Geopolitics

The Indian Diaspora's Lack Of Empathy For COVID Horror Back Home

From Malaysia, where she now lives, writer Mythily Nair laments the cold attitutes of some fellow diaspora members toward the catastrophic second wave washing over India right now.

In Kuala Lumpur's 'Little India' district
In Kuala Lumpur's "Little India" district
Mythily Nair*

-Essay-

KUALA LUMPUR — As I surf through international news channels, very little has captivated global attention like India's COVID-19 crisis. Calling it "a catastrophe" and "human rights crisis," anchors from across the world try to draw links and connections as to how a tragedy of this scale unfolded. Foreign journalists are flocking to India to report from hospitals and cremation grounds to report the grim reality at hand.

As the images and reports continue to pour in, our leaders are complaining that such news paints a negative image of India that is detrimental to us being seen as a global powerhouse. But why is the truth detrimental? Is it because it's a glaring reminder of the abject failure of the administrative body?

I was born in India but grew up in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. My family and I still live in Kuala Lumpur. I moved back to India for my undergraduate studies, and over the last three years, I've made friends like family, and had a lifetime's worth of kaleidoscopic experiences that cannot be reduced to just a few words.

I find myself so dumbfounded at the lack of empathy and the hypocrisy.

After a while, I can't watch the news any more. I think of the frantic calls from college friends — some worried and some inconsolable — as they struggled to get oxygen for their parents and plasma for their siblings. As I sit in quarantine in a hotel in Kuala Lumpur, waiting to test negative (for the third time), my friends are running around cities like Delhi and Bangalore, looking for hospital beds.

Unlike friends and family back home, I have the luxury of switching my TV off and escaping what is happening in India. My identity as a Non Residential Indian (NRI) gives me the privilege of "switching off" what is reality for half of my identity, and pretending like everything is fine even as my heart bleeds for home.

With the TV off, I scroll through Instagram and see friends in India requesting plasma right next to videos of Corgis doing tricks, and Indian-origin influencers abroad rallying for donations to be sent home to various foundations while Indian celebrities continue to post mindless vacation photos.

I speak to friends here and around the world with fractured identities like mine — people from India but who grew up abroad — and tell them about how I am struggling to come to terms with myself. How that while I'm grateful for all that I have, I wish I could do more to help.

Mass cremations in Guwahati, India, on May 19 — Photo: Dasarath Deka/ZUMA

Not infrequently do I get responses like: "But they had it coming, the dirty people they are."

I've heard from adults that I respect, expatriates in high-profile roles across South East Asia and further, active members of their local Bharat Clubs (an NRI/Indian origin community group that meet for major festivals) who disdainfully say that "at the risk of sounding too harsh, this is nature's way of cleansing" and that "the only sad part is that there is a lot of collateral."

I try my best to argue only to be rebuked. When I say the government has failed its citizens, I'm told, "No, they're trying their best but it's just gotten out of hand."

I find myself so dumbfounded at the lack of empathy and the hypocrisy at a time when my news feeds show the reality of what is taking place in India.

The "Brown Diaspora" that stood up for #BlackLivesMatter last June, where are you now?

This is my collective response to those who see a major humanitarian crisis as just another way to push a Darwinian evolutionary lens — where countries with poorer infrastructure and less resources seemingly deserve to die; amputated like a diseased limb from the wealthier image we have of the 21st century:

When India and Indian culture serves to your needs — of having cultural tokenism, of chai tea, Yoga and turmeric — you relied upon your heritage and cultural knowledge of being South Asian to propel yourself further in those conversations. But now, as your nation of origin burns, you disassociate for your own benefit, because you know your hyphenated identity will no longer serve you any brownie points amongst members of your newly upwardly-mobile social strata.

What have you gained by trying to hide the truth of systemic failures in India, I ask? What have you done to make things better for those living through the nightmare back home?

The "Brown Diaspora" that stood up for #BlackLivesMatter last June, where are you now? How did your call for activism arise when inequalities arose in developed nations, but not when those same developed nations created inequalities in access to vaccinations on their own?

Maybe you no longer have any connection to your country of origin. For the longest time, I didn't either. I actively tried to disassociate myself from my hyphenated identity in a quest to be seen as better than by an authority that knew nothing about the cultural nuances and intricacies of my heritage.

Reclaim your heritage, one step at a time. If ever you hear someone say that this was meant to happen, read up and point out the facts. Rally up other members in your community, donate whatever you can to any authentic sources who are working on the ground to help those in need.

I'm not asking for much. I'm asking you to refrain from being insensitive, and to help the world heal. Because without India doing better, the world will never fully recover from COVID-19 to even be able to start limping back to some semblance of normalcy.



*Mythily Nair is a student and a contributing writer at Feminism in India, where she writes largely about cinema, gender and identity, and was also their Author of the Month for August 2020. Her work has been published at FII, Film Companion, The Quint, The Lipstick Politico, SmashBoard and The Unconventional MBA.

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Green

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat


CAUCHARI
— Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.


It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park

Xinhua/ZUMA

Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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