and fade away if not, and quietly please, we’re shopping….

Growing Inequality Deepening Poverty

Hailed as the economic miracle nation of out deficit times, blessing the very few however, India is ranked by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) 129th of 146 countries on the adjusted Human development Index, that accommodates gender imbalance. The number of poor people in the country has barely fallen over a 30-year period, India Today (22/10/11) state “The Human Development Report released by the Planning Commission shockingly revealed that the poor in rural India were better fed about 30 years ago.” By the government’s own figures 50% of the rural population (836 million) live in poverty, surviving somehow on less than 20 rupees (50 cents) a day, 20 cents more than those in ‘dire poverty’, but still not what one would call comfortable. As I said the numbers are mega, even those supplied by the Government – which of course err on the side of flattery and must be taken with a generous helping of salt, however they still put child malnutrition at 46%, the highest in the world. GR state that tragically, criminally we could say, “Every second child is underweight and stunted”. A quarter of the population is, according to GR, “hungry. India was [listed] 73rd out of 88 countries in the annual Global Hunger Index” – six spots lower than the previous year. “The 2010 Multidimensional Poverty Index indicated that…. Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal have 421 million poor people.” The miracle is that the people catching the crumbs from the 61 Club as they fall to earth survive at all.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) India has the BBC report, “the highest number of poor in the world,” with the top 10% earning 12 times that of the bottom 10%, “compared to six times twenty years ago, i.e. inequality under the economic miracle, a nightmare for the 99.9%, is growing and apace. A demographic democratic fact that is of course fundamentally unjust. There are sub divisions within the divisions as inequality stalks the land, the urban wealthy e.g. spending 221% more the BBC report than their rural rich cousins, the chasm between city comfortable and rural desperate is approaching cosmic proportions.

Such are the contradictions (and we have barely scratched the divisive surface), in a country where a mere 1 – 3% according to Palagummi Sainath have enjoyed ‘unprecedented success due to economic reforms’. The big growth story he maintains, is inequality: ‘It has grown faster than any time in the last 50 years’, promising to cause what Sainath describes as the ‘ death of democracy’. For inequality is fundamentally (socially) unjust and democracy professes, at least in principle if not in practice that justice is a founding father, held close to it’s battered heart. Diluted of meaning hijacked and perverted, social democracy once idealized now married off to become corporate democracy, has failed the 99.9%, in India as in the rest of the world, her roots torn out of the social ground in which she was sewn. “Democracy… who’s she when she’s at home”? asks Arundhati Roy ironically in Listening to Grasshoppers.  Attempts to build local democratic movements, to resist, to protest, to articulate grievances, formulate alternatives are crushed unmercifully by what Sainath terms “the most undemocratic global frameworks”, that bulldoze over demands for the observation of human rights, the manifestation of social justice and expressions of moral decency.

Still its not all bad news: the richest billionaires in the world are Indian and the world’s most expensive ‘house’ – Antilla, a twenty-seven story residential abomination, is in Mumbai, built for India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, whose personal wealth is said to be $20 billion. He holds a controlling share in Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), that has interests in businesses from oil to stem cell storage, supermarkets to schools and of course the media; utilized to create uninformed citizens conditioned into making irrational choices.

Everything Everyone Everywhere

Throughout India there is a systematic movement towards; the commercialization of the countryside, the raping of the land for its bounty and the commodification of each and every part of human existence, what Arundhati Roy calls “the era of privatization of Everything”, the hunt for profit the clarion call to action. And all impelled by government stimuli, the state happy to channel corporate propaganda, increase quarterly growth figures and expand the business model, the corporate democratic ideal into every corner of every mind in every village in India.

The inevitable albeit unfortunate consequences to market fundamentalism, say Mr.Tata, Mr. Vedanta and of course Mr.Ambani, being the displacement, death and destitution of obstacles: namely and mainly the Adivasi and Dalit people – conveniently demonized as Maoist terrorists, by a government waging war not on terror, that it is content to cause, but its own citizens, marginalized and disadvantaged, who constitute the poorest people in the world.

For nothing must stand in the way of the sacred cow of progress and gigantic growth, certainly not the uneducated troublesome poor; and to wish to obstruct such a noble quest with talk of human rights, social justice or environmental concerns is to talk humbug in the face of a capitalist crusade that has ‘right’ on its side, justifying expressions of might to enforce it.

An unchallengeable model, beyond alternatives and utopian ideas of sharing and justice, that is bathed in a misty glow of polished yet polluted uniformity, where the individual is absorbed into the consumer collective and told: Where to shop and what to buy, how to love and in which colour, what to think and when to think it, and, if in doubt tune into your local multinational media outlet for an update on corporate global acceptability.

Graham Peebles is director of the Create Trust. He can be reached at: graham@thecreatetrust.org