Life in India · Opinionated

If you are not Indian, then don’t talk about India

I understand that the title of my essay is a very harsh one indeed. But it has arisen after much observation.

India is a very beautiful and different country, it has so many colours and shades that it is impossible to know which one we should adorn. One can be a Hindu, Muslim or Sikh, or Jain, and still live in India. But there are a lot of problems within the nation, plaguing it, threatening to tear it apart. It’s a very difficult country to survive in, but a country which will make you realize the importance of everything you have earned.

Unfortunately, the people who talk about India the most, in the most derogatory way, are none other than our beloved NRI’s (Non- Resident Indians). I don’t have anything against NRI’s, but there is a certain kind of them that believes that their first world country is absolutely awesome and India is a shit- hole from which they are glad to have escaped.

But the thing is – if you visit your ‘home country’ on vacations, you will see the dirt, the poverty and start calling India ‘backward’. I have had people asking me, “can you speak English?”. It’s unfortunate how little people know about my country, and it is even more surprising when these questions come from a fellow Non- Resident Indian.

The thing is – if you don’t live in India, then don’t talk about it. If you don’t know what people are going through here, then don’t try and interfere. India is not a “completely” corrupt nation – our democracy is so strong that it tolerated a nation- wide anti- corruption movement against it. I am aware that there are many “Indian- somethings” out there who make use of India’s destitution, India’s poverty in their art to garner praise and receive adulation in the Western media, which is obviously really ‘mesmerised’ by this ‘third world exotic country’. Take for example, Slumdog millionaire. I loved Mumbai, but I started hating it after I watched that movie. What if the director had tried showing the better side of Indian society? That wouldn’t have got him the Oscar, would it? So ironic that the movie was labelled the ‘feel good film of the decade’. I am surprised that no ‘Indian’ movie (Bollywood is currently the biggest film industry in the world, quantitatively) has ever got that tag. Was it because this movie was an unadulterated western portrayal of a poor, backward and socially conservative and completely screwed up country, full of thieves, prostitutes and illegal child trafficking? Agreed, the writer of the book is Indian – but honestly speaking, a book does lesser damage than a movie – a movie reaches out to the world. No wonder India is a dream tourist destination for it’s slums. Has anyone ever given a thought that maybe some slum dwellers aren’t that poor in the first place? One of India’s first colour televisions came first to a slum, then to an apartment block. There are rehabilitation apartments for slum dwellers, but no one ever writes about that!

Slumdog_millionaire_ver2
Source: Wikipedia

Another good example of world adulation of India’s destitution was the award of the Man Booker prize to Aravind Adiga for his absolutely undeserved book, ‘The White Tiger’. Compared to Kiran Desai or Salman Rushdie, the book was poor in prose, lacked coherence and was absolutely lacklustre in terms of story telling. So I am surprised why the Booker prize awardees decided to lower their standards for once. Aravind Adiga is an Australian, educated in Oxford- what does he know about a poor driver who killed his owner and the became a millionaire? If doing this was so easy, then our streets would be filled with convicts. But unfortunately, India still has loyal servants- people who can kill to save their masters’ lives. No one ever  writes about that. We get a Man Booker winner, but that too someone who again talks about the ‘dark underbelly’ of India. Thankfully now the writer lives in Mumbai – lets see what his next book is going to be about. Hopefully it will be a better critique of India, rather than the one we have been fed too much already.

Source: wikipedia
Source: Wikipedia

India has brought out over 5 million people out of poverty, into the middle class. India’s middle class is rising and there are opportunities for ‘poor’ people to move out of their poverty. There are many social issues along with the economic ones because of which the poor are not being uplifted, but the world out there just looks at statistics and prefers to label Indians ‘backward’.

India’s education system is one of the best in the world – The IIT JEE entrance examination is one of the toughest exams in the world. The amount of rigour a 17 year old child has to go through to get into the most elite engineering institute in the country is commendable. Any Australian Indian or Canadian Indian claiming that India is a ‘shit hole’, should try and give the IIT JEE exam and see if they survive. Or in fact, just give the boards and try to get admission into DU.

Those who have left India, have left it forever. They are not the proponents of change in the country – people like you and me are, who have been there to see change – who know the issues the country faces because we have seen it first hand. I never say anything against PM Modi – because at the end of the day, even though I have ideological issues with him, he is the Prime Minister of my country, and I respect him for it.

How many Americans will give up their citizenship for an Indian one? Then why do we do it? And when we do, why do we keep coming back to the country, and yet keep abusing it? There are sectarian issues within India, there is an economic divide, there is gender disparity, corruption – but those complaining about it – try and do something. The AAP was the first brick in the wall – it’s now our turn to turn things around.

The new Indian generation can speak English, we study in English medium schools, we are capable enough to compete with the world’s best candidates anywhere. Indian students even watch Hollywood movies and American TV shows. We have already become enough westernised. But what is still constant about India is the togetherness. One never feels alone. I have experienced loneliness abroad, and I understand the need of always having friendly people around you – people who are as deep emotionally as you. The Western world is very different in its approach towards emotions, and for us, its very different. But its sad to see Indians going abroad, discarding their heritage and then saying things like – We love the concept of India but what it has degenerated into is depressing.

If you don’t live in India, don’t talk about it. Stick to your own first world country. I may sound like a right wing, Samajwadi party type person here, but honestly, if someone doesn’t see everything first hand, nor experience it, they should not go around brandishing their ‘book or newspaper’ acquired knowledge like a sword. I once met a man, who claimed that India was full of perverted men, to which I told him, “are you even a woman to have faced any kind of perversion? Because I am a woman, and I never faced anything”. India is now becoming a hot destination for foreigners who are revelling in Hinduism and ‘ashrams’. I am so used to seeing a foreigner wearing rudraksha beads and chanting ‘hare rama hare krishna’. But Indians tolerate these things because we believe this improves the image of India. I have met foreigners who love India because it loved them back. But it’s sad to see our own people slaying us from the back. They will talk about India, attend international conferences, write plays, do theatre, but talk about India’s “rubbish” everywhere. It’s as if they are carrying this huge burden of shame which gets lighter when they dispel their own heritage. Wow. Amazing that this is what they learnt in their ‘first world’ country.

India is full of contradictions yes. But educated people nowadays are rising up against fascism and fighting against it. We all want to create a better country, not see it degenerate into a failed state. If you can join India in it’s fight against everything, then you are more than welcome. Otherwise just have fun in your own “first world” country.

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5 thoughts on “If you are not Indian, then don’t talk about India

  1. this article is wrong on some many levels…i get what you are trying to say here, but really who are you to stop someone from having an opinion, be it about a country they no longer live in. and no one is saying only bad things about india . and you say “right wing, Samajwadi party type “- really do you even know the meaning of these two phrases – they are complete contradiction of one another.

    the same logic you are applying here goes for you- perhaps you should visit more often to what some might say is the real india- its villages and find out about these middle class stories that you are talking about.
    imho, one should accept the faults within and learn from them, thats the only way forward and not by ignoring them.

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    1. Hi Prakash,
      Thanks a lot for your comment. I would like to clarify a few things:
      1. I have completed my high school in Hooghly West Bengal, my school was located near Singur, which I think can be classified as a village, in modern terms. I have also interacted with people who live in Mumbai slums, because I was working as a TV producer in 2013, and I had to visit shooting locations in many slum areas of Mumbai. Plus I was long associated with the MKSS, an organization that helps in the implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), so I have a very good idea of India’s villages, poverty and life there.
      2. I put right- wing and Samajwadi party together, because right wing parties in India like the RSS or Shiv Sena are considered hostile towards some communities, and so is the Samajwadi party, in the light of the recent Muzaffarnagar riots. I did not state they are the same, I just meant that maybe what I am saying appears as exclusivist. 🙂
      3. I have no problems with opinion, it’s a democratic world, people are free to express their opinion. But, when one notices that some people are completely dismissive of their heritage and blame the country for things which haven’t even happened to them, then that is wrong. It is like me complaining about racism in the USA when I haven’t even lived there. That’s the whole point of my article. Indians abroad don’t need to emulate others, they can pretty much be stuck to their roots and yet appreciate it. Constructive criticism is always welcome from a fellow Indian living abroad, but continuous contempt for no damn reason is not fine.
      I hope I could clear your doubts, if any.

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  2. its wrong if some one is dismissive of his roots but in the end it is one’s personal choice. But “Indians abroad don’t need to emulate others, they can pretty much be stuck to their roots and yet appreciate it.” -really, so they should live their life as you want them to???
    ” It is like me complaining about racism in the USA when I haven’t even lived there.” – in a globalized century every “global citizen” has a right to have an opinion and i think thats a very healthy sign.
    it all boils down to – are they even wrong when they say india is filthy, its poor, its full of slums??? the answer, whatsoever you say remains the same. accept the problems then only we go forward, there is no shame in accepting who we are.
    we have a rich cultural heritage no doubt about that but that doesnt discount the fact that parts of our nation is worse than sub-saharan africa at human development indices.

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    1. I am very much aware of India’s problems. And it is good for the world to criticise us. But constructive criticism and resentment are different things. If a ‘global citizen’ claims to always point out a fact that they belong to a particular nation, and then start using India’s problems in their art, base it as their resource for gaining attention within the Western community, then that is wrong.
      Yes, not just parts, but our whole country is afflicted by problems unimaginable in certain parts of the world. But it is disheartening to see non- resident Indians constantly bickering about India’s problems in front of Indians. It’s as if Indians are at fault and they are glad to have escaped. For once, I am loving my nation and I am seeing nothing wrong in that. I will of course have an opinion on other countries, but it shouldn’t be a destructive form of criticism everytime. That’s why I gave the example of Aravind Adiga’s book. The western world loves to see this ‘dark side’ of India, and sadly the non- resident Indians uphold it, instead of deciding, for a change to do something about it, or at least appreciate their heritage rather than continuously try to run away from it.

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