Category Archives: journalism

Waking up the Kumbhkaran

Author: Francois Gautier

Publication: http://www.india.com
Date: November 6, 2000

I HAVE had the privilege to live for more than 30 years in India.

To my knowledge, only two foreign journalists have stayed so long in this country: Mark Tully, who as you know was for long the South Asia BBC correspondent and myself.

It has long been my opinion that India is very difficult country to grasp for a foreign correspondent, as it is so different from the West, full of contradictions, paradoxes, baffling parameters, etc. Going from Delhi to Madras, for instance, is like flying from Paris to Athens, because there is absolutely no comparison between the two, as if you have passed from one continent to another. Thus, for a Westerner, say from Europe, where all the countries share more or less the same religion (Christianity), more or less the same ethnic origins (Caucasian), more or less the same food habits (meat) and more or less the same dress code (ties and dresses), India can be a very enigmatic country.

Disinformation about India by the intellectual media
Yet, not only do we find that Western correspondents are generally posted only for three, maximum five years in India – too short a time to really start getting the ABC of the subcontinent; but also, that most of them have – before even reaching India – very strong and biased ideas, prejudices, misconceptions, on the country they are supposed to report about in an impartial and fair manner.

Forget the fact that by the time they leave India, these foreign correspondents have even been more reinforced in their prejudices: the Hindu “fundamentalists”, the “persecuted” minorities of India, the “Human Rights” abuses performed in Kashmir by the Indian Army, plus the usual folkloric the stories about India: the “dashing” maharajas (who are absolutely irrelevant to modern India), the “atrocities” on Indian women (no country in the world as India has given such an important place to its women), or the “horrible” sati and bride burning (an old British trick to show Hindus in a bad light).

I was lucky. First I came to India when I was very young (19), with hardly any prejudices, because I had never really thought about India; I was also immensely fortunate to have spent my first eight formative years in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram of Pondichery, where I met the Mother, a formidable Presence and read at length Sri Aurobindo, India’s modern Avatar, Revolutionary, (the first Congress leader to have advocated India’s Independence, if necessary by force), immense Poet, Philosopher and Yogi (yet totally ignored by today’s Indian youth); I was also extremely lucky that when I started journalism in the early 80s, I did freelancing assignments in rural areas, particularly in the South: Kerala’s extraordinary Kalaripayat, the ancestor of all great Asian martial arts; the beautiful Ayyappa pilgrimage, also in the jungles of Kerala; the Ayanar sculptures in the villages of Tamil Nadu.

And this led to my most important discovery, which endured to this day (and I believe Mark Tully came to the same conclusions – read his books): namely that the genius of India was (and still is) in its villages – and not in the cities — where an arrogant intelligentsia and a more and more westernized youth, have less and less idea about their roots and culture.

Even so, it took me ten years to feel that I was beginning to understand India and to discard the ideas I had somehow picked-up along the way: that the Congress was the best party to lead India out of communalism; that secularism was the best option for the country, given its incredible ethnic and religious diversity; or that the RSS, the VHP and other Hindu groups were “violent” and dangerous. On a more positive note, it also took me ten years to understand what a wonderful culture and civilization Hindu India had been — and still is in some way: how Hinduism never tried to use the might of its armies, as Islam and Christianity did, to convert other nations; how Hindus always recognized the divinity of other religions and never shied from also worshipping in Buddhist temples, Christian churches, or Muslim mosques; how India, since time immemorial, has been the land of refuge for all persecuted minorities of the world: the Jews, the Parsis, the Syrian Christians, or today’s Tibetans.

Only Marxists find fundamentalism in Hindus
It took me ten years to see, that far from being the fundamentalists described by the British and today’s Indian Marxists, Hindus have been at the receiving end of persecution for 1,600 years: first wave upon wave of Muslim invasions, which tried, in the most ruthless and horrifying manner, to wipe-off Hinduism from the face of the earth; then the more insidious European colonisation – but no less harmful – witness the Portuguese who crucified countless Brahmins in Goa, or the British under whose “enlightened” rule 30-million Indians died of famine. And it is not finished: today’s Hindus are still killed in Kashmir, in Bangladesh (see Taslima Nasreen’s book Lajja), Pakistan or Afghanistan.

It also took me a long time to understand that Indians are sometimes their worst enemies: Indian journalists have often taken-up like parrots the slogans coined by the British to divide India and belittle its civilisation; Nehru blindly adopted most of the set-up left behind by the English, without bothering to borrow from India’s ancient genius and, as a result, India’s constitutional, judicial or educational system is totally non-Indian and only produces western clones.

Advertisements

Title: A stereotyped view
Author: Francois Gautier
Publication: The Hindustan Times
Date: May 11, 1999

(Francois Gautier on foreign reporting of India)

FOREIGN JOURNALISTS (and photographers) covering India are generally interested in
three kinds of India:

(a) The macabre and the negative: the widows of Benares, the caste
system as practised in Bihar, Mother Teresa's place for the dying,
kidneys traffic in Tamil Nadu, the slums of Calcutta, bride burning,
etc. These subjects have their own truth and there does exist in India
terrible slums, unacceptable exploitation of caste, dying people left
unattended, or bride burning. But by harping only on these topics, the
foreign press always presents a very negative image of India. Foreign
writers have also tended to exploit that vein: Dominique Lapierre in
his "City of Joy'', which still is a world-wide best-seller and has
been made into a film, has done incalculable damage to India, as it
takes a little part of India - the Calcutta slums - and gives the
impression to the western reader, who generally is totally ignorant of
the realities of India, that it constitutes the whole.

(b) The folklore and the superfluous: Maharajas, of whom westerners
are avid, although they are totally irrelevant to modern India, the
palaces of Rajasthan, cherished by such magazines as Vogue which
regularly sends their photographers and lanky models, who have no idea
of India festival: Pushkar, the camel fair, kumbh-melas, dance
performances in Khajuraho... all these have their own beauties, but
they represent only a small part of this great and vast country.

(c) The politically correct: There must be at least three hundred
foreign correspondents posted in Delhi, which should vouch for a
variety of opinion. But if you give them a subject to write about -
any subject - say Ayodhya, the RSS, fanatic Hindus, secularism, or
Sonia Gandhi, you will get 298 articles which will say more or less
the same thing, even if it is with different styles, different
illustrations and various degrees of professionalism. This is not to
say that there are no sincere western journalists who write serious
stories which do homage to India's greatness and immense culture, but
they are usually the exception. And at the end, the result is more or
less the same: a downgrading of India, a constant harping on "Hindu
fundamentalism'', or the "fanatical khaki-clad RSS members'' of the
burning of Christians in India'', conveniently forgetting to mention
that Christians have found refuge in this country for 2000 years and
have often taken advantage of this great Hindu tolerance.

These three kinds of reporting about India have been going on for
fifty years and very few Indians have dared - or bothered - to
complain. But the interesting question is: Why this always harping on
the negative, the folklore, or the politically correct? Why this
uniformity of views and un-originality in the selection of subjects,
in a country which is so ancient, whose civilisation is so diverse so
profound, so fascinating, that there are thousands of extraordinary
topics, which could be exploited?

It seems to me there are two important factors, which are at play in
every foreign correspondent's functioning. First, a foreign
correspondent before even being posted in Delhi, has already fixed
ideas about India: prejudices, cliches, negative "a-prioris'', etc.
This is not to say that it is wilfully done; it is just something
which we pick up unconsciously from the concepts on India floating in
the West: Tintin's stereotyped India - the good Maharajas and the bad
fakirs; Kipling's jungle child ready to embrace the good of the
Christian civilisation, or else it is poverty, dirt and the squalor of
India which is always over-emphasised in the West and which scares
many of us, used to a clean disinfected (and soulless) world.

More subtly, even, we western journalists are influenced by what is
said about India in the 'serious' books of distinguished indologists,
who have got it all wrong: the supposed invasion of India by the
Aryans (which, say more and more archaeologists and linguists, never
happened); the great achievements of the Moghul culture (which mostly
borrowed from Hindu genius); the fanaticism of Hindu social and
political movements (which were born in the early twenties after
nearly thirteen centuries of horrendous persecutions by Muslim
invaders and shameless European colonisation); the importance of being
"secular'' in Modern India. These "wise' historians have unfortunately
a very strong hold on the image of India abroad and they give all the
wrong ideas to foreign newspaper editors, who in turn expect a certain
(Hindu fundamentalism) angle from the stories of their correspondents.

The second factor is simple: India is a vast and complicated country,
often contradictory, full of paradoxes, with many castes, religions,
ethnic groups, political parties. It is thus extremely baffling to the
mind of the foreign correspondent freshly arrived from the United
States, for example, where everything is black and white, good or bad
(the evil Milosevic as painted by Newsweek and the good saintly OTAN).
Thus, naturally, the foreign correspondent will turn for advice and
information to his counterpart; the Indian journalist, who is
frequently witty, brilliant and well informed. And here lies the crax
of the matter, because Indian journalists are often the worst enemies
of their own country - they are more secular than the secular, more
anti-India than its worst adversaries and often play in the hands of
India's foes.

Another important factor which enhances the uniformity of views
amongst foreign correspondents, is that New Delhi has become a very
superficial and arrogant city, geographically cut-off from the rest of
India (does Delhi have any idea of what is happening in the South?);
and there, the foreign correspondents always hear the same stories,
whether in the Embassy cocktail parties, or at journalists' parties.
We have then come a full circle: we thought that the western press was
negative about India, out of a personal bias, but we have found that
it is influenced by the Indian press; we thought that the Indian press
was negative about its own country, because of some dark, sceptical,
self-destructive streak in itself, but we found out that it was a
tendency generated by the Congress, which in turn was manipulated by
its British masters. And thus, we have come a full circle; all along,
the snake was biting its own tail!

Fortunately, since a few years, there is a change in the Indian Press.
Magazines have started showing an effort to look at India in a
different manner, to strike a distinct note from the usual
self-denigration. This is a positive sign - and there are more the
popularity of songs like Vande Mataram, which expressed India's true
aspiration and were literally relegated to play second fiddle by the
Congress.

We have got to change the image of India amongst industrialised
nations. Who in the West wants to do business with a country with a
backward image and associated with slums, Mother Teresa and
bureaucratic inefficiency? The Western press is not playing its true
role of information. But that should not be a problem - look at China:
less than thirty years ago it was considered in the West as the "Red
Devil'', a feudal country, totally closed to the world. But then in
1971 Nixon went there and suddenly it became acceptable to do business
in China; and today it possesses in the West an image of a
fast-forward, modern nation (although it killed a million Tibetans,
gave Pakistan its nuclear technology and still claims part of Indian
territory). Many of us are trying to change India's image abroad:
France for instance has seen the creation of an Indo-French forum
under the guidance of Karan Singh and French ambassador Claude
Blanchemaison to promote India's interests there and attract French
businessmen. But unless the Nehruvian legacy of bureaucracy and
centralisation is discarded, unless India starts looking at herself
differently, unless its people have a little more pride in being
Indian, there is very little we can do.

(The author is correspondent in South Asia for Le Figaro, France's
largest circulated newspaper).

Media school

Dear friends,

As you know one of the biggest problems today is that Indian journalists are not always proud of their own culture and roots and as result tend to have a very negative outlook on India, which in turn influences western correspondents posted in India. It is therefore very important that we train a new generation of Indian journalists. It is for this purpose that we have started a new school of journalism in Bangalore called the Sri Sri Center for Media studies. There, we teach the best of journalistic knowledge, both print and electronic, along with classes (which I take myself) on Indian history, the ideal of true journalism and a little bit coaching in pranayama and meditation these two ancient Indian sciences which impart a good and intuitive mind.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of competition both within India as well as Bangalore, and schools such as the Asian school of journalism, sponsored by the newspaper the Hindu and the BBC, which form journalists in the old secular/Marxist mould, have much more students and funds than we do. Now what we need is students – both from India as well as from the US – and this is where you can help. We see today that US correspondents based in India are often very hostile to our ideals. If you could send some of your children, whether they are first, second or third generation Americans, to our school, we would coach them and when they go back to the States they can enter mainstream newspapers and after acquired some experience, they could ask to be posted to India, having a natural advantage over White Americans, by being of an Indian origin and hopefully speaking Indian languages. In a few years time, the entire India coverage in the States could see a very important shift. At the moment we only offer a one year post graduation course, but eventually we will have a three years complete graduate course. Next session is end of September and we need 50 students. I must emphasize that a journalistic career is very rewarding not only in view that you get to travel a lot, meet interesting people, but also that it is one of the highest seva you can do for India, as journalists today are the most important people in the world – even the politicians are afraid of them ! It is time that all of you start thinking about other careers for your children than doctors or software engineers for being exported to the US and being lost to India forever!

For further information please go to http://www.sscms.org/.

We are also looking for donors to sponsor deserving students in India, whose parents do not have the means to pay the 100.000 rupees fees. Each sponsor will be put in touch with the students they sponsor and can monitor their progresses. cheques should be made in the name of FACT and sent to Francois Gautier, Auromodel, Auroville, 605101, Tamil Nadu (by Pondichery). Tel (91) 413 2622255. We have income tax exemption and you will all get a certificate. For those wishing to contribute in foreign exchange, please contact me.

Thanks to all and let’s keep up the good work

François Gautier
Convener FACT

Reporting bias

Source: http://www.letindiadevelop.org/

Why is it that in this country, when for decades Saudi Arabia has been funding madarsas which are openly preaching sedition and are often dens of terrorism, the Indian Press finds nothing to say? Why is it that when foreign Christian organisations are pouring billions of dollars to deviously convert innocent Harijans and tribals, teaching them to hate their own culture and country, the media here keep quiet? And why is it that when a few Hindu organisations collect funds for a harmless programme like Ekal Vidyalaya – which are doing a wonderful job for tribal children – they are attacked as fundamentalist by most Indian publications?

Particularly targeted nowadays by some US-based Christian and Muslim organisations, such as “The Campaign to Stop Funding Hate”, is the India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF), a Maryland-based charity which has denied allegations that it is raising millions of dollars from non-resident Indians and American corporations and using the money to fund a “hate campaign” in India.

Yet, the Federation of Indian American Christian Organisations of Northern America, Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand’s Sabrang Communications, have demanded a probe by the US Congress into IDRF and also asked the IRS to blacklist it and withdraw its tax exemption status. Biju Mathews, the president of the Federation of Indian American Christian Organisations of Northern America, a very little known group, has accused IDRF of:

1) Funnelling millions of dollars every year to be used by “violent, sectarian Hindu supremacist orgs.”

2) That “the IDRF has funded numerous relief efforts in response to natural disasters, communal violence, and other social crises. However, the distributive mechanisms utilised by the IDRF have consistently discriminated against Muslims and other minorities in India.”

3) That “The IDRF’s relief efforts are frequently divisive and have supported the further communalisation of Indian society.”

4) That “In recent times, the organisation has raised funds for Bangladeshi Hindu victims of communal violence, Kashmiri Hindu victims of terrorism, and relief efforts following the September 11 attacks in the US.” But that “In contrast, to date, IDRF has not announced any relief for the victims of communal riots in Gujarat in February and March 2002.” The report goes on to say that the IDRF uses a network of professional Indian migrants who work among the large US corporations in the Silicon Valley, such as Cisco, Sun, Oracle or Hewlett-Packard. “The swayamsevaks (volunteers) within US corporations, says the 91-page report, push IDRF as the best and the only way to provide funding for development and relief work in India, thus causing not only other unsuspecting employees, but also the corporation itself to fund the Sangh in India”.

“IDRF dismissed the allegations made by the groups as pure concoction, untruthful and self contradicting,” the charity said in a statement last Friday. The report by Biju Mathew “is merely a string of allegations, manipulated skillfully by piecing together information available on the IDRF web site”. The statement by IDRF continues: “The allegations do not stand up to any rational scrutiny. Donors to IDRF are among most well-informed of the donors to any South Asian nonprofit charitable organisations operating in the US. IDRF questions the credibility, motives and the political agenda of these splintered and virtually unknown groups that have launched the Hate Campaign against IDRF. IDRF does not subscribe to any religious, political or sectarian agendas. Further, IDRF does not discriminate against any religion, sect or race in either the collection or distribution of funds.”

But the damage has been done: Sun Microsystems stated that all current donations to the IDRF have been placed on hold pending a directive from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). It, however, added: “Any non-profit and non-proprietary organisation that has been granted 501(c)(3) tax exempt and public charity status is eligible to receive matching gifts from Sun Microsystems.” The IDRF, it observed, does not appear on the IRS list of agencies known to support terrorist activities. Similarly, a Cisco spokesperson said the company had terminated all matching donations to the IDRF.

This has infuriated many Cisco employees, such as Shyam Palleti, who wrote that “there is a malicious campaign against work done by some Indians for the benefit of Indian causes. All the money collected in Cisco went to right causes, like the Orissa cyclone of 1999, and was accounted and reported to IRS”. Another NRI, Mr Ranganathan, says “that IDRF seems to be gathering more money than others, because people are aware of the good work done by IDRF and so money is sure to go into right causes and not because people are duped”. Adds Palleti: “The word ‘duped’ is insulting to employees who build innovative networking products and because of whom we can communicate with ease. I don’t think the articles published in the Indian Press cause anybody to reduce their help to IDRF, but only incense them to think that their own media is not India-friendly”.

I personally met last August in Washington, the chief executives of IDRF, Vinod and Sarala Prakash, two old, harmless, friendly persons, who would not harm a fly. How is it possible that when Muslim terrorists wreak havoc all the over India, kill innocent people, as they just did in the Jammu temples, the Press only mentions these as news items, without condemning them, but that it targets harmless people such as the Prakash, who have never hurt anybody in their lives?

Is it not time we called a spade a spade? The spectre of a “dangerous” RSS, for example, is a creation of the British who had understood, as the Muslims invaders did before them, that the Hindus were the greatest hurdle to their grip on India. So their own Press started attacking anything Hindu, or any group which was trying to protect Hindu culture or leader, such as the Hindu Mahasabha. It is also time for Hindus of this country to face the truth: We are looking at the Gujarat riots only through the prism of what the Western press and the English-speaking Indian media have said – mad “fundamentalist” Hindus, going after peace-loving Muslims.

However, reality might be different: Are not tolerant, God fearing, peace-loving Hindus fed up of being maligned, made fun of, slandered, attacked, killed, their women raped, their temples sprayed with bullets and grenades, by a religion which for centuries has made violence and hatred a way of life? Could it be that Gujarat is giving a warning to the Muslims of India that Hindus have “had enough”, and that they are not ready to put up any more with their own women and children being burnt like animals? The Indian media would do well to take notice of this new popular mood of the majority community and try to understand their feelings, instead of accusing them of being “fanatics”. They should also be careful not to give so much space to small hate groups such as The Federation of Indian American Christian Organisations of Northern America.