the feeble minded sectarian antics of what passes
for todays 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.
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 Boards 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.
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
a world governed by the rules of the market, the blind
pitiless indifference of capital is our lot.
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:
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.
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.'
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 Wieners
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.
its independence from Britain almost sixty years ago,
high-grade state school education has never featured
prominently on Indias list of priorities. Even
the countrys 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
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.
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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