The outpouring of financial support for the victims of the tsunami that befell Southeast Asia on December 26 often seems very inspiring. In a world full of differences and economic disparities, people are coming together to donate to one cause.

But the goodwill is hardly universal, particularly among those who are experiencing the disaster firsthand.

In India, where the caste system persists, lower caste survivors are being forced out of relief camps and are being denied aid supplies.

Why? Well, higher caste survivors think that their economic superiority gives them a greater right to have access to those camps and supplies, so they’re moving in and forcing the so-called untouchables out.

Would this kind of class politics happen elsewhere were other countries to be struck by a horrific natural disaster? Perhaps. Almost certainly.

What’s scary about that realization is not simply the fact that it puts a serious damper on a rare unified mood of goodwill in the world. It also begs the question of who is receiving the aid in regions where economic hierarchies reign. Is the aid going primarily to those who wield the most privilege?

Sadly, the predicament in India also brings to light a horrid side of human nature. The side where no disaster, no degree of loss can ever erase the lines between the haves and have-nots and the exclusion, loss, and devastation those lines produce.

—Laura Nathan

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