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Fifth column: A distorted view of India

At the risk of sounding a little like a chippy, Hindutva type, I have to point out that there has been much more ignorance and prejudice about India evident in The New York Times since Narendra Modi became prime minister

Hindutva, Hinduism, Babri Masjid, Narendra Modi, New York Times, India News, Indian Express, Indian Express News The chip on his shoulder is so huge that the smallest criticism of Hinduism, Hindus or Hindustan sends him (and her) into an apoplectic fit, especially on Twitter (File)

Ever since Hindutva spread like a saffron skein across our ancient land, a new kind of chippy Indian has emerged. The chip on his shoulder is so huge that the smallest criticism of Hinduism, Hindus or Hindustan sends him (and her) into an apoplectic fit, especially on Twitter. The rage vented is so petty, putrid and pathetic that I believe that instead of being the proud patriots these chippy Indians profess to be, they are secretly ashamed of being Indian. I find myself permanently at war with these ‘Hindu nationalists’, so I warn you in advance that I absolutely refuse to be counted among them when you finish reading this piece.

I belong to an older, more confident genre of Indians. We never needed to wear nationalism or faith as shining cloaks of our identity because we knew who we were and were proud of it. The India I grew up in had more Indians of my kind than of the new kind, and rarely did they become enraged by what foreign newspapers wrote about India. On a personal level, I discovered from more than a decade of writing for a foreign newspaper that the levels of ignorance among my British colleagues were so deep, there was no point in arguing with them. The India they were interested in belonged in books they may have read in school…snake charmers, starving millions, Mowgli and tigers.

So I could sell them a story on the Dom Raja of Benares any time, but when I suggested that I go to Ayodhya, when the forces of Hindutva gathered there to tear down the Babri Masjid, the foreign editor did not think it was an important story. Another example of dazzling ignorance was when he insisted that it was impossible for ‘someone as good looking as Rajiv Gandhi to lose the election (in 1989) to a funny little man in a funny cap’. I tried to explain that looks mattered less in India than in sophisticated western democracies but it was useless.

So I learned long ago that the people who wrote about India in foreign newspapers were nearly all too ignorant to argue with. This week if I take issue with the absurd New York Times article on Hindutva and the sari, it is because the article seems to have been written by an Indian and because this newspaper is too important to ignore. I take issue also because nearly every political story I have read in the The New York Times in recent years has been based on prejudice and ignorance. Anyone who can write, as the writer did last week in ‘Politics, India style’, that Har Har Mahadev means everyone is Lord Shiva, needs to never write another word about India as long as he lives. But, it is exactly this kind of ignorance that finds its way into almost any political article that The New York Times publishes on India.

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At the risk of sounding a little like a chippy, Hindutva type, I have to point out that there has been much more ignorance and prejudice about India evident in The New York Times since Narendra Modi became prime minister. The best example of this prejudice is that he is often made to sound as if he were the only chief minister who presided over communal riots in which the victims were mostly Muslim. In older times, it was hard to remember the exact number of times in which horrible riots have occurred in India since 1947. Now all you need is Google to get a detailed list, and yet this myth continues to be perpetuated by a newspaper that is today possibly the most important in the world.

What worries me most is that many of the writers writing ignorant, prejudiced articles in western newspapers are actually Indian. Most have fled to foreign lands because it is easier to make a living as a writer or journalist there than here. But, instead of being honest about this, they migrate on the mythical grounds of political persecution in the Modi era and foreign newspapers appear to employ them because of these tales. Interestingly enough it was in liberal, secular Congress times that an official was posted at Indian airports to censor every foreign newspaper or magazine that entered India. These officials probably still exist and Indian leaders remain as embarrassingly eager for applause from the West as before. But, considering the kind of rubbish that is being written in major western newspapers about India, it is time they realised that they need no longer be. Instead of informed criticism about India, what we get is mostly ignorance of such a high order that it is western newspapers that should be embarrassed. And, Indian writers writing rubbish in western newspapers for filthy lucre need to be the most embarrassed of all. Shame on them.

First published on: 19-11-2017 at 00:00 IST
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