Disappearing the poor

Published on The Guardian, by Jeremy Seabrook, April 9, 2008.

As if to demonstrate that poverty is now a residual issue in the world, the poor are being slowly eliminated from the imagery of the busy global media. “Nowhere in Bollywood films do you see a poor person,” says Pandurang Hegde, activist in the forests of northern Karnataka. “There is no place in the iconography of the new India for anything that suggests impoverishment and loss”. Nor on the majority of TV stations which have flooded India with their unblinking radiance. The poor have become peripheral figures, with scarcely walk-on parts in the great drama of liberalisation …

Arundhati Roy sees preparations for a “genocide” against the poor; although the word is not quite right in the context, since the poor are not a race. Povericide is an inelegant but more accurate word for what Arundhati Roy sees as a corollary of “the most successful secessionist struggle ever waged in India – the secession of the middle and upper classes to a country of their own”.


As if to support this grim scenario, the ghost of hunger is presently being invoked by the global information machines. The cost of staple foods continues to rise – thanks, we are told, to changing appetites of (some of) the people of India and China, the diversion of agricultural land to jatropha, soya or sugar-cane for biofuel, the using up of fertile farmland for infrastructural projects (India lost over a million hectares of agricultural land between 1990 and 2005), erratic harvests which may or may not be an early symptom of climate change. The Malthusian insight, that no place is set at nature’s banquet for the poor, has been revised: no longer nature’s banquet, it is now a feast crafted by a global food manufacturing industry.

The poor are scattered and divided. While some will doubtless obligingly efface themselves by consuming pesticide, jumping on to the railway track or hanging themselves from a ceiling fan, others will join the doomed ranks of armed resistance, while yet others will almost certainly be drawn into spectacular acts of violence and terror … (full text).

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