Part I: The Purveyors of SLIME
Yesterday India turned 56, accompanied by the usual introspective, retrospective and prospective analyses of what we have achieved during these fifty six years, and what the future holds for us. As I myself wait to turn 56 in another forty five days, I could not help noticing a refreshing change in this year's stream of articles. While there was the usual doom and gloom from the "all the usual suspects," there were several positive and upbeat articles. In particular, I would strongly recommend the articles by the Honourable Arun Shourie, Union Minister for Communication and Information Technology, and by Shekhar Gupta , both in the Indian Express.
Both these articles, as well as several others like them, highlight many little-known and little-appreciated facts about Indian society, in particular the Indian economy and Indian technology. For the most part, positive news about India consistently gets crowded out by the English media, which prefers to concentrate on only negative news. In his book "India: Vision 2020," our President Dr. Abdul Kalam mentions an episode during his visit to Israel. On that day, there was a suicide bombing and many people were killed. Yet the frontpage headlines in most Israeli newspapers concerned a new drip irrigation method. Pres. Kalam contrasts this optimistic view of society adopted by Israeli newspapers with the relentless negativism purveyed by our own English media. In recent months and years, I have begun to ask myself just why our English media is so negative. When I contrast the negativism of the English media with the much more balanced viewpoint adopted by Eenadu, the Telugu newspaper from which I get most of my news nowadays, I feel that there must be some inherent reasons for the negativism of our English speaking, self-styled "elite." This article is an attempt on my part to analyze this phenomenon, and to highlight the dangers in allowing these negativists to have the stage all to themselves.
Recently I was made aware of an article by Arindam Banerji entitled "Why is it so cool to hate India" and read it at once. It is an interesting article, but perhaps I don't entirely agree with the title or the premise of the article. The issue is not why it is cool to hate India. We have known the answer to that question for more than a hundred years. Ever since Lord Macaulay articulated his minute in 1835, as follows: "We must at present do our best to form a class who may be ... Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country ...," "Macaulay's children" have been blighting the landscape of our benighted country. When India earned its political independence in 1947, we had also gained complete freedom to articulate the rules by which we wished to judge ourselves. If today we associate a convent-educated English accent with being "refined" and a down-home English accent like mine with being crude, we cannot blame anyone but ourselves. No one imposed that choice on us -- we made it ourselves. Part and parcel of being a Macaulay's child is that one has to be deeply and irremediably ashamed of everything Indian. And let us face it. While India was stuck in the grip of "Nehruvian socialism" with its all-pervasive bureaucracy and oppressive state control of all aspects of one's daily life, it was difficult for even patriotic Indians to counter the doom and gloom dished out by these Macaulay's children. But even after India has made a decisive (and I hope, irreversible) turn away from its Nehruvian past, our Macaulay's children refuse to see anything good about India. Given that they define themselves by their relentless negativism and low self-esteem, one should not expect them to change, if left to their own devices.
This brings me to the point of the article. I believe the correct question to ask is not why it is so cool to hate India. Rather, we should ask: Why is it so easy to slander India and get away with it? My suggested answer is: Because one does not pay any price for doing so.
Let me elaborate. I mean that the Arundhati Roys, the Dilip D'Souzas and the Praful Bidwais of this world do not pay any penalty at all for purveying their own peculiar brand of venom. No one will pass a "fatwa" against them, ordering that they be killed, as happened in the case of Salman Rushdie. Indeed, if one tries counter such negativists through any sort of rational argument, they deflect the argument to how "brave" they are to bash India while still living in India. In short, India is a very soft target, and Hindus are a soft target. People like Arundhati Roy, Dilip D'Souza etc. are are purveyors of what I call the Self-Loathing Indian MEntality, or SLIME for short. They are modern-day Macaulay's children, full of self-loathing, and the only way in which they can bear their own miserable existence is to heap scorn on everyone around them. There is no point saying that what they say is "true". In a huge and heterogenous society like India, one instance of almost every kind of deviant behaviour can be found, especially if one goes looking for it. The issue at hand is one of perspective. When Catherine Mayo brought out her notorious book "Mother India," Mahatma Gandhi called it a "drain inspector's report." (I prefer the expression "gutter inspector's report," but then who am I to argue with the father of the nation?) The purveyors of SLIME are modern day Catherine Mayos and modern day gutter inspectors. Their day to day living depends on purveying trash. Look at Arundhati Roy for example, a woman who seems to be suffering from the writer's block of all time. How does she keep herself in the limelight in the absence of any creative output for years? By maligning her country of course. Look at Praful Bidwai, a communist whose ideology has been discredited everywhere, even in its cradle. How does he keep pretending to be an authority on everything, even when Indian leftists have achieved nothing of note besides keeping India poor for decades? By maligning his country of course. The list goes on.
Why is it important to counter SLIME? As stated above, in his book "India: Vision 2020," our President Dr. Abdul Kalam contrasts the negative attitude of the Indian (English) media with the optimistic attitude of the Israeli media. Since unfortunately much of the Indian the middle class reads and is influenced mostly by English media, SLIME causes us to lower our expectations of ourselves, and to believe the worst about our society and country. SLIME leads us to discount and deprecate our own achievements, often realized against great odds, while lauding the often trivial achievements of other societies, and of our compatriots who have emigrated. SLIME causes us to measure ourselves not against a set of standards that we have set for ourselves (as any self-respecting society should) but against often artificial standards set for us by "outsiders" who are neither objective in their assessments nor strive to be. I say "outsiders" in quotation marks since the purveyors of SLIME, though often resident in this country and indeed drawing their sustenance from this society, are implacably hostile to it and are outsiders in this sense.
We make a very basic mistake if we delude ourselves into thinking that the purveyors of SLIME are well-meaning but somewhat misguided critics of India, and an even more serious mistake if we believe that they are well-wishers of India, however much we might disagree with their conclusions. We must face the truth, namely: These people are enemies of modern India. If Pakistan is the enemy without, they are the enemy within.
Let me talk first about our leftists. Let us remember that in 1942, when the Mahatma launched the "Quit India" movement, the Indian leftists collaborated with the British, on the premise that Hitler was a greater danger to India than the British. During the freedom struggle, they treated Mahatma Gandhi and Netaji as their enemies. When China invaded India in 1962, they found fault with the Indian position, and sided with the invaders. To this day they have neither renounced nor apologized for either stance. In any other country, these leftists would be lined up against a wall and shot as the traitors they are. But in India they are not only considered "respectable," but they have put down deep roots into Humanities departments in all of our leading academic institutions. Thus our children continue to be taught outdated and discredited rubbish such as the "Aryan invasion theory," which has now been debunked based on both archeological and geneological grounds. When attempts are made to rectify some of these distortions, these "historians" shout from the rooftops about attempts to "rewrite history."
If my readers think this is an old and/or isolated example, let me quote a more recent event, namely the killing of two aspiring terrorists in an underground parking lot in Connaught Place, Delhi. Nothing illustrates better the anti-India attitudes of our SLIME purveyors than their handling of this incident. On the day after the killings, the newspapers were full of praise for the sleuthing work done by the Delhi Police in first detecting and then foiling the terrorists' plot. But within a day, Star News led off with a story about an "eye witness," one "Dr. Srivastava," who stated that the two were not killed in a gunfight with the police, but were shot in cold blood. Not wishing to fall behind in the "India-bashing sweepstakes," Kuldip Nayar promptly filed a grievance with the Human Rights Commission on behalf of the "victims." For good measure he added a newspaper editorial piece in which he described how the two dead persons were "dragged away, kicking and screaming, to be shot in cold blood." One would have been pardoned for imagining that Kuldip Nayar was himself an eyewitness, rather than someone who was merely repeating hearsay. Star News kept up with daily bulletins containing more and more details provided by the "eye witness" whom none of the viewers of Star News could, unfortunately, witness with their own eyes. But never mind. Mrs. Srivastava was there to tell us that her husband was in hiding, because he was afraid that the Delhi Police would "liquidate" him too. The impression conveyed was that India was a lawless state where the Police were out of control.
To their credit, the Delhi Police showed great restraint, and a few days later, came out with GPS data from "Dr." Srivastava's cell phone service provider, which showed that at the time of the killings he was nowhere near Connaught Place. Moreover, at this point the Agra Police got into the act, and said that (i) "Dr." Srivastava was not a Doctor at all, (ii) in Agra he had duped a number of persons pretending to be a medical practitioner, and (iii) the real reason he was in hiding was that he was running away from the Agra Police, who were looking for him on the basis of some complaints of cheating filed against him in Agra. With these developments, the accusations against the Delhi Police simply fell apart.
At this point, the critics of the Delhi Police had two choices. A sincere and thoughtful critic would have simply said that Srivastava's accusations were so serious that they had to be taken at face value and investigated thoroughly, in the interests of our public image. I have no problem with that stance. A gracious critic would perhaps even have apologized for doubting their word in the first place. Now let us examine the reactions of the duo mentioned above. On the evening when the truth came out about Srivastava, Rajdeep Sardesai led off Star News making two comments: (i) "Why did the Delhi Police take so long to come out with the evidence of Srivastava's movements, if they had nothing to hide?" and (ii) "Questions still remain about the Delhi Police's version of the events." What those remaining questions were, Sardesai did not choose to enlighten us poor ignorant and misinformed viewers. Kuldip Nayar, being an occasional newspaper commentator, had an even easier escape route: He just "went off the air." In other words, he simply stopped commenting on the matter. He used the oldest trick in the book, namely: When you are losing the argument, change the topic. Are these the actions of people who wish to hold India to a very high standard of behaviour (which all of us want), or of people whose sole aim is to malign India at all costs, even choosing to believe dubious testimony from discredited sources if it suits their disreputable purposes? I leave it to the readers to determine.
In short, we cannot afford to treat the purveyors of SLIME as people just like us, who merely happen to hold different views. They are out to undermine, even destroy Indian society. And we cannot eradicate SLIME unless we take radical measures. Rational debate won't do the job, for reasons mentioned above. Moreover, this is not a "dharma yuddha" -- The purveyors of SLIME are fighting a dirty war in which they don't follow any rules, so we need not either. In short, we have to fight fire with fire. It behooves us, the patriotic Indians, to find a way to make the purveyors of SLIME run for cover -- and all's is fair in (love and) war!
We can begin by making life as difficult as possible for the purveyors of SLIME, by making it clear that we know what they are up to. We must demonstrate openly the utter contempt that most of us feel towards them. When one side is shrill and near-hysterical in propagating hatred, merely attempting score debating points in the style of the Oxford Union will not succeed in neutralizing the hatred. We must counter their negativism with a barrage of good news about India. Unfortunately our English media, be they dailies or weeklies, have essentially degenerated into "lifestyle" rags, since that is where the advertising money comes from. I believe therefore that conventional English media will not be of any use in countering SLIME. Fortunately, with the pervasiveness of the Internet, disseminating information is easier than ever before. Already there are several web sites operated by thoughtful groups, such as goodnewsindia and indiacause . There need to be far more such sites. We also need to spread the news about the existence of such sites amongst well-wishers of Indian society.
And finally, all of us must take a solemn oath to open our eyes to all the good things that happen around us, everyday, to everyone. We must not only notice them, but we must also shout from the rooftops about them. If we merely take these good things for granted and do not publicize them, then we leave the field open to the purveyors of SLIME. As Edmund Burke said: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
Part II: Why it is Important to Fight SLIME
Up to this point, I have argued that we cannot afford to treat the purveyors of SLIME (Self-Loathing Indian MEntality) as people just like us, who merely happen to hold different views. They are out to undermine our collective self-confidence as a nation, and thereby destroy Indian society. As far as I tell by looking around me in India, SLIME purveyors have had only limited success. The collective mood of the great Indian middle class, notwithstanding the best efforts of SLIME purveyors, is on the whole rather upbeat.
Unfortunately, that is not a reason for satisfaction. Recently I have come to the conclusion that the purveyors of SLIME are in fact not fighting for the mind-share of Indians at all, but of those living abroad, be they NRI's or foreigners. In other words, I now believe that the very objective of SLIME purveyors is to discredit Indian society not directly the eyes of those of us living in India, but rather, in the eyes of those living outside India. They seek to do this by focusing exclusively on unrepresentative, isolated incidents, and sticking to a script that is repeated ad nauseum. With the world becoming a "global village," and given the relatively short attention span of overseas news agencies, especially when it concerns matters unrelated to their own society, the purveyors of SLIME find it easy to poison the minds of non-Indians who get only occasional strobe-lighted versions of events in India, and may not always be able to follow up later events. For example, in the case of the Connaught Place killings mentioned in Part I, one cannot blame a foreign newspaper if it carried screaming headlines about Kuldip Nayar's "bold" accusations against the Delhi Police, and did not bother to carry the subsequent vindication of the Delhi Police. In turn, those misguided, rootless individuals living in India but constantly assessing themselves in terms of what the rest of the world thinks of them are then converted to the SLIME viewpoint.
Unfortunately, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the strategy adopted by the SLIME purveyors is succeeding. During the past few months, I have been forced to spend extended periods of time in the United States on business. During these trips I have met not only business associates, but also several Indian academics as well as their American colleagues. In my conversations with them, I was struck by the enormous disparity between what they perceive to be happening in India, and what I see happening around me. All they could talk about was the rise of fascism, Hindu fanaticism (as if there is no other kind of religious fanaticism), comparisons between Lal Krishna Advani and Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, and Torquemada all rolled into one, "exploitation of the poor," and so on. To these people, the India of the rising Rupee, falling inflation, rising foreign exchange reserves, rising current account surplus, falling unemployment, rising self-confidence, booming stock market, improving infrastructure, rapidly decreasing poverty, burgeoning IT sector, and the second fastest growing economy in the world for over a decade, simply doesn't exist. For them there is only the India of communal riots, bride burning, dowry harassment, female infanticide, corruption, decay, waste, and "human rights violations". This disparity in perceptions cannot be explained merely by the old cliche about the glass being half-full versus being half-empty. It is as if we are looking at different glasses. Or perhaps, as one interpretation of quantum mechanics states, we are simply inhabiting parallel universes.
My well-meaning NRI and American friends are merely reacting to the material published in American media about India. Web searches of the leading American newspapers and magazines, even "liberal" newspapers such as the New York Times, turn up only negative portrayals of everything Indian. One rarely sees anything about success stories such as the building of the golden quadrilateral, or adult literacy movement, etc. Even our success in the IT industry is now used as a weapon against us. Our IT industry is portrayed as being somewhat evil, and putting millions of innocent American IT professionals out of work by the nefarious tactic of (horror of horrors) producing better quality work at lower cost. Sob stories about individual Americans displaced by Indians have adorned supposedly responsible magazines such as Business Week and Fortune. "Outsourcing" has been turned into a dirty phrase simply by endless repetition with vaguely sinister (but never explicitly stated) connotations.
In his highly perceptive book "The Arabs", David Lamb talks about the very negative portrayal of Arabs in the US media and says "Once Jews, blacks and other minorities were subjected to similar degradation; today hardly anyone but Arabs is still fair game for media bashing." I can add that India and Indians are still fair game for media bashing. One episode illustrates this point. A few weeks ago Anneka Sorenstam, a female golfer of some note, expressed a wish to play on the men's professional tour. Vijay Singh, a Fijian golfer with excellent credentials (including a Master's title) expressed his disagreement with the idea, saying that Ms. Sorenstam should stick to the ladies' tour. His comments brought forth all the usual righteous indignation that might have been expected. But what caught my attention was a comment in the Boston Globe by a sports writer (whose name I forgot) who said that Singh's comments were hardly surprising because Singh was not really a Fijian but rather an Indian. For good measure this guy added that "India was a medieval society where women are routinely abused, tortured and otherwise mistreated." Proof of David Lamb's thesis as applied to Indians? I think so. This guy thinks it is fair game to bash Indians even when no Indian is involved in the news story at hand! The gratuitousness of the slander of an entire nation and a five thousand year-old civilization would be breathtaking in its audacity, if it weren't so commonplace. I could point out to this guy that gender-stereotyping is much more rampant in the USA than it is in India. Leaving aside obvious examples such as our willingness to vote for female political leaders, which is in stark contrast with the US society's views, I could highlight that in engineering and computer science (both of which are "tomorrow's professions"), the percentage of women in India is noticeably higher than in the USA. After so many years of "women's liberation," girls in American high schools are still made to feel "unfeminine" if they like mathematics, or express a liking for engineering. If I were to put forward any of these arguments, this sportswriter would simply throw back at me some article(s) written by SLIME purveryors and tell me "This is what your own compatriots are saying about India, so I simply don't believe you."
Unfortunately "globalization" alone is not sufficient to counteract the negative tactics of SLIME purveyors. Suppose an American businessman visits India for the purpose of negotiating a commercial transaction. Even if he really believes that an average Hindu like me goes home and beats up his wife, and burns a Muslim or two before settling down to a leisurely supper, how does the fact that he is thoroughly mistaken affect his dealings with me? Whatever he might think of his Indian interlocutors, his business negotiations with Indians proceed much more smoothly and transparently than with, say, his Japanese counterparts. On these kinds of visits, there is neither time nor inclination to see anything of India beyond the air-conditioned software company offices and five-star hotels. A thoughtful visitor would know that these do not represent the "real India," but will not have an opportunity to get know the real India. Similarly, when we Indians go abroad to solicit or conduct business, there is even less of an opportunity for our overseas interlocutors to form an impression about the Indian society, again other than that it is far easier to do business with us than with many other nationalities. I am leading up to a somewhat depressing conclusion, namely: This kind of "globalization" does not help at all in correcting all the misconceptions that foreigners entertain about Indian society and culture. Thus, even as the world takes for granted the increasing prosperity and professionalism of the Indian middle class, our undoubted proficiency in anything have to do with information technology, and our increasing presence in other sectors, there is virtually no prospect that non-Indians will correct their inaccurate notions about Indian society as a whole.
The reader might argue that it is not really very important what foreigners think of us. After all, if the opinions foreigners might hold about Indian society does not come in the way of our international trade or international diplomacy, do their opinions really matter? I beg to disagree. Again, I would like to quote a specific incident rather than argue in general terms. We may recall that the music director Nadeem has been holing up in the UK, and has been fighting extradition to India to face charges in the murder of fellow music director Gulshan Kumar. When Nadeem's extradition was requested by the Indian government, Nadeem's lawyer argued that if Nadeem were to be extradited to India, he would not get a fair trial as he is a Muslim. The honourable British judge, no doubt feeling that he was striking a blow for the long-departed and unlamented British empire, accepted that argument. Now I don't know whether Nadeem is "guilty" or not. But I feel deeply offended that he can get away with making that kind of argument, given that the President of India is a Muslim, the richest man in India is a Muslim, until recently the captain of the Indian cricket team was a Muslim, and so on, ad infinitum. But such are the consequences of allowing foreigners to entertain such inaccurate impressions about Indian society. The really ironic thing was that, while the British judge was in effect slandering the entire Indian society, the British Minister for IT was in India and stating that the doors of the UK were open to Indian IT professionals! To repeat the point, no amount of globalization and success in specific sectors will cause foreigners to make a greater effort to get to know Indian society as a whole.
Again going back to David Lamb's book "The Arabs," he makes the point that the Arabs really don't appreciate the need to make a proper case for themselves. Very clearly the same can be said of us Indians as well. All too often we explain away others' objections to our own satisfaction. Another mistake we make is that we are always in a reactive mode. Why should we wait until a company puts Ganesha's image on chappals or toilet seats to react and protest? Each one of us, who cares deeply about our country, should make it a point to go out and touch someone on a regular basis. We can talk about our wonderful heritage, our contributions to world (not just Indian) culture, be it in arithmetic or astronomy. We can talk about the fact that India has had an uninterrupted civilization of more than five thousand years, now that the so-called "Aryan invasion theory" has been thoroughly discredited. We can talk about the recent deciphering of the Harappan script, which showed that, far from being a "pre-Hindu" civilization as our leftist historians would like us to believe, the Harappans were actually Hindus. (After all, if the persons who wrote the Linear B script were actually Greeks, is it so surprising that those who wrote the Harappan scritpt were actually Hindus?) We can point out, as our beloved President Abdul Kalam repeatedly does, that in our five thousand-year history we have never invaded any other country, in spite of having been invaded countless times ourselves.
Aside from making a conscious effort to reach out and touch others around us, we also need to make an overt effort to become more patriotic and to promote patriotism. I have always been struck by the demonstrative form of patriotism followed by Americans. While that approach might have its weaknesses, it is infinitely superior to the stupid notion that we ought not to be patriotic to India but should rather strive to be "citizens of the world." This latter notion is an integral part of SLIME, and ought to be consigned to the dust heap. And for God's sake let us stop being so politically correct and start talking about ancient Hindu culture and civilization, not ancient Indian culture and civilization. For the first four thousands of our history, there were only Hindus here. Much of what defines contemporary Indian ethos has its roots in Hinduism, whatever our "secularists" might like to preach!
I have identified a serious problem that, in my opinion, needs to be tackled now -- we can't wait any longer. I haven't offered any comprehensive solutions; that is because I don't have any. I have suggested only a few tentative steps towards a solution. But even the longest journey begins with a single step, as a Chinese proverb states. And I do see some signs of hope. Five years ago when the national anthem was played, most Indians stood like department store dummies. In recent times I have observed people singing loudly and proudly. But we should not rest until every last one of the purveyors of SLIME is driven back into the gutter where they properly belong!
Disclaimer: I am not a member of the RSS, VHP or any other such organization. Readers wishing to know my views about these bodies are encouraged to read the recent book India in Slow Motion by Mark Tully and Gillian Wright. Pages 151-153 are devoted to an interview Mark and Gillian did with me.
Dated 16th August, 2003