news Thursday, January 29, 2015 - 05:30
Anisha Sheth | The News Minute | September 30, 2014 | 7.40 pm IST The “pain in the ass” comment about Prime Minister Modi in an article published by The Economist is not the only problem with that article. The article, titled: I give you Narendra Modi is published under the initials P F, and which according to Swarajya, stand for Patrick Foulis, The Economist’s New York bureau chief, who spent four years in India, setting up the magazine’s Mumbai bureau. According to Swarajya, the writer did call Modi a “pain in the ass” but it was later attributed to a police officer after criticism poured in, forcing the magazine to publish an Editor’s Note that read: “The second sentence of this blog post was changed on September 29th to make clear that The Economist does not consider Mr Modi to be a "pain in the ass"; that epithet is merely how we imagined an uninformed New Yorker might feel about someone who causes a traffic jam.” While it made that particular change after it was criticised, that was not the only thing that was wrong with it. Taking off from what an “uninformed New Yorker might feel”, there are several references to Indians (read non-white people) that an “uninformed New Yorker” might get after reading this piece. Right at the very beginning, the writer talks about the Indian diaspora settled in the US of A. This is how they, and the atmosphere at Madison Square Garden are described: “Inside are over 18,000 Indian-Americans, as prosperous and upstanding a diaspora as you will find from the Redwood forests to the Gulf Stream waters. They are willing themselves into the kind of obedient hysteria they were meant to have left behind generations ago in the badlands of Asia, along with hunger and snakes.” In one sentence, the writer equates an entire continent, which houses roughly half of the world (mostly thanks to India and China), with hunger, snakes (as if we all keep them as pets), and mass hysteria.  Moving on. This time, the scale of generalisation is much smaller. Just India, not a whole continent. The writer says: “To get here, to the Garden, Mr Modi has spent decades roaring himself hoarse thousands of times before crowds of peasants in parched fields.” All of India just has parched fields. So obviously, after keeping snakes as pets, we are all dying of thirst, and do not have any food to eat as well, considering all our fields are parched.  Next. Somebody needs to show this writer that there is something called a dictionary. A riot is a serious thing. For someone who has lived in India for four years, it is incomprehensible that the man has not heard of, or read about a riot in the country’s news. Ironically, he mentions in his own article, that at least a 1,000 people died in the violence in Gujarat in 2002, one of the bloodiest riots in recent times. Surely, a journalist must have some idea of at least that one riot, since he is, after all, writing about a man who was chief minister during that time. And this, is how he chose to use that word: “Outside, in a strange salute to the mother country, there is a mini-riot over free handouts of Bhelpuri, a rice snack.”  In a country where too many people know first hand what a riot is, it is an utterly insensitive choice of words. There’s more. He writes: “In time he will make India a success, not a continent-sized embarrassment; and the augury of that triumph is this show, slickly choreographed and punctuated by adoring Twitter messages shown on giant screens.” (Emphasis added) A lesson in history is due here. And a lesson in how comparisons must be made. Nobody will deny that India has some of the worst health and social indicators on earth. Indian people deal with caste, class, religion, poverty, hunger, gender and sexual orientation biases and so many other problems in over 700 languages.  The “disunited states of America” has been around for over 200 years. India, as a country, has existed for 67 years.  Sixty seven years after the United States became independent, slavery was still very much a reality. Over 200 years after independence, American people have still not managed to be truly egalitarian. That is why there was a Michael Brown. Need we remind a publication based in London, that the British Empire caused much economic damage to its colonies, not to mention the general oppression it inflicted on its “subjects”? Europe’s history, and the brutality of industrial Britain has been chronicled by one of Britain’s most well-respected historians, Eric Hobsbawm. The world was very different when the United States and India became independent from the British Empire, but that doesn’t mean problems are going to be solved overnight, for either country. A little advice. Don’t write about other people when you do not come close to understanding them. Living in a country for four years does not give you the right to make generalizations about its peoples.
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