Tag Archives: culture

Be aware of your roots

First Published : 21 Oct 2008 12:40:00 AM IST
Last Updated : 21 Oct 2008 10:40:51 AM IST

 

Francois Gautier

AS a Frenchman, I was coached right from childhood that logic, what we in France call Cartesianism, is the greatest gift given to man. Thus, I taught my students in a Bangalore school of journalism that the first tool of a good reporter is to go by his or her own judgment on the ground, with the help of one’s first-hand experience — and not by second hand information: what your parents thought, what you have read in the newspapers, what your caste, religion, culture pushes you into.

 

Yet in India, logic does not seem to apply to most of the media, especially when it touches anything Hindu.

 

One cannot, for instance, equate Muslim terrorists who blow up innocent civilians in market places all over India, with angry ordinary Hindus who burn churches without killing anybody.

 

We know that most of these communal incidents often involve persons of the same caste, Dalits and tribals, some converted to Christianity and some not.

 

Then, however reprehensible the destruction of the Babri Masjid, no Muslim was killed in the process.

 

Compare this with the ‘vengeance’ bombings of 1993 in Mumbai, which killed hundreds of innocents, mostly Hindus. Yet Indian and western journalists keep matching up the two, or even showing the Babri Masjid destruction as the more horrible act of the two.

 

How can you compare the RSS, a bunch of harmless daddies, with the Indian Mujahideen, a terrorist organisation? How can you make of Narendra Modi a mass killer, when it was ordinary middle-class, or even Dalit Hindus, who went out on the streets in fury when 56 innocent people, many of them women and children, were burnt in a train? How can you lobby for the lifting of the ban on SIMI, an organisation which is suspected of having planted bombs in many Indian cities, killing hundreds of innocents, while advocating the ban of the Bajrang Dal, which burns churches when an 84-year-old Hindu swami and his Mataji are brutally murdered? There is no logic in the perspective of journalists in this country when it comes to minorities. Christians are supposed to make up two per cent of the population in India, but last Sunday many major television channels showed live the canonisation ceremonies of sister Alphonsa, an obscure nun from Kerala.

 

Union minister Oscar Fernandes led an entire Indian delegation to the Vatican ceremony along with the Indian ambassador. It would be impossible in England, for instance, which may have a 2 per cent Hindu minority, to have live coverage of a major Hindu ceremony, like the anointment of a new Shankaracharya.What was NDTV, which seems to have deliberately chosen to highlight this nonevent, trying to prove? That it is secular? But it is absolutely disproportionate.

 

Some might even call it antinational.

 

The headline, ‘India gets its first woman saint’, in many newspapers, Indian and western, is misleading.

 

India has never been short of saints. The woman sage from over 3,000 years ago — Maithreyi, Andal, the Tamil saint from early in the first Millennium CE and Akkamahadevi, the 15th century saint from modernday Karnataka, are but a few examples.

 

What many publications fail to mention in this story is that this is the first woman Christian saint, not the first Indian woman saint.

 

Such a statement is OK when it comes, for instance, from the BBC, which always looks at India through the Christian prism, but when it comes to the Indian media, it only shows their grave lack of grounding in Indian culture and history.

 

The same thing is true of Sonia Gandhi, who seemed, even though the Congress should by all means have already collapsed with 12 per cent inflation, scandal after scandal, a nuclear deal with the US that leaves India vulnerable to the Chinese and Pakistani nuclear threat, and bomb blast after bomb blast, still ruling India with an iron hand. Yet newspapers and TV channels keep praising Sonia Gandhi.

 

And the question must be asked: how is it possible that a nation of a billion people, with some of the best minds on this planet, allows itself to be governed by a non-Indian lady, who, however sincere she may be, is actively overseeing the dismantling of whatever is good and true in India? It would be impossible in France for a Hindu woman, or for that matter a non-Christian person, who is just an elected MP, to govern our country from behind the scenes like an empress. Why is it allowed in India and why is the Indian press so selfrighteous about it ? Finally, when will Indians start being proud of themselves and their own culture and stop looking down on their own society ? This inferiority complex, as expressed by NDTV’s live coverage of the canonisation of sister Alphonsa, is a legacy of the British, who strove to show themselves as superior and Indian culture as inferior (and inheritor of the ‘White Aryans’, a totally false theory). Is it not time to institute schools of journalism, both private and public, where not only a little bit of logic is taught, but where students are made aware of Indian history and the greatness of Indian culture, so that when they go out reporting, they use their own judgment and become Indian journalists, with a little bit of feeling, pride and love for their own country? fgautier@rediffmail.com

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Correspond to values

Correspond to values
Author: Francois Gautier
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: April 30, 2002
Dear friends – India’s image in the West has never been so bad. We, the foreign correspondents, have been propagating in the last few weeks a picture of an intolerant Hindu majority, ruthlessly hunting down the Muslim minority. Not only has this falsified public opinions abroad about India, but has also put pressure on governments to bring out so-called Human Rights reports on Gujarat, whereas they have no right to interfere in India’s affairs, given the fact that it is one of the very few working democracies in Asia.

Would the British, who left a mess wherever they colonised, dare to interfere in such a way in China’s affairs, whose human rights record is a million times worse than India’s? This is unfair: Those of us who have lived long enough in this country, know that not only have Hindus historically been extremely tolerant, accepting the fact that God manifests himself at different times under different forms, but also that, in spite of the bureaucratic hassles, the dirtiness and the heat, we westerners are living in a paradise of freedom compared to what would be our lot in, for instance, China. Here we can criticise as much as we want, slander even, without fear of reprisal.

As a foreign journalist having covered India for the last 25 years, I am shocked by the ambivalence of our standards when it comes to writing or reporting on Hindus. There were 400,000 Hindus in Kashmir in 1947; there are only a few hundreds left today. All the rest have been made to flee through terror in the late 1980s and early ‘90s. I remember the time when Muslim militants would stop buses in Kashmir and kill all its Hindus occupants – men women and children. None of the foreign correspondents and diplomats protested about human rights the way they are doing now, after the Gujarat riots. There are 400,000 Hindus who are refugees in their own land, an instance of ethnic cleansing without parallel in the world.

Why are none of us interested in highlighting these facts? Do we know that Hindus themselves have been for centuries the target of a genocide at the hands of Muslim invaders, and that today in Bangladesh and Pakistan they are still at risk? In Assam, Tripura, and Nagaland, Hindus are being outnumbered by Bangladeshi illegal immigrants and terrorised by pro-Christian separatist groups, such as the Bodos or the Mizos, while local governments often turn a blind eye.

Are we playing our role, which is to inform and educate our fellow countrymen, who are generally totally ignorant about India? Many of us are using the word “genocide” to describe the riots in Gujarat, or even making comparisons with the Holocaust. But do we tell our readers that Jews in India were never persecuted and that they lived and prospered in total freedom till most of them went back to Israel? The same cannot be said about my country, France, where even today they face problems. We do not care to balance our articles: We take an isolated incident such as the murder of Graham Staines or the riots against Muslims in Gujarat, and we make it look, as it is a whole, telling our readers abroad that Christians and Muslims are persecuted in India.

When the Ayodhya mosque was brought down, it was as if eternal shame had descended upon India. ‘Death of secularism’, ‘Hindu fundamentalists have taken over the country’, ‘Black Day in the history of our democracy’, we screamed…

However unfortunate, the Ayodhya episode was, nobody was killed there; but the terrible Bombay blasts which followed, orchestrated by Indian Muslims, with the active help of Pakistan and the silent approval of Saudi Arabia, which took the lives of hundreds of innocent Hindus, never warranted the kind of moral indignation which followed the rioting against Muslims in Gujarat. Why does nobody bother to say that, maybe, the tolerant, easy-going middle class Hindu, is so fed-up with being made fun of, hated, targeted, killed, bombed, that he is ready to take to the streets?

If you dare say that there are 850 millions Hindus in this country and that they not only represent the majority culture, but also a tradition of tolerance and gentleness, and they cannot be the fundamentalists that the Press makes them out to be, you are immediately branded as an RSS spokesman or a VHP lover. Why this primitive labels? In the West we are not ashamed to call ourselves a Christian civilisation: The American President swears on the Bible when he takes office and look also how all European children, be they Italian or German, are brought-up on the values of Christianity and the greatness of Greek philosophy.

It would be impossible, in France for instance, for the Muslim minority – immigrants from France’s ex- colonies such as Algeria or Morocco – to impose their views and culture on the government. In fact, Muslim girls are not allowed to wear a veil when they go to French school: “You are in France, you have been given the French nationality, so behave like a French first and like a Muslim, second,” they are told bluntly. Would that be possible in India? Does any Indian, except the much-maligned RSS, have the courage to ask Muslims to be Indians first and Muslims second? Or tell Catholics and Protestants that they have to revert to a more Indianised Christianity, such as the one that existed in Kerala before the arrival of the Portuguese Jesuits? And see how stridently Muslims and Christians – backed by most of the foreign media – react when Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi wants to teach Indian children a little bit of the greatness of their culture!

I know that many foreign correspondents arrive here with an aspiration to understand India and to report on it fairly. The problem is that there is no way we are going to know India if we stay in Delhi, or fly all over the place, staying in five-star hotels, to do features which give justice to a civilisation which is 5,000 years old. It is also true that in Delhi, an arrogant, superficial city, we are never in contact with the real India, and always hear the same stories in the journalists’ parties, or diplomatic cocktails, about secularism, the Sangh parivar or human rights in Kashmir. We should take some time off the political situation and go out to the South, which is so much more gentle and easy-going than the North.

Write, for instance, some features on Kalaripayat, Kerala’s martial art that gave birth to kung fu and karate; or on Ayurveda, the oldest medical science still in practice; or see for yourself the extraordinary Ayyappa festival in the mountains bordering Tamil Nadu; or witness one million Christians who descend every year on the “Lourdes” of India – Velangani on the Coromandel coast. There you will discover that the genius of India, its tradition of tolerance, hospitality and gentleness lies in rural areas, amongst the humble people – and not in the arrogant westernised cities that have lost contact with their own roots. Or else, do an Art of Living basic course and learn first-hand India’s ancient traditions of meditation and pranayama… For the truth is that if you want to know and understand this country in some degree, you have to live India from the inside.