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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

The Globe and the Village

Lila Rajiva • 17 April 2004

The road from Madras to my home town Vellore in the south of India is a bumpy ride however one makes it, inside the sturdy old Ambassador cars or in the new light-weight Marutis, in a crowded bus or an air conditioned taxi. No lanes. The traffic moves erratically as it wills and the black tar fades incoherently into sand and thorn bushes. On one side, the soil has been dug up for the Golden Quadrilateral, an ambitious highway network running north to south and east to west, and hundred year old trees have been cut down to make way for it. My mother assures me on the way home that this is the reason why it feels much hotter this summer. Nobody bothers about two lanes - six? I wonder if its worth an extra three degrees of heat in July when the monsoon fails.

Then there is the Hyundai factory. It is one of the many gleaming new buildings dotting the road in this part of South India. Medical colleges catering to Non Resident Indians (NRI's), international schools - the globe has spun into the villages.

For a "foreign-returned" Indian, this "progress' can be soothing. It soothes one's guilt over leaving behind the millions who lead attenuated existences in the shadows. The meals on the trains used to be served in moistened banana leaves that were plucked in front of you and thrown away after; today they are wrapped in tin foil or come in plastic or cardboard containers like the cheerfully colored juice packs - tutti-frutti.

Progress. the Marutis have been joined by other cars. At some haunt of high life in the city I read of Porsches and Benzes, although who would risk taking them out an Indian road it is hard to imagine. Plastic knives and forks, cloth napkins, internet access everywhere in little shops and booths, a small but well-stocked air-conditioned super market with shopping carts, bored store girls, and wide empty aisles. These are the sorts of pictures that when we see them on t.v. make us feel that, after all, the world is getting better, technology and capitalism are always making things better everywhere. The free market triumphs again. The campesino and the conglomerate are working hand in hand.

But the gaudy varnish chips easily and underneath there is a darker picture. Since the Hyundai factor opened up, water has been in short supply for miles around. Water that is needed for drinking, washing, cooking. In temperatures of 48 degrees centigrade, a shortage of water is a death sentence. Last year, the death toll from an unexpectedly hot dry summer was in the thousands.

If an upper middle class family feels the pinch, how does it feel when you have to walk a mile to the well with a squalling infant tugging at your sari and nothing to protect your head from the ferocious sun except a thin piece of old cotton? The Hyundai factory guzzles water. And electricity. And land. But it's a fine place to work for some people, I've heard. And, after years of those trundling old Ambassadors, it will be splendid to see the foreign cars zip up and down.

Jobs and transportation and industry are what the globe brings with it for some, but who stands by to measure the fall out on everyone else? The collateral damage of multinational companies cannot compete with war; Cancun can't compete with Iraq for public interest, but is death from dehydration any less painful than death from a bullet?

In Karnataka state, small farmers like the campesinos at Cancun, have killed themselves in frustration over the onslaught of the multinationals in their countries. They are the immediate and dramatic victims of globalization but there are many others. Some indigenous medicines and herbs used for centuries are now up for grabs because of the multinationals moving in to patent them. The most famous case has been turmeric - the yellowish powder used to color rice and other foods in India In 1995, 2 expatriate Indians at the University of Mississipi Medical Center, Suman Das and Hari Har Cohly, applied for a patent for the use of turmeric in wounds. Turmeric has been used traditionally for centuries for that and many other purposes and the Indian Council for Scientific and Industrial Research promptly challenged the patent, even producing an article written in 1953 in the Journal of the Indian Medical Association that quoted ancient Sanskrit texts that referred to turmeric's use. Ultimately the patent was withdrawn. But nine other such patents on turmeric have been applied for. And there are other indigenous foods like basmati rice and neem leaves that also have had patents granted for particular uses.

Intellectual property rights are at the core of the World Trade Organization debate between the developed and underdeveloped countries - the former wanting to extend them, the latter wanting to restrain them. American trade lawyers argue that since patent laws are not much in vogue in the third world, they are not properly understood and that only new and original uses of traditional foods and herbs are being patented, not well known uses. They point out that without patent protection, the incentive for drug companies to undertake long drawn out and uncertain research disappears. Here again, the rhetoric is of the free market, but the actual practice is a demand for the state to protect industry and grant it monopoly rights. And it is the biggest industries that are being supported by the state granted monopolies - "big pharma," which has the highest paid executives and rakes in the biggest profits. Meanwhile, the simple vitamins that could save millions of children from disease and death are already well known to us and do not need expensive Research & Development programs. If the market really worked as it should, freely, the campesinos would win much more frequently than they do now.

But to frame the debate as one between campesino and conglomerate, countryside and commerce is to have already conceded it, for Globalization, like Modernity, like Science, Progress, or any other capitalized abstraction is of course irresistible and irreversible. Only Luddites, medievalists, agrarian romantics, and born-again hippies - the Birkenstock brigade - would stand in its way. These are the straw-men who allow corporate apologists to dismiss the anti-globalization movement as irrational or adolescent We need new ways of speaking. It is not modernity which is the enemy. It is the relentless form of one type of economic production that is propagandized and supported by the state. Without agricultural subsidies, the big farmers would be out of business, beaten by the small farmers. The conglomerates would take a licking from the campesinos.

The resistance to the multinationals is not a resistance to globalization. It is a cry to retain the perspective of the village, the perspective of the human. What we need today are activists FOR globalization, but a human globalization not an inhuman one.


Lila Rajiva is a free-lance journalist and activist who writes for alternative print and online media, and adjuncts at the University of Maryland and at Towson University in Baltimore, MD.




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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.
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Index: Current Articles

19 April 2004


Other Articles From This Issue:


The Laughter of Our Children
Anthony McIntyre


Prisoners Families Physically Removed from Maghaberry Visit
J. Sean Burns, IRPWA


Profile of a Glove
Kathleen O'Halloran


Irish Americans
Gerry O'Hare


The Globe and the Village

Lila Rajival


16 April 2004


Two Codes of Ignoble Submission
Kathleen O'Halloran


32CSM Easter Oration, Derry
Marian Price


Threat to Dissident...?
J. Doherty


Another Recruit
Brian Mór


R = PB -C
Eoghan O’Suilleabhain


The Public, Private and Academic Partnership:
Towards a New Paradigm of Public Protection

Terry O'Neill


Anthony McIntyre


"Colombia-US Free Trade Treaty - far more than trade"
Emilio Sardi (with reflections by Toni Solo)




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