(which never happened, see: http://www.firstpost.com/india/crying-wolf-narrative-of-delhi-church-attacks-flies-in-the-face-of-facts-2101105.html.), by the western press, raises the question of the fairness of western journalists posted in India.
In my experience, foreign journalists (and photographers) are generally interested in three kinds of India :
- a) The macabre and the negative : rapes of course,such as the horrific #Nirbhaya one and the documentary #IndiasDaughter, which wilfully made it look as if every second woman is raped in India, which is totally untrue. There are many more rapes, say in the UK, where it was found that in the town of Rotherdam, 1400 young girls, many of them under the age of sixteen, were sexually exploited by men, mostly Pakistanis, with the police turning blind eye for politically correct reasons :(http://www.forbes.com/sites/rogerscruton/2014/08/30/why-did-british-police-ignore-pakistani-gangs-raping-rotherham-children-political-correctness/) ; the widows of Benares, the caste system as practised in Bihar, Mother Teresa’s place for the dying in Kolkata, kidneys’ traffic in Tamil Nadu, the slums of Mumbai, bride burning, etc. These subjects have their own truth and there does exist in India horrible rapes, 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 many films, 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 the such as Vogue magazine, who regularly sends there photographers and lanky models, who have no idea of India; festivals :Pushkar, the camel fair, Kumba-melas, where photographers love to click on sadhus with cell phones, dance performances in Khajurao… 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 corespondents 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 two hundred and ninety eight 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”, on the “fanatical khaki-clad RSS members” or “the persecution of Christians in India”, as recently seen in the vandalizing of Delhi churches, which had nothing to do with Hindu ‘militants’. But the damage is done –– and no Media, including Indian ones cared to rectify it. It is also 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, witness the crucifying of heretic Hindus in Goa by the Portuguese, or the huge conversion drive today by Pentacostists or Adventists, who have targeted India as a “pagan country to be brought to the true Word” (please check their Internet sites: htpp//www.bethany.com)
These three kinds of reporting about India have been going on for sixty years and very few Indians have dared – or bothered – to complain. But the interesting question is WHY ? 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. Firstly, a foreign correspondent before even being posted in Delhi, has already fixed ideas about India : prejudices, clichés, negative “à-prioris” etc. This is not to say that it is wilfully done, but 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 the poverty, the dirtiness 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 Moghol culture (absolutely untrue: Aurangzeb banned music from his court and even his Muslim musicians protested); 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 and how Nehru was its great father (forgetting to say that secularism has been hijacked by the Congress for its own selfish purpose), etc.… These “wise” historians have unfortunately a very strong hold on the image of India abroad and they give all the wrong ideas to foreign newspapers 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 (as seen by the denying of Mr Modi’s visa for years). 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 crux of the matter, because Indian journalists are often the worst enemies of their own country – they are more secular than the secular, more anti Indian than its worst adversaries and often play in the hands of India’s foes (for instance the magazine Frontline should rightly be called the “Voice of China”, as it often echoes the views of the Chinese communist party, which is profoundly inimical to India, or the newspaper the Hindu should be renamed the Anti-Hindu, as it has a profoundly Marxist outlook; so does #NDTV (by the way, as Prannoy Roy is married to the sister of Brindra Karat, leader of the communist party in India). 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 cocktails, or at journalists’ parties.
It would be nice to say that even though Indian journalism looks at its own country in a very negative manner, it is something which is self generated and that its opinions are formed independently. But unfortunately, this debasing self-criticism, this eternal inferiority complex, this constantly looking at India through a western prism (take the magazine India Today, for instance, who under the misguided rule of @ShekharGupta, vice-president of India Today, does issues on India as a ‘depressed’ country, when any fool who has lived in India for more than a few years, can tell you that there is some much joy here, even in villages) ) This inferiority complex was born at the beginning of this century, when the “moderates” of the Congress Party (which, nobody should forget, was founded by an Englishman, A.O. Hume – strange today that it is another foreigner, however deserving she may be, who president of the #Congress party, tried to stifle the voices of the real nationalists : Sri Aurobindo, Tilak, or Bepin Chandra Pal, who already then, advocated the booting out of the English coloniser – if necessary by force. Thus when the first real cultural, social and political movements, which had at heart the defence of India’s true heritage started taking shape, such as the much decried Hindu Mahashaba, which attempted to counterbalance the Muslim League’s influence, or the even more maligned Rama Rajya Parishad, initiated by Swamy Karpatri, they were ridiculed by the Congress (read: the British pulling the strings of the Congress), who utilised to the hilt its English speaking press to present these Hindu parties as barbaric, fanatical, ridiculous and amplified the problems of untouchability, castes, or cow worshipping, to belittle these movements, which after all, were only trying to preserve India’s cultural and spiritual heritage.
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. All along the snake was biting its own tail !
Fine ! But where do we start : is it the western press which must first change its views of India and thus influence the Indian media ? Or is it the Indian press which must be more lenient towards its own country and thus influence the western medias ?
Fortunately, since Mr Narendra Modi came to power, times have changed, there is a new mood of nationalism amongst Indians that is reflected more at the moment in the social Media, FB and Twitter, but has not reached yet the mainstream press, which remains critical of Hindus and their movements. This nationalism may have come with some excesses, but it is a sign of times to come and #IndiaToday should take notice of it, for no nation can move forward without some kind of nationalism and pride of itself.
We have got to change the image of India amongst industrialised nations, if only because India needs a lot of foreign investment. Who in the West wants to do business with a country with a backward image and associated with rapes and slums? 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 even possesses in the West an image of a fast, forward, modern nation (although THE CHINESE killed a million Tibetans, gave Pakistan its nuclear technology and still claim part of Indian territory). Many of us are trying to change India’s image abroad, but it’s extremely difficult. I for one, have written so many articles and books, telling France that it needs to look towards India s an economic AND GEOPOLITICAL alternative to China, as India is democratic, western friendly and juridically safe. But French Indianists such as Christophe Jaffrelot who still rules the roost in France when it comes to India write long articles in Le Monde newspaper, speaking about Hindu fundamentalism and saying that India is a ‘soft’ power which never have China’s reach. And the French, including the French embassy in India, would rather listen to #JaffrelotC -not to Mr Gautier.
Thus, 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.
For there is nothing wrong with a bit of nationalism, which any nation needs to have a minimum amount of self-respect. We French are proud of our Revolution, which changed the face of the world for ever; we are proud of Christianity, which gave us an island of sanity and learning during the dark and cruel Middle Ages; we are proud of our philosophers, such as Descartes, who taught us to look at things with a logical and clear eye. And India herself has nothing to be ashamed off: hers is a great civilisation infinitely older than any civilisation in the West; and not only was it great but its inner genius has survived the genocide of Muslim invasions, a stifling colonisation by the British, and even Marxism, which incarnated itself in the minds of India’s intellectual elite and tried to kill the Hindu genius of the land of Bharat.
Isn’t it then time to fulfil the prophecy of Sri Aurobindo, who wrote 100 years ago : “India of the ages is not dead nor has She spoken Her last creative word; She lives and has still something to do for Herself and the human peoples. And that which She must seek now to awake, is not an anglicised oriental people, docile pupil of the West and doomed to repeat the cycle of the Occident’s success and failure, but still the ancient immemorial Shakti recovering Her deepest self, lifting Her head higher towards the supreme source of light and strength and turning to discover the complete meaning and vaster form of Her Dharma.
Then will we, foreign journalists, look at you differently…