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US and them

Indians, both within India and outside, often cringe at many of the stories about India in the foreign media mostly the western press that show the country in poor light. There is an assumption, not entirely correct, that foreign reporters are fixated about India's social maladies such as dowry and casteism, and that they never lose a chance to write about the sores and pustules of benighted India.

Anecdotally though, it appears there has been more positive coverage of India over the past decade than negative writing. Stories of Indian energy, entrepreneurship, and achievement in areas such as entertainment, science, engineering, literature and the arts are frequent and copious in the western press now as the famine and flood stories of the 1970s and 1980s.

Still, Indians never lose an opportunity to fulminate about the occasional negative coverage and the latest round of religion bloodletting in Gujarat has had many of NRIs frazzled, when they were not hiding in embarrassment. Indian officials have expressed (in private) their resentment at the reporting by western journalists. They are even more incensed that some Indian-American reporters based here, and sent to India by their papers to cover the events, have been far more critical in their reportage than their western colleagues. "They probably know India even less than their western colleagues, who at least make an honest attempt to learn about the country," one diplomat fumed after reading dispatches by Indian-American reporters in the New York Times, Washington Post and other prominent publications. In his mind, they were doing great disservice to the country of their origin. 

In contrast, Indian reporters are often accused of not reporting on the negative aspects of American life and society. After all, one NRI community leader bristled recently, if American reporters can incessantly describe India as "largely Hindu India" or the BJP as a "Hindu Nationalist" Party, then Indian journalists should be describing the United States as "largely White Christian America" and Republican Party as the "White, Christian, Nationalist Party."

Besides, he argued, the United States has almost every malady India is stricken with. There are droughts (one right now in much of the East Coast), floods, hunger, disease (even outbreaks of plague). Planes crash, trains derail, and there are false alarms over hijackings. There are also similar societal woes, especially discrimination based on gender and race. So how come foreign reporters in the US spend so much time and energy covering piffle from the American entertainment world and what the state department spokesman says?

There is some validity to this criticism. Mostly understaffed and under-resourced, and largely based on the East Coast or West Coast, foreign publications (and not just Indian) in the US rarely go out to report on the hinterland.
Out there in Middle America, there exists discrimination, fundamentalism, violence and degradation that seldom make it to the front page of newspapers in the United States, much less outside America. In a crime as revolting as Roop Kanwar being burnt on her husband's funeral pyre, a black man was dragged to death in Texas some years back. A gay youth was shot to death in Wyoming because of his sexual orientation. And gun violence in schools is endemic.

In one of the more egregious cases of hate crime, a 17-year old girl in Denver was attacked early this week and the word "dyke" (lesbian) was carved into her forearm with a razor, according to the Rocky Mountain News. April Mora was walking to a store through an alley near her house at about 2 pm last Tuesday when she encountered three teen-age white males in a black Honda. The teens ragged her, began calling her dyke, and when she protested, they slashed her face with a razor blade. They then carved out the letters "RIP" on her stomach and "dyke" in inch-high block letters on her forearm.

Indian nationalists here say such incidents are as common in the United States as the burning of missionaries or the raping of nuns in India, which is to say it is fairly uncommon and cannot be seen as a pattern. Yet there is no human rights report originating from any other country in the world chronicling such gristly events.

There is one big difference though between societies such as India and Pakistan, and the United States. In each of these cases, it is inconceivable that the guilty parties will get away with their crime. The state does not dilute or dissemble the gravity of the act. The criminals are prosecuted and justice is usually swift and severe. Now look back and count how many of perpetrators of the most horrendous atrocities in our part of the world have been prosecuted. Perhaps that might answer why the "negative" reporting hurts so much.


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