ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Calcutta Diary

What distinguishes the Gujarat cataclysm is the fact that this has been one earthquake where, along with the poor, affluent sections of society have also been substantial sufferers. Perhaps for the first time in the annals of mankind, an earthquake has shaken the confidence of oligarchs. Globalisation and liberalisation have come home to roost. The rich, who were agog at the marvels of western architecture, have had a rude awakening.

Believe it or not, the consequences of natural calamities too have a specific class bias. In the case of floods, the low-lying areas are devoured by water. Since the poor have their abode in these low stretches, they are the worst victims of any general flooding. Never mind whether the water stays for only a couple of days or lingers for a full three to four weeks, the poor and the downtrodden are rendered even poorer and more downtrodden. Where the phenomenon happens to be famine and drought, again the poor, who, in state-of-the-art terminology, have little or no command over purchasing power, die of malnutrition and hunger. Some of them, as happened in the ghastly Bengal famine of 1943, draw upon their last reserves of strength to trek from villages to towns and cities. But the hostility of the milieu remains unchanged. At most, as they lie stricken in the streets, lanes and bylanes, some kind-hearted individuals cart them to hospital, where their agony soon ends. The rich and the affluent, however, have an altogether different experience during famines. Not only will they be able to sustain themselves because of their superior purchasing power; should they belong to the heaven-born set of big farmers, traders and black marketers, their income will soar and soar in periods of overall scarcity of food and victuals. The adversity of the poor thereby adds a new dimension to the accumulation of wealth by the rich.

The fall-out of earthquakes by and large does not belong to a different genre, where awesome tremors shake the surface and sub-surface of the earth, the familiar result is calamity for the poor. They live in mud huts or ramshackle structures which are razed to the ground even when the measure on the Richter scale barely touches four point five or five. On the other hand, since in fact the stone age, those with a greater share of society’s resources are able to build their habitat on solider foundations. In ancient times, the basic ingredient was stone or such other equally sturdy building block; in the modern period, the affluent classes have crossed over to steel foundations, concrete layers and reinforced beams. In the habitually quake-prone regions, they have often preferred wooden frameworks which are less susceptible to damage by underground and overground tremors. In the appropriation of societal property, the richer sections have in any case a natural advantage over the poor. Those who have more can appropriate more; those who have more can also appropriate a greater share of wood and timber.

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