11 September 2006

value for human life

a few days ago, in frustration and puzzlement, one of my colleagues--a senior cambodian human rights defender--wondered whether in our part of the world (as well as other developing nations) human life was valued less than perhaps in europe or america. how else could we explain the great number of lives lost everyday, with such little attention and uproar? he noted that if we do not value the lives of our fellow countrymen, how can we expect others to?

the conversation inevitably moved to the new york world trade centre attacks and i voiced my disquiet at the local tv station's adverts for a two-hour documentary on the topic. five years after the tragedy, the hype has not died down. but what of the thousands of other world tragedies that have continued in those five years? why are their stories not portrayed as vividly, or at all?

i am aware that part of the answer must necessarily lie in the politics of media, power and capital. i am more interested however, in the responsibility shouldered by civil society, by ordinary individuals. earlier last week, a fellow indian, on learning that my family comes from the state of gujarat, asked me, 'what are you doing in response to the government of narendra modi, to the 2002 pogrom?' he did not ask me for an opinion or comments, he was interested in concrete actions. implicit in his question was my responsibility to be doing something.

one of my friends has this quote on his blog: you must be the change you wish to see in the world

(perhaps i can begin working towards this change by participating in class discussions this time around.. !)


Anonymous said...

Reading your latest post, I have to say I agree with most of it, but not all. To be disgusted by the continuing "hype" about 9-11 is a small way of thinking. Your post emphasizes caring more about the things that go on worldwide, and yet you want people to care less about 9-11?

I agree that certain people care about 9-11 more than what goes on in other countries, but those people are FROM America. In America people are extremely concerned about Americans, and i think it's a good thing. you care about your family first and your compassion extends outward from there.

not that Cambodia has the funds to put on several television specials about the history of genocide in their country, of course. But the reason the world doesn't stop focusing on 9-11 is because America doesn't just pass it over.

md said...

to clarify -i did not say i was 'disgusted'. my disquiet was directed at the hk tv. my question is not why americans care about 9/11, it is why other events are not given the same attention. as you commented, the world doesn't forget because america doesn't forget.

and that takes me back: how much value do we have for human life? does india remember the bhopal disaster? does sri lanka remember the disappearances of tens of thousands of ordinary civilians? does thailand remember the extrajudicial killings of several thousand persons in its so called drug war?

Anonymous said...

The simple answer to your friends question is yes human life is valued less in your part of the world. I don't mean this facetiously, it is a simple fact. For more information please read this article I wrote about just this subject.

How Much Are You Worth

Sadly the 2 links in the article are no longer active but originally they pointed to a PowerPoint presentation given at an Australian insurance companies annual convention that explained the their formula for calculating the cash value of a human life. It was dependent on how many $$$ you could be expected to earn in your lifetime. If you come from a poor country this figure is low so they deem your life to be worth less... Interesting, worth less = worthless. I only just noticed that.

Sad but true...

Love V