One, Two, Three – Worlds apart

The parlance used to tag countries as First World, Second World and Third World seemed offensive to me, always. Based on the context in which these terms were being thrown around I was of the opinion that it was a metric relative to the industrial revolution, that began in the West. That the US, UK and rest of most of Europe ended up being the First World countries and late blooming industrial countries, for instance India became a Third World country.

Quite recently, I learned that it was indeed used in the context of post World War II, seeming relevant till into the Cold War. US and its allies after WW II ended up being the First World countries (presumably because they were the most powerful, or mostly English speaking and decided to call themselves that), Soviet Union and its allies (mostly Communist states) were the Second World countries, while the neutral countries after World War ended up being the Third World countries. Sensible it might sound in that context, but the manner in which at least the extremes (First and Third) are used today imply a totally different scenario.

Just to drive the point home, if India is a Third World country, so is Sweden. (Ouch, why does it sound weird!)

Nonetheless, going by the connotation it has acquired, and in that sense today it appears that the so called developed countries are the First World, and the developing countries (mostly Asian and Latin American) are popular as Third World. As if to fulfil this prophecy, the conditions of course are world apart in the two sets of countries.

In this post, I will highlight couple of issues that are perceived totally differently in the two sets of countries. For this observation, I use my experience in Sweden (granting them a First World tag based on the development story) and India, in both ways we fit the Third World tag.

Blue - First World: United States, United Kingdom and their allies. Red - Second World: Soviet Union, China, and their allies. Green- Third World: neutral and non-aligned countries. (Img Src: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cold_War_alliances_mid-1975.svg)

Skin

Stop frowning, if you are. It ain’t about racism; it is about it being not about racism.
Hailing from India I have never had to bother about racism. What the world probably does not realise is that, we Indians are extremely sensitive to skin color ourselves, but not the way the American Civil war was fought, but even today, having fair complexion is considered as the unmissable ingredient to being successful in India. We have a spectrum of beauty products sold in India, which are marketed, openly to make your skin not fairer, but fairest! It is not just for women, but for men too (we are not sexist in this aspect). Our TV’s show these ads on hourly basis, where the biggest stars endorse ‘skin fairness’ products and preach that with a dark complexion one cannot be successful. The good and bad part about this discrimination in India is that, we have plethora of other factors to discriminate – caste, religion, region, language and of course money, where the debate about skin colour makes the least noise. So, frankly an Indian wouldn’t be offended if he/she were discriminated based on colour, unless that person has gotten used to the First Worldliness.

It’s been eight months in Sweden, and apart from the ubiquitous social inertness (that’s Swedishness) that I am used to, I have heard just one remote acquaintance complain about some discrimination based on skin colour. It is a well deserved First World title to Sweden then.

So, what then is the problem here about skin? One word will unleash the answer – Photoshop!
Yes, the largest resistance and the neo-consciousness that can infuriate citizens here (and applicable to the broader First Worldliness) is editing a natural photograph to reduce blemishes, or tone down a layer of fat. I am not trying to ridicule this trend; It might seem so in the context of the previous paragraph. I endorse this campaign too, but clearly given my roots I cannot empathize as I would to the problems back at home.

Road safety

Wikipedia says India tops the list for the highest number of fatalities last year at 142,485 (in overall 1,240,000), roughly 10%. This could be because we are the second most populous country, but, I think otherwise simply because not every family has access to motor vehicles, or even roads in India. Well, that whining apart, the problem of road safety is massive in India – poor infrastructure, unregulated number of vehicles, weak public transportation and the globally infamous road discipline, all of it make India the rightful top contender for high road accidents. And when we talk of road accidents in India, majority of these are involving two-wheelers. India has the most diverse range of two-wheeler motor vehicles which have ZERO protection when involved in accidents.

In this side of the world, Sweden is one of the most active countries in increasing road safety. The impeccable traffic discipline, importance to public transport and cycling in nexus with the deep research of safety measures have brought the number of fatalities in road accidents plummeting. Kudos.
But, when I sit through the seminars on road safety here, I clearly see a world’s difference. The solutions are local,  to the First World countries. The latest of the exciting talks I was at was about child safety in cars – how to design restraints that can work efficiently in restraining the evolving anatomy of children, under impact. As I mentioned in the skin case, this is important and is not a light issue at all. But when contrasting the conditions in the two countries, I can see a world’s difference.

Although, the entire post might have sounded divisive, as if I were attempting to distinguish the First world and Third World problems, the motivation in writing this post is simply the disturbing realisation that we are all equal, yet thrive and suffer in different unequal conditions.

Aren’t we one world together?
Okay, get back to sleep dreamer.

About Raghav/Raghu

A fortunate mass of hydrogen cloud conscious enough to be contemplating that very fact.
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