An attempt to know, understand (and ultimately, transform) that which occurs on the fields of play - India (her politics, media, music) and beyond ...

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Keeping updown the image: courtesy, Somini Sengupta at NYTimes

Much has been written about the "caste, curry, cows" syndrome that plagues much of reporting on India in the Western world. (If you are clueless about this, please read the scholarly analyses of Sri. Rajiv Malhotra of the Infinity Foundation. Google it - I am not going to provide you the links.) Add the 'Kamasutra', 'Hindutva', 'Sati' or 'Dowry' to the 3 C's when reporting on India (on any topic, mind you!) and you have a heady mixture that misrepresents and exoticises India to readers around the globe.

No, it's not just Westerners who are guilty of this dishonest style of reporting - our Indians routinely excel at this. Sample: Somini Sengupta writing for the New York Times on the recent police action against publicly romancing couples in Meerut (see Is Public Romance a Right? The Kama Sutra Doesn't Say

I have a problem with this article, right from the start! Why drag the Kama Sutra into the title of this 'report'? Somini, you write as if the Kama Sutra is the governing/constitutional manual for us Indians! Reporters usually bring in the Manusmriti when it comes to Hindu laws ...

Somini then sets the scene with

"[couples] ... sat together on the benches of a well-groomed little park named after the country's most famous champion of nonviolence: Mohandas K. Gandhi."

The idea of bringing in Gandhi is to contrast the police violence with the actions of the "most famous champion of nonviolence". Let us set aside the fact that parks, roads, colleges, laboratories, barber shops, people - any thing that can be named in India (pets, toilets, also?) - have been named after Gandhi, so, Somini, don't try to shock us that violence occurs in places seemingly connected with Gandhi!

Some samples from the article:

"This [raid] is a basic infringement of our right to freedom," cried Vikas Garg, 21, a master's student in mass communications at the local Chaudhry Charan Singh University, a couple of days after the raid. "We are free to sit where we want."

Heh, Vikas, a reminder: even the "freedom to sit where you want" is limited.

What is more, Priyanka said, the policewoman slapped her and called her a "chamari," a slur based on her caste. (Ms. Gautam denied making the remark.)

Yep, the police in India are a casteist lot (I am sarcastic, for the sarcasm-impaired!). Too bad for Somini that it was a policewoman (and not a policeman) who had slapped Priyanka, otherwise it would be a "typical" case of a casteist male chauvinist assaulting a helpless downtrodden lady.

From the political right and left came condemnation of the police action. Brinda Karat, the most prominent woman representing a coalition of leftist parties in government, denounced the police for pouncing on courting couples while violent rapes remain unsolved. Sushma Swaraj, a legislator from the Hindu nationalist opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, took the podium in Parliament and called it a product of "a sick mind."

Note the dynamic "denounce" vs. the passive "took the podium and called"! Somini, why bring in the "Hindu nationalist" when talking of the BJP with reference to this incident?

Even so, the reprimands did not stop Hindu radical activists here from storming Gandhi Park three days after the episode and, taking the law into their own hands, beating up the small handful of couples who had dared to return.

Now I see why you brought up the "Hindu nationalist" description of the BJP! In your very next line, you write about "Hindu radical activists storming" - for your readers to make the connection between the BJP and these activists. Very clever, Somini!

Thanks to "Hari Kumar", another Indian (going by his name), for his stellar contribution to Somini's article!


  • At 6:45 AM, Blogger Shalivahan said…

    Brinda Karat is only "leftist" but Sushma Swaraj is "Hindu nationalist" and not simply "rightist." Hmm...why is Brinda not ultra-left Stalinist/Maoist Marxist of CPIM?

  • At 7:19 AM, Blogger cynical nerd said…

    Nice blog you've got. As much as I am not a big fan of Ms. Sengupta, I think she got it right this time despite the usual psyops you pointed out. We as a free nation, should strongly protest at the high-handedness of our police forces. One might regret the negative media coverage, but alas that is just a side effect.

    best regards,


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