Category Archives: Guardian

Half of Indians have no toilet.


Amartya Sen: India’s dirty fighter

The Guardian, July 2013

That half of Indians have no toilet is just one of many gigantic failures that have prompted Nobel prize-winning academic Amartya Sen to write a devastating critique (An Uncertain Glory…) of India’s economic boom.

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But Sen doesn’t do satisfaction. He does outrage expressed in the most reasonable possible terms. What he wants to know is where more than 600 million Indians go to defecate.

“Half of all Indians have no toilet. In Delhi when you build a new condominium there are lots of planning requirements but none relating to the servants having toilets. It’s a combination of class, caste and gender discrimination. It’s absolutely shocking. Poor people have to use their ingenuity and for women that can mean only being able to relieve themselves after dark with all the safety issues that entails,” says Sen, adding that Bangladesh is much poorer than India and yet only 8% don’t have access to a toilet. “This is India’s defective development.”

Despite all the comfort and prestige of his status in the UK and the US – he teaches at Harvard – he hasn’t forgotten the urgency of the plight of India’s poor, which he first witnessed as a small child in the midst of the Bengal famine of 1943. An Uncertain Glory: India and its ContradictionsHis new book, An Uncertain Glory, co-written with his long-time colleague Jean Drèze, is a quietly excoriating critique of India’s boom.

It’s the 50% figure which – shockingly – keeps recurring. Fifty per cent of children are stunted, the vast majority due to undernourishment. Fifty per cent of women have anemia for the same reason. In one survey, there was no evidence of any teaching activity in 50% of schools in seven big northern states, which explains terrible academic underachievement.

Despite considerable economic growth and increasing self-confidence as a major global player, modern India is a disaster zone in which millions of lives are wrecked by hunger and by pitiable investment in health and education services. Pockets of California amid sub-Saharan Africa, sum up Sen and Drèze.

The details are outrageous but the outlines of this story are familiar and Sen and Drèze are losing patience (they have collaborated on several previous books) and their last chapter is entitled The Need for Impatience. They want attention, particularly from the vast swath of the Indian middle classes who seem indifferent to the wretched lives of their neighbours. So they have aimed their critique at India’s national amour-propre by drawing unfavourable comparisons, firstly with the great rival China but even more embarrassingly with a string of south Asian neighbours.

indian slum
An Indian boy defecates in the open in one of New Delhi’s slums. Photograph: AP Photo/Kevin Frayer

“There are reasons for India to hang its head in shame. Alongside the success, there have been gigantic failures,” says Sen. He is making this critique loud and clear in the media on both sides of the Atlantic ahead of the book’s launch in India this week. “India will prick up its ears when comparisons with China are made, but the comparison is not just tactical. China invested in massive expansion of education and healthcare in the 70s so that by 1979, life expectancy was 68 while in India it was only 54.”

Sen and Drèze’s argument is that these huge social investments have proved critical to sustaining China’s impressive economic growth. Without comparable foundations, India’s much lauded economic growth is faltering. Furthermore, they argue that India’s overriding preoccupation with economic growth makes no sense without recognising that human development depends on how that wealth is used and distributed. What’s the purpose of a development model that produces luxury shopping malls rather than sanitation systems that ensure millions of healthy lives, ask Drèze and Sen, accusing India of “unaimed opulence”. India is caught in the absurd paradox of people having mobile phones but no toilets.

Even more stark is the comparison with Bangladesh. “Our hope is that India’s public policymakers will be embarrassed by the comparison with Bangladesh. On a range of development indicators such as life expectancy, child immunisation and child mortality, Bangladesh has pulled ahead of India despite being poorer.’

What makes this comparison so powerful is that Bangladesh has targeted the position of women not just through government policy but also through the work of non-governmental organisations such as BRAC and the Grameen Bank. As a result, there have been astonishing successes, says Sen, such as a dramatic fall in fertility rate and girls now outnumbering boys in education. All this has been achieved despite having half the per capita income of India.

Other impoverished neighbours such as Nepal have made great strides, while even Sri Lanka has kept well ahead of India on key indicators despite a bitter civil war for much of the last 30 years. Drèze and Sen conclude in their book that India has “some of the worst human development indicators in the world” and features in the bottom 15 countries, along with Afghanistan, Yemen and Pakistan. Seven of the poorest Indian states account for the biggest concentration of deprivation on the globe.

India, Kathputli
Street scene in Delhi’s Kathputli colony, where the houses have no running water, electricity or sanitation. Photograph: Donatella Giagnori/LatinContent/Getty Images

After this blizzard of facts and figures – and the book is stuffed with them – one might fear reader despair, but the reverse is true. This is a book about what India could do – and should do. Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh are held up as good examples of how social investments from the 60s to the 80s have reaped dividends in economic growth. What holds India back is not lack of resources but lack of clear-sighted, long-term policies and the political will to implement them. Sen (still an Indian citizen) is optimistic, pointing to the political mobilisation following the rape of a young woman student on a bus in Delhi last December, which led to the rapid adoption of new measures to combat violence against women. The consciences of the Indian middle classes can be stirred, and, when they are, political action follows.

But he admits “intellectual wonder” at how it is that more people can’t see that economic growth without investment in human development is unsustainable – and unethical. What underpins the book is a deep faith in human reason, the roots of which he traces to India’s long argumentative tradition going as far back as the Buddha. If enough evidence and careful analysis is brought to bear on this subject then one can win the argument, and it is this faith that has sustained him through more than five decades of writing on human development. It was his work which led to the development of the much cited UN’s Human Development Index.

Influential he has certainly been, but he acknowledges he still hasn’t won the argument. To his dismay, there are plenty of examples where people seem set on ignoring the kind of evidence he stacks up; in passing he asks: “How can anyone believe austerity with high levels of unemployment is intelligent policy for the UK?”

He laughingly comments that colleagues say his thinking hasn’t evolved much, but he dismisses the idea of being frustrated. All he will concede is the astonishing admission that he wishes someone else had written this book on India. “There are a number of problems in philosophy which I would have preferred to tackle – such as problems with objectivity. But this book had to be written. I want these issues heard.”

He says that the Nobel prize and the National Medal from President Obama may be “overrated” but they give him a platform, and he unashamedly uses it – giving time to media interviews and travelling all over the world to deliver speeches. That has led to compromises on the intellectual projects he would have liked to pursue, but life has been full of compromises ever since he narrowly survived cancer as an 18-year-old: there are all kinds of food he cannot eat as a result.

He is an extraordinary academic by any account – a member of both the philosophy and the economics faculties at Harvard – and is helping to develop a new course on maths while supervising PhDs in law and public health. He has plans for several more books and no plans to slow down. Mastery of multiple academic disciplines is rare enough but it’s the dogged ethical preoccupation threading through all his work that is really remarkable. None of the erudition is used to intimidate; he is always the teacher.

Some argue that Sen is the last heir to a distinguished Bengali intellectual tradition that owed as much to poets as it did to scientists, politicians and philosophers. Sen is the true inheritor of Rabindranath Tagore, the great poet and thinker of the early decades of the 20th century. A family friend, he named Sen as a baby; the only photograph in Sen’s Cambridge study is that of the striking Tagore with his flowing white beard.

But on one issue Sen admits he now parts company with Tagore, and instead he quotes Kazi Nazrul Islam, Bengal’s other great poet who became an iconic figure for the nation of Bangladesh. Tagore was too patient; Nazrul was the rebel urging action. And he repeats a quote he uses in the book: “Patience is a minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue.” He wants change and that means he is about to embark on a demanding tour of Indian cities to promote the book. The doctors have told him that if he slows down it will be irrevocable, so he’s decided not to. Retirement is not an option.

Where is the progressive interpretation of the US constitution?

Conservatives have an interpretation of the US constitution that furthers their political objectives. Progressives need one, too

‘Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation has created a conservative majority on the court that is sure to undermine individual rights and lessen equality.’
Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation has created a conservative majority on the court that is sure to undermine individual rights and lessen equality.

Over the course of American history, there have been great gains in individual freedom and enormous advances in equality for racial minorities, women, and LGBT people. But much remains to be done. Unfortunately, we are now at a profoundly challenging moment for these values. We have a president who is not committed to them, and for the foreseeable future we face the prospect of a hostile supreme court.

But all this will change. Someday there again will be a majority on the court committed to using the constitution to advance liberty and equality. In the meantime, progressives must fight to provide the foundation for their work. In particular, they must develop and defend an alternative to the conservative vision of the US constitution.

Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation has created a conservative majority on the court that is sure to undermine individual rights and lessen equality. There now are five conservative justices who will explicitly or effectively overrule Roe v Wade, declare unconstitutional all forms of affirmative action, lessen the protection of civil rights, and further erode constitutional protections for criminal defendants.

This is the most conservative court since the mid-1930s, and the five justices that dominate it will be together for years to come. Clarence Thomas is 70 years old. Samuel Alito is 68. John Roberts is 63, while the two newest justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, are 51 and 53 respectively.

In the face of all this, progressives are understandably discouraged. But they have crucial work to do in providing an intellectual framework that current critics and future justices can use to oppose the regressive policies of the Trump administration and the conservatives on the supreme court.

This must begin by showing the intellectual hypocrisy of “originalism”, the conservative approach to constitutional law. Conservative justices pretend that they are just following the original meaning of the constitution and deny that they are imposing their own values on the country. They try to describe themselves as if their values don’t matter. Echoing the language used by John Roberts at his confirmation hearings in 2005, Brett Kavanaugh told the Senate judiciary committee: “A good judge must be an umpire – a neutral and impartial arbiter who favors no litigant or policy … I don’t decide cases based on personal or policy preferences.”

That is nonsense. Supreme court justices are not like umpires at all. Umpires apply rules and have relatively little discretion in determining their meaning. The supreme court creates the rules and justices have enormous discretion in interpreting the law. How a justice votes is very much a result of his or her ideology and views. Clarence Thomas and Ruth Bader Ginsburgdisagree in virtually every major case entirely because of their differing ideologies, not because of anything inherent in the constitution.

This is not new; it always has been the case that supreme court decisions are a product of those sitting on the bench. The constitution was intentionally written in broad, open-ended language that rarely provides guidance for issues that must be resolved by the supreme court. What is “cruel and unusual punishment” or “due process” or “equal protection” cannot be determined by the words of the text or the intent of its drafters, who wrote long ago for a vastly different world. What’s more, no constitutional right is absolute: constitutional cases constantly involve weighing the government’s interest against the claim of a right by some other member of society.

The desire for value-neutral judging in such cases is an impossible quest. The need to balance competing interests is inescapable, and a justice’s own ideology and life experiences inevitably determine how he or she – or anyone interpreting the constitution – strikes that balance. By claiming otherwise, conservatives are trying to create a smokescreen to make Americans think their decisions are based on the “true” meaning of the constitution, when actually their rulings are a product of their own conservative views.

But the progressive vision must do more than simply show the intellectual bankruptcy of originalism. It must explain that constitutional law is always about applying the provisions of the constitution to current problems. It does not try to deny the discretion of the justices or make them seem like umpires, but instead says that discretion should be used to effectuate the underlying values of the constitution.

These values are clearly stated in the first words of the constitution, its preamble. It declares that the constitution is written to create a democratic government, to ensure an effective government, to establish justice, and to secure liberty. Added to these goals should be achieving equality, something omitted from the original constitution, which protected slavery and envisioned no civil rights for women or racial minorities.

The task for progressives is to give content to each of these values and show how the constitution should be interpreted to achieve them. Among other things, a progressive vision of constitutional law must seek to eliminate serious flaws in American democracy, such as the electoral college and racially discriminatory voting laws; champion criminal justice reform, including finally ending the death penalty and ensuring competent counsel for all criminal defendants; and fiercely defend privacy rights, including reproductive autonomy for women.

Addressing race and sex discrimination also requires that progressives interpret the law to curtail government actions that, while perhaps neutral on their faces, have demonstrably discriminatory impacts. And, in the longer term, progressives must make the case for interpreting the constitution to give a right to all Americans to the essential requirements of life: food, shelter, medical care and education.

All of this may seem elusive today with Brett Kavanaugh joining four other conservative justices on the supreme court. As Martin Luther King Jr proclaimed, however, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”. A day will come when we have a more progressive court, and we must now build the intellectual framework for that day.

  • Irwin Chemerinsky is Dean and Jesse H Choper distinguished professor of law, University of California, Berkeley School of Law, and the author of We the People: A Progressive Reading of the Constitution for the 21st Century


Beethoven’s An die Freude by Flashmob, Banco Sabadell, Spain

Published on May 31, 2012

En el 130º aniversario de la creación de Banco Sabadell hemos querido rendir un homenaje a nuestra ciudad con la campaña “Som Sabadell”. Esta es la flashmob que realizamos como colofón final con la participación de más de 100 personas de la Orquestra Simfònica del Vallès y los coros Lieder y Amics de l’Òpera y la Coral Belles Arts.

(On the 130th anniversary of the founding of Banco Sabadell we wanted to pay homage to our city by means of the campaign “Som Sabadell” (We are Sabadell) . This is the flashmob that we arranged as a final culmination with the participation of 100 people from the Vallès Symphony Orchestra, the Lieder, Amics de l’Òpera and Coral Belles Arts choirs.)

Banco de Sabadell, S.A. (Catalan: Banc Sabadell) is a banking group headquartered in Sabadell, Spain.

Ode to Joy” (German original title: “An die Freude“) is the anthem of the European Union and the Council of Europe; both of which refer to it as the European Anthem[1][2] due to the Council’s intention that, as a semi-modern composition with a mythological flair, it does represent Europe as a whole, rather than any organisation. It is based on the final movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony composed in 1823, and is played on official occasions by both organisations.

Ode an die Freude

O Freunde, nicht diese Töne
Sondern laßt uns angenehmere anstimmen
und freudonvollere.
Freude! Freude!

Freude, schöner Götterfunken
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!
Deine Zauber binden wieder
Was die Mode streng geteilt;
Alle Menschen werden Brüder,
(Schiller: Was der Mode Schwert geteilt;
Bettler werden Fürstenbrüder,)
Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.

Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuss der ganzen Welt!
Brüder – über’m Sternenzelt
Muss ein lieber Vater wohnen.
Ihr stürzt nieder, Millionen?
Ahnest du den Schöpfer, Welt?
Such’ ihn über’m Sternenzelt!
Über Sternen muss er wohnen.

Wem der große Wurf gelungen,
Eines Freundes Freund zu sein;
Wer ein holdes Weib errungen,
Mische seinen Jubel ein!
Ja, wer auch nur eine Seele
Sein nennt auf dem Erdenrund!
Und wer’s nie gekonnt, der stehle
Weinend sich aus diesem Bund!

Freude trinken alle Wesen
An den Brüsten der Natur;
Alle Guten, alle Bösen
Folgen ihrer Rosenspur.
Küsse gab sie uns und Reben,
Einen Freund, geprüft im Tod;
Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben,
Und der Cherub steht vor Gott.

Froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen
Durch des Himmels prächt’gen Plan,
Laufet, Brüder, eure Bahn,
Freudig, wie ein Held zum Siegen.

Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuss der ganzen Welt!
Brüder, über’m Sternenzelt
Muss ein lieber Vater wohnen.
Ihr stürzt nieder, Millionen?
Ahnest du den Schöpfer, Welt?
Such’ ihn über’m Sternenzelt!
Über Sternen muss er wohnen.