India Uncut

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Sunday, January 09, 2005

Post-tsunami thoughts 3: Selective compassion

The column inches have come down, the news channels are no longer full of it, and less and less people are coming forward to volunteer for relief organisations: the tsunami is being forgotten by most of us. Only level one of the three levels of relief work is over, but already, the focus is shifting away from this catastrophe. And I keep asking myself the same question over and over again: Why does it take a disaster like this to evoke compassion in us? After all, the needs that we are helping to fulfill now – for food, housing, medicine and livelihood – have always existed in all the affected countries?

I had blogged about this a few days ago (“Despatches 36: The broader, continuing disaster”), and I cannot find any answers. When all is “normal” again, and millions of people are back to scrambling for food and jobs and drinking water in sub-human conditions, will we still care?

For most of us, I think the answer to that is: No. We block out all the misery in the world as we go along our daily lives, building a cocoon around ourselves that excludes the little beggar at the traffic lights, the homeless people strewn across the streets at night, the millions swept away by a vast tsunami of indifference. It takes a tragedy like this to burst that cocoon, and perhaps it gives some of us a chance to assuage the guilt that may have built up inside. Now, the Indian Ocean is calm again.

Or has it changed, for good?
amit varma, 9:11 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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