Atanu Dey On India's Development

India Rising — The Big Scare

Triumph of hype and hyperbole over honest reporting. ABCNews has a report titled “India Rising: One Billion Reasons to Care,” a study in scare mongering. I am sure that some Indians will misinterpret the report as high praise, instead of the scare mongering it really is.

Take for instance their claim that if your job requires you to sit in front of a computer, then “there is an Indian, perfectly qualified, who would do your job at one-tenth your salary and who’ll work six days a week, twelve hours a day and there are more English-speaking Indians then there are Americans, and most are wired in more ways than one …” That is just the beginning and it gets better as we go along.

The grand marshal of the “Flat World” movement is predictably present to add to the hyperbole, of course. I speak of none other than our very own Tom Friedman. But more about him later.

Crouching by the entrance of a hut in a slum in Mumbai, the reporter asks the woman how long they have lived there. She answers in Hindi, “For many years,” which he reports as “25 years they have lived here.”

Why, the reporter wonders, if Indians are so successful in being clerks for the Americans, is India so impoverished over video footage of what looks like slums along the Mumbai local train tracks, and answers his own question by stating it is because it is diverse and is a democracy.

Talking about diversity and democracy, the reporter is amazed that India is “home to 150 million peaceful Moslems.” Subtext: “Home to 800 million warring Hindus?” What exactly is he insinuating? That the rest of the world has blood-thirsty Muslims? What was the need for inserting that gratuitous adjective? Memo to ABC: Indian Muslims are no different than Muslims anywhere in the world. People are people.

Anyway, going along we are told that there is a method that evolves from all the madness in India. It is a miracle, Tom gushes. And the reporter declares that it is “a sort of a self-organizing system that scientist tell us occurs in ant-hills and beehives.” He drags in CK Prahalad who is reported as saying that “we should look at [India] not with pity but with respect and fear because this is where the next wave of global Titans will arise.”

Did I say the underlying theme is fear mongering?

The clichés come fast and thick in the 7 minute video. “I met Fareed while stepping over rats in a Bombay neighborhood,” starts a segment with a kid sending a SMS on a cell phone. The presence of malls and McDonalds in India is why the 700 million under the age of 35 no longer want to leave home and go to America since 9/11, explains the reporter.

I have an extremely low opinion of commercial American TV. Watching the report once again justified my ill opinion. The average American cannot but be more than a little confused about what India is all about, and more than a little resentful that the filthy Indians are out to steal American jobs and their American way of life. It would appear to me that America is under siege not from Islamic terrorism alone but Hindu office workers as well.

Thanks for the help, Tom. Much appreciated.

  • http://www.lifeandsomething.blogspot.com Gaurav

    Atanu,

    Come on,

    Atleast it is better than India of Cows, and Mother Teresa.

    Pat Roberston take that ;-) .

    Regards

  • Little Ram

    Atanu,

    I would not like to challenge your assessment that this amounts to scare-mongering, given your understanding of the American mind (my limited interaction in my visits leads me to support your assessment of the effect on the average American). Nevertheless, some of what the reporter is saying is positive- no doubt highly cliched and packaged attractively to appeal to prime time audiences in the US. There seems to be a recognition that the path of a liberal political system ahead of economic liberalisation as diametrically opposed to China, is a more healthy route.

    Many misss one point, including this reporter, that in India we adopted universal adult suffrage together with introducing democracy. That is, we gave ourselves a relatively new form of governance with the one-person-one-vote system simultaneously. No other country has moved this far this fast, be it the US or the UK or any other ( I beg to be corrected). So, getting it all right and getting the nation to move is a huge task. I for one, am proud of the fact that we have come this far; regardless of what anyone may think, I am sure we will forge ahead.

  • Jyoti Iyer

    Amusing, ney?

    Cheers

  • http://imaginathon.blogspot.com/ Suhail Kazi

    the reporter is amazed that India is “home to 150 million peaceful Moslems.” Subtext: “Home to 800 million warring Hindus?” What exactly is he insinuating?

    Come on Atanu, haven’t you heard of The Islamic Terrorism project? I’m sure the subtext here is not about Hindus, but that despite TIT 150 million Muslims manage to not blow themselves up!

    I am in total agreement with you about the stupid depths American “news” corporations are capable of reaching. Leave it to satirists like Jon Stewart to go on shows like Crossfire, and singlehandedly kick the collective asses of two hosts, while they are busy shilling his book. {it’s old but still a must watch video frm 2004 elections. Apparently Crossfire was scrapped soon after this episode. Text transcript}

    If only we had more people like you and Jon…now that’d be saccharine sweeeet :)

  • http://krishna23.blogspot.com Krishna

    I watched the video and I see no reason in it to suggest fear mongering. It is a very natural reaction when you see such videos to feel as if we (or India) have been slighted. In my opinion, attempting to understand and analyze the motives or schemes or implied suggestions behind a piece of reporting belongs to uncritical minds. Logical thing is to understand what it says and see if it is true or not. I believe what that video showed was a very good and succinct overview of the general trend of change that is happening in India. Why don’t we just judge it by that standard? I think it did a very good job. You referred to many things that the anchor said. One important thing that he said and you did not mention, which showed remarkable insight into Indian psyche, was our reverence to education. That is how he explained the knowledge revolution that is taking place.

    Anyway, as a journalistic exercise it was very good. I totally agree with you that these huge media houses have no credibility and they probably have hidden motives behind everything they report. But to jump the gun and attribute motives only betrays the lose and second hand way in which we judge ourselves.

  • Vivek S

    That reverence to education was ironic. We are a nation of mass illiteracy for centuries; invented nothing in the recent past and I wonder where that reverence to education went.

    Then I thought, I dint hear of any good Indian University after Nalanda.
    For interested readers, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nalanda
    which quotes “The destruction of the universities at Nalanda as well as the destruction of many temples and monasteries throughout northern India which housed centers of learning, is considered by many historians to the responsible for the sudden demise of ancient Indian scientific thought in mathematics, astronomy, alchemy, and anatomy.”

    Bhaktyar Khalji is the actual father of Bangladesh who sowed the seeds. I donot know whether there is a “Bhaktyar Road” in Dhaka :-)

    The video is certainly not the best; but it has something good and I agree with what Krishna has told above.

  • http://xxxtremist.blogspot.com theo

    “fearmongering”? please don’t act like Muslims, who scream Islamophobia whenever someone dares to call terrorism what it is, Islamic terrorism.
    While the segment was kind of sensationalist, it definitely is not gonna have/not intended to have any negative effect for India/indians. Yes, it warns Americans of an India rising. This is not the first time such a view is aired in the American media. Ever since they’ve had to deal with the reality of outsourcing to India, they have noticed and acknowledged India. But most Americans are happy to see India prospering with an American style democracy, rather than see Chinawith its communism, or Iran with its theocracy (uh, Iran?-just kidding-(nukes be upon them!)).

    when it referred to the 150 million ‘peaceful’ muslims, it clearly wasn’t a comparison to the rest of the Indian population. I don’t know what kind of distorted perspective would make one think like that. It’s obvious it was a comparison with the other billion muslims who are perceived as violent around the world. And as far as I am concerned any Muslim, whether in India or the Vatican, is bound to kill for his religion. So calling a Muslim peaceful, is an insult to all the victims of Islamic terrorism, like me.

  • http://thoughts2shair.blogspot.com Sabarish Sasidharan

    >>One important thing that he said and you did not mention, which showed remarkable insight into Indian psyche, was our reverence to education.

    Well, these guys are still wondering why knowledge holds primary importance in Indian minds. Its so because of a host of factors.

    1. Unlike other religions that banish independent and scientific thinking, our ancient religions and texts have embraced scientific thoughts more openly. (Aryabhatta was never outlawed because he said the earth revolves around the sun !)

    2. Our ancient culture and languages have contributed a lot to the world, that the world is not just going to admit. Even the basic words in English like Father and Mother have stemmed from our Pitr and Maatr in Sanskrit. And these guys are still wondering why Indians are giving primary importance for education.

    Sab

  • Pardeshi

    “Even the basic words in English like Father and Mother have stemmed from our Pitr and Maatr in Sanskrit. And these guys are still wondering why Indians are giving primary importance for education.”

    This kind of assertion seems to be peremptory.
    -Sanskrit is just part of a big Indo-european family of languages (except a few like Basque or Finn)
    -Those millions living under the poverty line have tough time looking for the next meal rather than going for the best school available for their kids
    -What is the recent Indian revolutionary scientific discovery or technological invention you can boast of ?

  • http://jroller.com/page/rameshl Ramesh Loganathan

    (Reproduced from my blog- http://rameshl.blogspot.com)

    Agree to some extent. While surely US is taking notice of India now, it still dopesnt do so in positive light. By and large there are negative undercurrents. While noone can dispute the facts shown/talked about, just that they are not balanced. That is where the Newsweek article really stood out..

    This was an article published recently on “India Rising -Messy, raucous, democratic India is growing fast, and now may partner up with the world’s richest democracy-America.” By Fareed Zakaria of
    Newsweek. While it did indicate some skepticism in its conclusions, by and large the article was fairly balanced and factual.

    Over the past 2 years I have been seeing a steady increase in mainstream news coverage on India. (Albeit with negative tones). When I was in US in December, I saw this 4 part feature on the National Highways Golden quadrangle project, in New York times. Led from its main page on all 4 days. I was completely bowled to see this. ( I happened to be there that week). While the level of attention is much higher than ever before, even in this article there were fairly strong negative undertones (though not as much as the ABC news feature).

    But the overriding point is that the perception is changing. Very significantly. Form “what is India”..now it has come to look at “India is doing godd.. but look at the slums.. ” et al… with the newsweek like articles in the fringes now. Soon there will be more!

    But bottom line.. does it really matter what the US press writes about us? US as a country is probably one of the most mis/less-informed nation around the world anyway. :-)

  • Nick

    I can’t find link to part II of this series. Can anyone fwd me link to part II.

    Nischal

  • Arvind

    Popular news media has its own ways… It is not about India or America for them, it is the ratings isn’t it?

    Well scaring it may be but in a good sense, Americans (and in fact the rest), wake up global competition is here and growing! The weak will be afraid the strong happier. Just like when there is rumor of lay offs – I will stay or move to a better job!