Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Think Again: India

(pic. from Foreign Policy magazine, showing Indian security forces at work in Kashmir)

Foreign Policy magazine does a good series called "Think Again" were it gets experts to challenge some common assumption about some issue in the international news. They currently have one on India where Barbara Crossette, a former New York Times South Asia bureau chief, takes a critical look at some of the "good news" stories that continually flow from India. She challenges the following statements:
  • "India and the United States are natural allies"
  • "India is a responsible world power"
  • "India will surpass China"
  • "India is becoming a high-tech, middle-class nation"
  • "India is a model of tolerance"
Her responses to these are all well worth reading. Over a couple of trips to India, I've spent more time there than any other non-European country, and I know a little about its history and current affairs. Everyone should do their best to visit India at some point. It is an amazing place that I love, not the least for simply managing to be a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-lingual democracy of a billion people. But as Crossette argues, it is like everywhere else far from perfect. Crossette mentions the pogroms against Sikhs in 1984 where 3000 innocents were slaughtered, and again in 2002 with the Gujurat massacres where police stood aside to let Hindu mobs kill probably 2000 or so of their Muslim neighbours. But she doesn't mention the on-running Marxist "Naxalite Rebellion" where landless poor, connected both to being classed as "tribal peoples" and at the bottom of the persistent caste system, have been fighting an insurgency for decades. More generally the Dalits, the untouchables, face not only systemic prejudice but at times outright murder and rape as a result of their caste, across India.

These kind of issues disappear from prominence in the international media that, at least in the English language, is generally led by US sensibilities, purely because of the US's size and importance. For the US, India is an ally and hence a place of opportunities, not a country to worry about and the news generally reflects this. India faces much of what in other countries would be described as "terrorism" but with the exception of the Kashmir problem - which occasionally erupts elsewhere in India as bombings such as last year in Mumbai - that terrorism isn't to do with Muslims so doesn't fit in the international media's current idea of what terrorism stories should be about. Who really cares to learn who the Naxalites are and what they want? Or what is the fighting and killings of migrant workers in Assam all about?

Fitting things into pre-existing stories happens elsewhere as well, I was talking to some young British-Indians and British-Pakistanis not so long ago and they all said how it was noticeable that over the last five years or so forced marriages (normally of young South Asian women brought to the UK) have become "a Muslim thing". They aren't, well not solely. Exactly the same kind of abuse happens to Sikh and Hindu girls - really its "a subcontinental thing" but that doesn't fit the current media framing.

So like the title suggests, it's always good to think again.

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