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

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Making Sense of Kerala’s Flood Disaster

The humanitarian response to Kerala’s calamity has risen above blame games.

The recent tragedy in Kerala seems to have evoked public responses at three levels. At the first and basic level, it evoked a spontaneous humanitarian response from several segments of society, which transcended regional and national boundaries. Responses at this level seem to have been unmediated by any prior calculations or instrumental factors. The humanitarian aid that continues to flow into Kerala both from within the country and abroad, particularly from the non-governmental organisations, has been quite phenomenal. These acts have transcended all the defined boundaries, and demonstrated how our common humanity mattered more, leading to the mobilisation of resources from different corners of the country and the world, evoked by human emotions. This first level of response has acquired a form that is morally pure on three counts. First, it is devoid of any blame-gaming. Second, it encapsulated a moral narrative of individuals and groups who had volunteered to donate their personal assets in solidarity, to mitigate, to even some extent, the devastating consequences of the ravaging floods. Finally, the moral initiative does not wait for any particular direction or guidance as it happens quite instinctively, without any delay.

But, this is not the case with the response which occurs at the second level and begins with relentless criticism of the handling of the situation, this time targeting the Kerala government that is caught in the vortex of the disaster. As the case of Kerala shows, this response was led predominantly by two kinds of critics: environmentalists, and stakeholders in Kerala’s polity and economy. The environmentalists have sought to criticise the successive governments for failing to heed the warning that was given to the former from time to time. But, the politics of the Kerala model of development and the remittances-fuelled development of a large consumer and housing market along with the “growth” fetish led to the dismissal of the timely cautions by these experts, both from within Kerala and outside. Similar warnings had been given to different governments that, in the recent times, have faced calamities of flood, but these have almost been reduced to a development ritual, inasmuch as they are noted and kept aside, if not thrown into the dustbin. Thus, the politics of development which is driven by instrumental reasons tends to overrule the warnings and cautions, only at the cost of inviting devastating consequences for humanity. Thus, the second-level response, unlike the first, is not emotionally spontaneous and involves the force of scientific truth, and hence morally empowers the experts to fix the responsibility not on nature, but on human self-interests and the public institutions that protect those interests.

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Updated On : 28th Aug, 2018
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