is a country of wonderful people. Warm, hospitable, tolerant. Its intellectual
elite, in Delhi, Bombay, Chennai or Bangalore, are good friends to have,
fun-loving and always cordial with westerners.
Intellectually, the journalists and writers of this country
are often witty, brilliant, speak good English, and write even better. In fact,
quite a few of them, Arundhati Roy, Vikram Seth, Upamanyu Chatterjee and others,
have become households names in the English literary world and have brought a
good name to India. Arundhati Roy has even shown us that one can be a successful
writer and also work for a social cause - even going to the extent of going to
jail for that.
there is something that I have never understood:
Although most of India's intellectual elite is Hindu, the great majority of them
are Hindu haters - and it even seems sometimes that they are ashamed to be
Hindus. They always come out with the same cliches on Hindutva, the Saffron
Brigade, the Hindu "fundamentalists" and if you listen to
them, you get the impression that India is in the hands of dangerous Hindu
fundamentalists and that the Christian and Muslim minorities of India are being
Courier International, a very prestigious French magazine, which is read by
diplomats and politicians, published a special issue on "Hindu
fundamentalism" with a cover photo of RSS members doing their lathi drill.
The ignorant westerner who read it must have had the impression that India
indeed is in the grip of fascist, nazi-like Hindu groups and that civil
liberties are curtailed here. When the editor-in-chief of that magazine was
contacted, he pointed out that all the pieces had been translated from
articles... written in the Indian Press by Indian journalists...
I did not know India, I would tend also to believe what I read about India in
the Western press: A nation torn by caste discrimination, poverty, corruption,
Hindu extremism and natural calamities. But after living more than 30 years in
this country, my experience is totally different: Hindus are probably the most
tolerant people in the world - they accept that God manifests Himself under
different forms, at different times, according to the needs and mentality of
each epoch: Krishna, Christ, Mohamed, Buddha... Thus they always allowed
throughout the centuries religious minorities who were victimized in their own
countries to settle in India and to prosper and practice their religion: The
Syrian Christians, in fact the first Christian community in the world, the Jews,
who have been persecuted all over the world (including in my own country
France), but were left in peace in India; the Armenians, the Parsis, and today
a Westerner, living in India, apart from the obvious bureaucratic hassles, the
slowness of everything and the dirt, being here has also been a dream: I have
never been mugged in 33 years, no policeman has ever asked me my papers in the
street (see what happens to you if you are dark-skinned and without a tie in the
metro in Paris) and I have always been made welcome even in the remotest
villages of India. As a journalist, it is even better: I do not have to ask
permission to go out of Delhi and submit the subject and route of the features I
propose to do outside the capital and I do not get kicked out of India, even if
I criticize its government - all this contrary to China, which even then remains
a more coveted post for a foreign correspondent than India.
is true that for a western journalist, coming to India can be a baffling
experience. The diversity - going from one state to the next is like passing
from one country to another - the language is different, so is the food, the
habits, the political set-up; the complexity of India's political life, its
heavy subtleties; the incredible religious, social and ethnic diversity... So
what does the new correspondent do, when often he has at heart to do justice to
the country he has been asked to report about? He turns to his Indian fellow
journalists for enlightenment.
the first input he is given by his Indian colleagues, is very negative: The
black mark of Ayodhya on India's secular fabric, the heavy hand of the Army in
Kashmir, the terrible castes abuses in Bihar, or the Taliban-like Bajrang Dal.
And this is why if you read the Western reports on India, however good their
styles, however well-meaning they are, they all say the same thing with infinite
monotony (and often nastiness).
it is absolutely factual that there are unforgivable things done in India in the
name of caste; that the disparity between rich and poor is shocking, that
affluent Hindus have very little concern about their less fortunate brethrens,
or else have no respect for their environment. But it is also true that there is
so much positive things to be written about India, so many great people, so much
tolerance, so much talent, so many fascinating subjects. Nevertheless Western
journalists seem only to concentrate on the negative.
is the vicious circle of journalism and India: The negative goes from the Indian
journalist to the Western journalist... and comes back to India under the form
of unfriendly reporting.... The recent Sabarmati burning followed by the rioting
in Gujarat, showed again the veracity of that phenomenon. Here you had 58
innocent Hindus, the majority of them being women and children, burnt in the
most horrible manner, for no other crime but the fact that they want to build a
temple dedicated to the most cherished of Hindu Gods, Ram, on a site which has
been held sacred by Hindus for thousands of years.
a Graham Staines is burnt alive, all of India's English press goes overboard in
condemning his killers, but when 58 Graham Staines are murdered, they report it
without comment. No doubt, the revenge which followed is equally
unpardonable. No doubt, Indian and foreign journalists who rushed to Gujarat,
wrote sincerely: after all they saw innocent women, children, men being burnt,
killed, raped. Which decent journalist, who has at heart of reporting truth
would not cry out against such a shame? But then history has shown us that no
event should be taken out of context, and that there is in India, amongst the
Hindu majority, a simmering anger against Muslims, who have terribly persecuted
the Hindus and yet manage to make it look as if they are the persecuted.
once again, the Western press coverage of the Gujarat rioting comes back to
haunt India: Hindus targeting Muslims, fundamentalism against innocence,
minority being persecuted by majority... But when will the true India be
sincerely portrayed by its own journalists, so that the Western press be
is the correspondent in India and South Asia of Ouest-France, the biggest
circulation French daily (1 million copies) and for LCI, a 24-hour TV news
channel. He is also the author of Arise O India
and A Western journalist on India).