Why the Attacks in India Should Surprise Nobody

Americans were shocked to learn that coordinated terrorist attacks
struck the heart of Mumbai, India's commercial capital on Wednesday
evening. After all, India is not Iraq or Afghanistan or even Pakistan.
According to pundits such as Thomas Friedman of the New York Times,
India is a shining capitalist success story and the next global
superpower. In the pro-globalization narrative, India's
eager-beaver working class has benefited greatly from neoliberal
economic policies. Intellectuals extol India as the world's largest
democracy and an example for the rest of the developing world to
follow. Today, India is a popular tourist destination for everyone from
backpackers on spiritual voyages to white-collar executives on business

Americans are largely shielded from the shocking reality of India. According
to the World Bank's own estimates on poverty, almost half of all
Indians live below the new international poverty line of $1.25 (PPP)
per day.[1] The World Bank further estimates that 33% of the global poor now reside in India. [2]
Moreover, India also has 828 million people, or 75.6% of the population
living below $2 a day, compared to 72.2% for Sub-Saharan Africa.[3]
A quarter of the nation's population earns less than the
government-specified poverty threshold of $0.40/day. Someone should
tell the starving masses who have remained largely marginalized and
subjugated that India is a "success story" because that's not reflected
in most Indian's lives. Income inequality in India, as measured by the
Gini coefficient, is increasing at a disturbingly destabilizing rate.[4]
In addition, India has a higher rate of malnutrition among children
under the age of three than any other country in the world (46% in year
2007).[5],[6] India is possibly the world's largest democracy by some definitions; however, as
Mahatma Gandhi, once asked, "What difference does it make to the dead,
the orphans, and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought
under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty and

Pundits such as Friedman play golf with the global elite and then pontificate on perceived economic trends. In Friedman's book, The World is Flat, he suggests that "Indians should celebrate Y2K as its second independence day." Yet,
by some estimates, the high-tech sector employs just 0.2 percent of
India's one billion people. Americans are largely unaware of the
violent, systemic poverty plaguing India because the country is reduced
to a caricature where everyone fielding Americans' inquiries in call
centers is prospering. Having lived in India for four
years and visited the country every other year, I am painfully aware of
the reality on the ground. India is a country where children are
forcefully amputated by beggar-masters and sent to elicit money; where
poor women sell their bodies to truck drivers and contract HIV at
alarming rates; and, where American tourists nonchalantly spend enough
money in one day to support a hungry family for months.

recent attacks in India are morally repugnant, but the debate on how to
curb terrorism needs to consider why people engage in such desperate
acts in the first place. The perpetrators of yesterday's violence
targeted two of Mumbai's most luxurious hotels: Taj Mahal and the
Oberioi Trident. One night at either of these hotels costs, on average,
Rupees 17,500 (US $ 355) in a country where the annual salary is Rupees
29,069 (US $590).[7]
The death of over a hundred people on Wednesday should deeply upset the
world, but it should also lead us to question the death of the 18
million people who die annually from the systemic violence of endemic
poverty.[8] As
Yale professor Thomas Pogge notes, the affects of poverty are felt
exponentially more in certain parts of our "unflat" world: "If the
developed Western countries had their proportional shares of
[gratuitous] deaths, severe poverty would kill some 3,500 Britons and
16,500 Americans per week."[9]

Abedin, an insurgency analyst, told Al Jazeera after Wednesday nights
attacks: "We have seen an increase in recent years in indigenous Indian
Muslim organizations beginning to take a violent stance towards the
Indian state and sections of the Indian society, particularly the
commercial elite of places like Mumbai, in order to highlight, they
would say, the sheer inequality of life in India."[10]
Abedin continued, "there is a middle class of around 100 million who
live very well but 800 million-plus people live in miserable
conditions." Even people who commit heinous acts of violence
occasionally make a valid point. The
latest attacks should not evoke a knee-jerk effort to ratchet up the
so-called Global War on Terror but, instead, make us question how to
avoid such attacks in the future. By
showing genuine concern for the plight of the millions of people who
are at risk of death from poverty and by honoring the sanctity of the
lives of the most destitute, we have the best chance of defeating the
ideologies of hate.[11]








[8] Thomas Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights p. 99

[9] Pogge, Thomas W. World Poverty and Human Rights: Cosmopolitan Responsibilities and Reforms . Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 2002 p. 98


[11] Jeffrey D. Sachs "Net Gains." New York Times. April 29, 2006