Beyond the refuge of numbers

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  • Published 20080502
  • ISBN: 9780733322822
  • Extent: 288 pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm)

THE HUMAN MIND, when faced with the need to calculate figures higher than, say, the fingers of two hands, abstracted numbers from the immediate and sensual to the colder, more distant realm of statistics. When people become statistics, our fellow feeling is replaced by the merely cerebral, and responsibility for their wellbeing is shifted on to the state. Statistics protect us from having to bestir ourselves.

I could quote all kinds of figures about internal migration in India. I could rattle out statistics about rural poverty in and exodus from the Kumaon region of the Himalayas, where I live for three months each year. I could say that grazing is five times higher than the carrying capacity of the land, that the depletion of forest is about four million cubic metres per year, that only a quarter of the Central Himalaya is now forested, that sixty-two million Indians live in city slums, that Nepali workers migrating into India send back five hundred million dollars a year … and so on.

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