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Shoot the Messenger!

July 2003
Shoot the Messenger!

Nationalistically speaking, we Indians are a proud lot. And rightly so, there is a lot in our glorious heritage to be proud of.

But is India or Indian society perfect? Can any society ever be so? Does it then help to hold on to hallucinations of a dainty and oh-so-perfect India? As a society, does it not make more sense to introspect upon, acknowledge, and face head-on our challenges and flaws rather than dodging them or pretending they don't exist?

Well, it happens to be fashionable amongst a few well-meaning vigilantes to take it upon themselves to guard the honor of India by not only remaining in firm denial about its flaws, but also coming down strongly on those who would dare to engage in such an exercise.

Don't like the fact that a New York Times article on the late Kalpana Chawla made reference to the odds stacked against women in India that she overcame? Well, deride the paper! How dare they point out the obvious? that the Indian society is still struggling with male chauvinism in the 21st Century? (The fact that the society is indeed rapidly changing does not negate this truism)

The latest 'perpetrator' of such 'poor form' is the National Geographic. It dared to run a feature article titled, "India's Untouchables" in its June 2003 issue. And the collective chorus of our vigilantes is loud, as they have dutifully lined up to voice their disapproval of the publication.

True, the article arouses shame. No doubt, as proud Indians, it is certainly unpleasant to read about Untouchability in such graphic detail, and to also perhaps wish that the National Geographic and others would not wash our dirty linens in the open for the whole world to see.

But the questions to ask are: Has the article indulged in any lies, half-truths, or misrepresentations? Is the reporting selective so as to paint a non-representative scenario? More importantly, is the central hypothesis of the article - that Untouchability is a real problem in India - in any way incorrect, or even exaggerated?

Anyone who has lived in, and traversed India at length, and knows... really knows, the society cannot, in earnest, claim that Untouchablitiy is not a problem.

If the National Geographic is culpable for merely reporting on this subject, then we Indians are infinitely more culpable for living it!

But that doesn't matter to the vigilantes who conjure images of utopia at the very mention of India. Their motto is: Don't like the message? Just shoot the messenger.

- Parthiv N. Parekh

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