My dilemma of "defending India"

Couple of days back an Australian Radio host called India a "shithole" and the Ganges a "junkyard". I was a little confused on how to react to that. I have spent half of the last 5 years working outside India. Toronto, where I am working now has a great mix of cultures from all over the world. And of course in a foreign land, whether you want it or not, you end up representing your home country

After reading what Kyle Sandilands had to say, I went went from one extreme emotion to another in a matter of seconds. Finally the logical part of my brain kicked in and I realized he was probably ill informed or maybe just a loud mouth seeking Succès de scandale. Or maybe he was a hate monger who couldn't stand the sight of brown skin. Seeing how he chose a religious hot spot to comment on - he probably wanted people to notice him, in which case he succeeded. And also, there is no dearth of stupidity in this world. 

This article though is not about him. Sure, he was way out of line. But how does one counter his interpretation about the Ganges? I realized that defending this point would mean I am inadvertently defending people who have no remorse in polluting the great river. Anyway you look at it - its a problem. It is not a problem just because of the physical state of the river. The problem also lies in the minds of the people who refuse to acknowledge it and in the minds of the people who treat it as a pseudo-religious-intellectual need. Do you see a problem here? I can't defend something that I don't believe in!

My dilemma goes beyond just this one conversation or this guy who has an opinion on a country he has never been to. There have been several instances where I have read a book or watched a movie or a TV program or even overheard a conversation about India and wanted to say - "None of your business!" but didn't want to go beyond that. Like a lot of people in my generation - I feel disconnected from some mainstream traditional values and ethos. I am not very religious and I rarely abide by the usual social preferences. So how does one react to conversations around these topics?

Don't get me wrong, I love my country and I take every reasonable effort in portraying a true picture of India (although the success of Slumdog Millionaire makes it harder). But it becomes extremely difficult to explain why 100 million people behave in a certain way, when I myself don't understand it. On one hand I don't want to bad-mouth my country and shrug the responsibility; on the other hand I don't want to defend something blindly, irrespective of how I feel about it. 


  1. A good topic for discussion. Other day one Sadhu died doing " Aamaran Anshan " for pollution in Ganga and Yamuna. There was some reflections in media but now people have forgotten.This is not the only problem with our country but we know how to keep our senses closed. It can not be eradicated within a short span of time, by few learned people or by few NGOs. A holistic view has to be taken without thinking of political backfire be it for pollution,common civil marriage code, conduct rules, Lokpal and so on. Basic problem can not be solved without mass awareness and it will not be possible without proper education. Though RTE has come through but the system still requires overhaul. The root cause of our system failure is population and political system does not want to touch the topic being a sensitive subject for them.
    One aspect that the paper has touched-- criticism and foul language being used by foreign media. Here our system is miles ahead of them.Do we find everything in Western/ developed world fine tuned. Not at all, but we and our culture do not believe in criticism. We may show them as a news item but not as criticism. That is the reason they have been coming to India for 1000 of years to learn the basics of life, living and solace.
    I am sure all Indians must be feeling the agony of such media reports but that further enhances our bond, love and Nationalism. Mamta won the election with a slogan MA<> MATI<> MANUS . JAI HIND.

  2. I can relate to this. Being part Mexican and having spent most of my life in Mexico, sometimes I find it hard to defend Mexico against some of the misconceptions people have about that country. Many reports in the media are skewed while others are, unfortunately, all too true. Both countries have enormous internal problems though I would think that India, being one of the world's most powerful and populated countries, has far more diverse, far-reaching and long-term consequential matters to deal with.

  3. Rajeev Verma14.9.12

    You have touched the most important topic changing India. For the matter of fact majority of the changes happening in India are now not only reflection of Internal awareness but external media/governments have taken significant affect on "We The People". I think rather than trying to counter these statements, at this point we should use it as weapon to make rights changes in our society. Since opening of economy, India is subjected to both internal and external factors. Nowadays external factors are taking significant effect. Unfortunately Indian leaders are still not able to resolve their internal issues and work towards growth of economy. We have taken conscious/UN-conscious decision to have natural and hence chaotic path to growth. It's high-time for Indian diaspora both inside the country and outside to work towards the political/governance/administrative improvement of the country. We cannot run-away by having Politics/Government as most abused word. Indian's have sparked as Individuals in various sectors. It's high-time we together work towards growth of nation rather than individuals.

  4. I struggle with this all the time. I sometimes find Western media high-handed and paternalistic when covering India, at the same time I find Indians a little too sensitive to criticism. The Delhi rape case was a particularly vexing example. Many tsked-tsked India and talked about our country like it was some kind of problem child. But rape is quite prevalent in the US and the Steubenville incident, which happened in similar timeframe, didn't get nearly as much world press (though in that case, the assaulted women didn't die). I felt India, while having a serious problem with rape (especially in a city like Delhi), was stigmatized unfairly as most other countries on the planet have a problem with rape as well.

    But that said, having lived in India and the West, I can say that being a women in India can be a de-humanizing experience. Even in cosmopolitan Bangalore, I got groped on a regular basis on the bus (no wonder everyone buys cars), and sexually assaulted by a piano teacher. I can't imagine what women in BIMARU states have to put up with.

    Government corruption and police corruption/incompetence is another area where I find it hard to defend my country.

    But with all that, I still get my back up when I read a Western writer (or Australian radio jock) denigrate my India. Not that we should shun constructive criticism, but those who continue to look down on us need to take a look in the mirror.

    1. Couldn't agree more. It's also a case of two completely different animal species (West and India). The needs, wants, social structure (along over emphasized economic state) ... is completely different. Compare as much you want to - there are more differences than similarities.

    2. Anonymous19.2.13

      Very nicely put thoughts,I think every Indian staying away from country goes through this kind of situation, Definitely western media is biased but not always, in few cases we have really crossed all limits like corruption,law and order,social justice, selfishness at the cost of our future generations and country.
      To feel proud of any system/country basic requirement is that it should make its common population happy.Does our system make us happy?

      I feel western world have developed what suits best as per there geographical,weather,social needs.
      After independence what we did instead of reviving of our own old systems that was on ventilator for arnd 700-800 years or more since mughals came but was best fit for our geographical,weather,social conditions we blindly followed west whether it is technologies,social or life styles and said we are modern.
      When i say we means- leaders and corporates of those time since they believed is rapid/big profits and still doing this proudly.
      Blind faith in western systems(All kinds) has created a huge gap between rich and poor that is widening every day,Social evils are having their roots there.

      We should revive our old systems that made us so rich in every aspect of life that world looked upon us, definitely we will have to do research on those systems to make them fit for current times and situations and it can be done.I understand that in this era of globalization it will impact our economy negatively to switch completely to our old enhanced systems but it can be done in phases,slowly shifting from these western systems.

      Agree,awareness in people can eradicate these social evils but does our leaders, bureaucrats,media really wants to spread awareness? if yes then why schools ,hospitals are worst than cattle-house.They only pretend to do so.Do our leaders and bureaucrats feel proud in our old system and beliefs? no they don't then how come they will make policies to enhance old systems.

      Our businessmen with the help of our corrupt leaders impose policies on countrymen what suited to show more profit on their balance sheet or to raise the price of their stock at the cost of stealing ,spoiling natural resources of the country and making place unsuitable for future generations.

      First we must understand what we were ,what we are and what best suits for us and future generations,our geography and elect those candidates who believe in following and enhancing them.