Friday, September 15, 2006

Elsewhere on the "Diabetes in India" story

So far, most of what I've read in the blogosphere about the NY Times article on Type 2 diabetes in India can be categorized as "Yeah, it's a problem, we know it" (see here). At Sepia Mutiny, a post on the article has prompted 140+ comments, some of which suggest that the article fails to consider explanations for the rise in diabetes other than increasing affluence.

But over at pass the roti on the left hand side, Desi Italiana has posted a nice take on the issue. Titling her entry "'Modernity' and mithai: a deadly combo," Desi Italiana points out that the link between diabetes and increasing affluence calls into question all the "India Shining" rhetoric. "What's funny," she points out, "is that despite the facts that the author provides - such as the lack of health care and health insurance, the 300 million hungry bellies and the cruel poverty - words like 'developed,' 'progress,' and 'modernization' abound."

Desi Italiana goes on to ask:
With more than 300 million people hungry, 290+ million without sanitation and drinking water, half of the population illiterate, inaccessible health care, and the AIDS epidemic spiraling out of control, where is the "modernity," "development," and "progress" in India? Is India considered to be modernizing and progressing just because it has a middle class?
Thank you for asking the types of hard questions that seldom get asked. Here is my answer:

A "developed" society, in an efficient, sustainable, and just manner, must:
  1. Replenish its population
  2. Adequately and fairly produce and distribute food/water, energy and shelter
  3. Maintain the physical and mental health of its members
  4. Pass on important knowledge to each subsequent generation
  5. Regulate human behavior so as to maintain social order
The article on diabetes in India, and the problem with the spread of AIDS pointed out by Desi Italiana, suggests that maintenance of health (3.) is not currently being achieved. In my previous posts, I tried to make the point that under a consumer culture, traditions and customs essential to the passing on of important knowledge (4.) are diminished. Widespread malnourishment, urban slums and farmer suicides all suggest that India is struggling to produce and distribute food/water, energy and shelter (2.) in an adequate and just manner.

On the other hand, except for occasional communal violence, social order (5.) appears to be more or less maintained. This means that, arguably, India is accomplishing only 1. with any great success (perhaps with too much success).

Now, this probably sounds rather harsh. My point is that India should continue to "develop" and "progress," but without blindly embracing some abstract, and therefore ultimately unobtainable, notion of what development is. A society has become modern or developed only when it uses the knowledge, technology, and other innovations of the last 200 years to meet the above conditions, for the vast majority of its members, in an efficient and just manner.

Of course, by this standard, one could conclude that the U.S. is failing to meet the basic standards of a developed society. Well, maybe the U.S. should not be the standard to which the developing world looks.

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