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TOPIC: inequality


New Delhi Postcard: How A G20 Makeover Looks After The World Leaders Go Home

Before the G20 summit, which took place in New Delhi from Sept. 9-10, Indian authorities carried out a "beautification" of the city. Entire slums were bulldozed, forcing some of the city's most vulnerable residents into homelessness.

NEW DELHI — Three cinder blocks with a plank, a gas bottle, a stove and a lamp are all that's left for Chetram, 32, who now lives with his wife and three children under a road bridge in Moolchand Basti, central Delhi.

"On March 28, the police came at 2 p.m. with their demolition notice. By 4 p.m., the bulldozers were already there," Chetram recalls.

All that remains of their house is a few stones, testimony to their former life.

Before hosting the G20 summit on Sept. 9 and 10, Indian authorities gave the capital a quick makeover. Murals were painted on the walls. The portrait of Narendra Modi, India's Prime Minister, was plastered all over the city. And to camouflage the poverty that is still rampant in Delhi, entire neighborhoods have been demolished, leaving tens of thousands of vulnerable people homeless.

The Delhi Development Authority (DDA) carried out the demolitions in the name of beautifying the city.

"Personally, I'd call it the Delhi Destruction Authority," says Sunil Kumar Aledia, founder of the Center for Holistic Development, an NGO that helps the poorest people in Delhi. "The G20 motto was: 'One earth, one family, one future.' The poor are clearly not part of the family."

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Thumbs Out For Higher Education? Why Haitian Students Have To Hitchhike To Class

For some Haitian students, navigating dangerous, dilapidated roads or catching a rider with a stranger is the only way to get to class.

CAP-HAÏTIEN — Sherlyne Ligène spent five years studying to achieve her dream of becoming a fashion designer, but completing her studies wasn’t the biggest challenge she faced.

To access her classes — at the Université Publique du Nord au Cap-Haïtien, a public university, and at SOS Children’s Villages, a vocational school just over half a mile away — she had to navigate a long, dusty dirt road with no public transport options other than motorbike taxis. It’s the only route available to students traveling from the north of Haiti’s second-largest city to both colleges. For those who cannot regularly fund motorbike taxis, hitchhiking is their only option.

Ligène, who graduated in 2021 and now runs her own business selling her clothing and accessory creations, says the 30-minute journey by motorbike taxi to get to school via the neighborhood of Haut-du-Cap cost 150 Haitian gourdes (approximately 1 United States dollar); with no money coming in, she couldn’t fund this mode of transport, so she hitchhiked each day.

“There were drivers who sometimes pretended to give us a ride,” Ligène says. “We see them slow down but as soon as we start walking toward them, they drive off. This is very humiliating, especially when other people are watching.”

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Imperfect Victim: What A Chinese Series About Sexual Assault Can And Can't Say

A new melodrama broadcast in China about sexual assault in the workplace is a sign that some difficult questions are being addressed, but that serious taboos remain in Chinese society and public life.


BEIJING — Seeing the trailer for Imperfect Victim on TV was a harrowing experience: on a screen that is usually used as a backdrop, the face of an overwhelmed girl suddenly appears, along with several keywords, including "power imbalance." The advertisement explains that a drama about sexual assault in the workplace is being broadcast on Beijing Satellite Television and multiple other channels. It looks from the spot like a repeatedly banned subject is diving straight into the drama.

The story begins with a rape case reported anonymously by a third party. The victim, Zhao Xun, is a successful female assistant to the chairman of the board of directors, Cheng Gong. She is questioned by the police, her lawyer and the perpetrator of the crime, who sometimes affirms and sometimes denies the case.

During the course of the investigation, it was also discovered that after working in the company for only three months, she was transferred to a position that other colleagues had not reached despite working for several years, and that she had received luxury items purchased by Cheng Gong on the company's dime, which made her an "imperfect victim."

Cheng, as a perpetrator of sexual violence, was by no means unaware of Zhao’s conflict, or else he would not have covered up for himself by repeatedly bribing people who knew about it. Even he himself admitted that he likes Zhao not only because she is young, but also because he likes to see her "troubled face." However, Cheng still refuses to admit his crime on the grounds that Zhao did not resist.

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Post-Pandemic Reflections On The Accumulation Of State Power

The public sector has seen a revival in response to COVID-19. This can be a good thing, but must be checked carefully because history tells us of the risks of too much control in the government's hands.


NEW DELHI — The COVID-19 pandemic marked the beginning of a period of heightened global tensions, social and economic upheaval and of a sustained increase in state intervention in the economy. Consequently, the state has acquired significant powers in managing people’s personal lives, starting from lockdowns and quarantine measures, to providing stimulus and furlough schemes, and now, the regulation of energy consumption.

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Irene Caselli and Carl-Johan Karlsson

COVID School Chaos, Snapshots From 10 Countries Around The World

Teachers, students, parents and society as a whole have suffered through the various attempts at educating through the pandemic. Here’s how it looks now: from teacher strikes in France to rising drop-out rates in Argentina to Uganda finally ending the world’s longest shutdown.

School, they say, is where the future is built. The next generation’s classroom learning is crucial, but schools also represent an opportunity for children to socialize, get help for special needs … and in some villages and neighborhoods, get their one decent meal a day.

COVID-19 has of course put all of that at risk. At the peak of the pandemic, classrooms were closed for 1.6 billion schoolchildren worldwide, with the crisis forcing many to experiment on the fly for the first time in remote learning, and shutting down learning completely for many millions more — exacerbating worldwide inequality in education.

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Yuvraj Singh

Streets To Schools: How Education In India Can Reach Everyone

Absent in India's schools, which help reinforce power imbalances, is any real acknowledgement of street-level efforts to push back.


NEW DELHI — At the beginning of 2020, I was living near Hauz Rani Gandhi Park, one of the sites of protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the National Register of Citizens (NRC), and the National Population Register (NPR). One night, when I was out to buy daily groceries, I saw a group of children running down the narrow streets of Hauz Rani holding a portrait of Dr B.R. Ambedkar and chanting the slogans of Azadi. Soon these sightings became commonplace.

On my way to buy milk and bread, I would often notice children, mixed in among adult protesters, chanting "azaadi" slogans and waving tricolor national flags. Sometimes they were not actively participating but just accompanying their mothers to the protest site, sleeping in their arms, seeking the warmth and comfort of their bodies in the cold of the night. In any case, this protest, it appeared to me, had become a significant part of their lives.

During this time, as a student of the sociology of education, I was visiting a school in the same area on a weekly basis. I would observe the practices in the classrooms and talk to teachers and students on various aspects of curriculum and pedagogy. And what struck me most during these visits was that the protests did not figure as a subject matter in the classroom.

This ongoing protest that was visibly touching the lives of so many students so deeply was completely absent from their classrooms. It is this dissonance between "the street" and "the school" that I want to use as an entry point to reflect on the nature of schooling in India.

Formal schooling, given the fact that it is by and large organized and regulated by the government, is a political process and therefore closely related to power. The relationship between schooling and power is a crucial one. Michel Foucault located "the school" in the same category as "the clinic" and "the prison" — as an institution of control and surveillance. Several scholars have accentuated the key role that schools, as part of state apparatus, play in reproducing the existing inequalities and furthering the socio-economic interests of the dominant strata.

In order to understand schooling as a mechanism of social control, it is important to examine the outer and inner contours of educational inequalities in the Indian context. Let me first take the case of the "exteriority" of educational inequality. The Indian school system, like the caste system, is structurally hierarchal. The quality of education one gets is a function of one's milieu, which means that the children belonging to marginalized castes receive the poorest quality education. In substance, the system favors the advantaged and disfavors the disadvantaged.

Formal schooling is organized and regulated by the government — Photo: Sumit Saraswat/Pacific Press via ZUMA Wire

Then there is the issue of the "interiority" of educational inequality. The punitive and violent pedagogy that Bahujan students face inside the schools is no secret. India Exclusion Report 2013-14 categorically mentions corporal punishment, verbal abuse, humiliation, and segregation as forms of overt discrimination against children from oppressed communities.
The upshot of this pedagogy of repression is that those who are at the margins, those whose inheritance is collective trauma and loss, are forced to leave. It is unsurprising, then, that the school dropout rate is highest among students from the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

There is also a less conspicuous way in which the repressive pedagogy operates inside classrooms, which brings us onto the terrain of the politics of institutional knowledge. Schools preserve and propagate the form and content of the culture and knowledge of powerful groups, defining it as legitimate knowledge.

Behind the veil of neutrality, schools act as catalysts in the social reproduction of power and privilege.

In his seminal work Why I am not a Hindu, Professor Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd, using experience as a framework, elaborates on how school curriculum invalidates the lives of the marginalized: "Dalitbhaujan life figured nowhere in the curriculum." Reflecting on the school-textbook content, Ilaiah writes, "The language of the textbooks was not the one that our communities spoke... The textbook morality was different from our living morality."

Although India did proclaim a legal commitment towards children's education through the Right to Education (RTE) Act 2009, it has failed to build the equitable institutions through which the commitment might be realized.

Behind the veil of neutrality, schools act as catalysts in the social reproduction of power and privilege. Certain forms of knowledge are not allowed to become part of school knowledge, because they threaten the existing power relations. The impossibility of discourse on protest is precisely what the pedagogy of repression engenders, for protest is the language of discontent, the instrument to challenge the status quo.

Could the boundary separating the school premises from the streets, fade away? — Photo: Vishal Bhatnagar/NurPhoto via ZUMA Press

This stands at variance with critical pedagogy, which, in the words of Henry Giroux, educates students "to become critical agents who actively question and negotiate the relationships between theory and practice, critical analysis and common sense, and learning and social change." It allows educational institutions to listen to what is being discussed in the streets while designing pedagogical practices.

Paulo Freire, the pioneer of critical pedagogy, imagined education as a political and moral transformative practice. For him, it enabled the student to self-reflect, explore what it means to be a critical citizen, and meaningfully participate in a democracy. Dr. Ambedkar too saw education as a liberating force, one that is capable of kindling the transformation within. The "Agitate" part in his famous slogan "Educate, Agitate, Organize" signifies the transformative character of education.

It troubles me to think of the recent developments in the education landscape. But there is no surprise. After the Delhi police stormed Jamia Milia Islamia's library, tear-gassed the space, and lathi-charged the students, I stopped feeling surprised. It doesn't shock me anymore that privatization and philanthrocapitalism in education are being legitimized, that learning is being reduced to learning outcomes, that schoolification of pre-primary education is being promoted, that exclusion of Bhaujans from education is being mandated, and that scholars and student activists are being incarcerated.

Is it hopelessness? Perhaps not. But it is certainly something close. Now the rare moments when I encounter hope are when I think of the Fatima Sheikh-Savitribai Phule Library at the Shaheen Bagh protest site, when I think of so many brilliant and passionate teachers, educators, students and activists that I have come across.

And if I think of them long enough, I begin to imagine the school boundary — separating the school premises from the streets — fading away. I think of the school moving to the street and the street to the school. Sometimes, for a brief moment, I even allow myself to go as far as to imagine schools and universities redefining education as a practice of freedom, reclaiming what has been lost, embodying a pedagogy of Azadi.

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Reinaldo Spitaletta

Let's Make 2021 The Year Of Social Justice

This new year may be one of greater justice and better social conditions, but only if people fight for them.


BOGOTÁ — We are more time than dreams, and we tie ourselves to physical spaces, even shamefully small and inadequate ones. Besides opening a new calendar, what really changes when the last day of one year becomes the first of another, the so-called new year? Perhaps nothing of significance. Does a new year mean a change of systemic structures just because the date has changed? Some may want changes more ardently or, posing as psychics, discern in some random bird's flapping the augury of another year of stultifying conformity.

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Florence Miettaux

The Slow March To Emancipation For Women In South Sudan

More than half of girls in South Sudan are married before they turn 18, and only 1.3% still attend school at age 16.

JUBA — In the studio of Advance Youth Radio, in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, Eva Lopa concludes her weekly program. Outside, night is falling.

Focused, Lopa thanks her guests — a high school poet and a representative of the Okay Africa Foundation — who have just spent an hour talking with listeners. Unaffordable feminine hygiene products and the lack of sanitary facilities in schools were on that evening's agenda for the show, Gender Talk 211, which discusses the place of women in society, their contribution to the struggle for liberation in South Sudan, and menstruation.

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Alessio Perrone

COVID In Brazil, Cause And Effects Of Wealth Inequality

Rafaela Dutra was working in Rio de Janeiro's tourism industry and studying to become a nurse when the coronavirus arrived. A resident of the sprawling low-income favelas in the city's Zona Norte, she had worked in one of Copacabana's shiny, high-rise hotels, earning up to twice the region's minimum monthly wage of 1,200 reais ($220). But after six years on the job, Dutra told Brazilian daily O Globo, she was laid off in April after the city had dried up of tourists. The only work she could find was selling clothes on the street at a time when most people started working from home or had also lost their jobs. "Some days I sell less than 50 reais ($8.80) worth of stuff," she said.

Dutra's story is a case in point: poverty and inequality are on the rise in Brazil, a country of 210 million people, where a massive wealth divide has long plagued society. With COVID-19, the economy has begun to unravel and policymakers are warning of a backslide into entrenched poverty of dangerous proportions after temporary government support winds down.

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Wealth Inequality In China: Measured At Home And At School

After the topic of bulk sanitary napkins went viral online, the broader issue of the gap between rich and poor has come out of the shadows across the communist nation, including the availability of laptops for students.


BEIJING — In the past few days, the topic of sanitary napkins has somehow gone viral in China. It all started with a screenshot posted of an online shopping platform displaying cheap, bulk sanitary napkins for female hygiene. Before the discussion was unleashed, few in China had ever heard the concept: "period poverty." For many, it even seems incomprehensible – isn't a pack of basic sanitary products just the price of a cup of tea? How can anyone not be able to afford it?

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Sandeep Kumar

COVID-19 And The Fault Lines of India's Unequal Society

The pandemic and the response to it threaten to exacerbate entrenched economic and social disparities.

NEW DELHI — Like most healthcare workers, my profession puts me at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Statistically, however, my risk of acquiring a serious infection is reasonably modest and the probability of dying from it quite low. After all, I practice medicine at a premier hospital in the wealthiest nation on this planet and have access to cutting-edge medical care, was I to develop this infection. It also gives me some comfort to realize that my family has the cushions to ward off any financial hardships, if I were to succumb to this ailment.

I recently came across the news of a man in West Bengal, who allegedly died at the hands of the police when he went to procure milk for his children during the lockdown. He perished, I imagine, uncelebrated for this seemingly selfless act. Being a father myself, I wonder what happened to his children. Countless such tragedies are likely unfolding across the globe, hidden in the available statistics. While it appears that the virus is socially blind, affecting the rich and poor alike, the reality is that the burden of the pandemic and measures to mitigate its effects have fallen heavily on the world's poor.

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Gonzalo Hernández*

A Democratic Imperative Of The Technology Revolution

If societies really want to tackle inequality, they'll need to do more than just improve access to new technologies.


BOGOTÁ — Everyone talks about how we're in the midst of a technological and scientific revolution that's rapidly transforming our world in ways that exceed previous revolutions.

New technologies come to us so fast that it seems almost unnecessary — and repetitive — to keep mentioning them. And yet, we cannot overlook how such technologies are redefining our societies and institutions. But what's most important here is not just that people have access to these technologies, but that they reap the benefits of such advances and share in the dividends.

However sophisticated or confusing they may be, the key issue with these technological changes is wealth distribution. If yesterday we were focused on returns from land and machines, today we must pay special attention to the dividends of digital technologies, artificial intelligence and genetic engineering.

These new dividends, like past ones, can be either democratizing in their impact or help concentrate power in the hands of the few. But if they're to permeate society on a democratic scale, we first need a society that absorbs like a sponge, and that, in turn, depends on another basic factor: better education.

Have we already missed the train?

Improved education is needed not just at the higher levels of science and technology, but also in primary and secondary schooling, which creates better citizens. Unfortunately, in Colombia, too many people are excluded from quality education.

This is another reason why education must be a long-term, state policy, rather than subject to the short-term whims of whatever administration happens to be in power. And that means more government spending, which can be financed by more progressive taxes and a smaller military budget.

Colombian students walk to class –– Photo: Michelle McFarlane

One cannot have a truly democratic society if economic inequality allows a few to also hoard all the political power and wield it over the great majority. There can be no democratic society if everyone can access certain technologies, but only a few will reap its economic rewards. A decent education is one that permits a better social distribution of the dividends of science and technology.

Citizens should not allow the frequently used terms of this revolution — words like technology, digital, 4.0 or 5.0 — to confound the most basic social demands that include, and are a precondition to, democratic access to the dividends of science and technology. Colombia is no exception, and unless it embarks on a concerted revolution in education, it won't be able to properly assimilate the tech revolution.

Indeed, this is a particularly important challenge for developing nations like ours, which are already playing catchup when it comes to education. If we missed the train already, as they say, what happens now that the train is moving that much faster?

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