Deconstructing India's Image: A 'Press'ing Concern | By Vasundhara Mehta

Deconstructing India's Image: A 'Press'ing Concern 

By Vasundhara Mehta

Few months ago, I was bestowed upon the opportunity to visit a rather prestigious Summer School abroad. Needless to say, it planted in my mind newfound understanding and respect for people from across the world. I felt connected to the cultures I had read about. It also did something else. Besides changing the way I perceived the world, it broke my heart to know the way people from the West perceived my motherland. While I beamed with pride to tell them my nationality, I was appalled at the curious questions from the locals that elbowed their way to the forefront, demanding to be answered. Questions like ‘will you be able to pursue law?’, ‘can girls marry freely in a country like India?’, and ‘so you took a flight all the way to Europe?’ Well, I was dumbfounded. I wanted to tell them that India gave the world its first university - Takshashila University and I will study law, yes. I wanted to tell them that I come from a nation where even thousands of years ago, women had the freedom to choose their husband in what was called a swaymwara. I wanted to say yes, I took a flight from New Delhi. It was expensive, as opposed to the success of Mangalyaan; kudos to ISRO[1], the mission was cheaper than the Hollywood movie “Gravity” and much cheaper than NASA’s Maven Orbiter.

Alas, I did not say any of this. It was tempting to blame the locals. It was soon that I realised that the seeds of a stereotypical image are often sown by international press. I write at the grave risk of earning the ire of readers who might argue that there exist deep rooted problems in India which if reported are well within the rights of the media houses. At any point, if you feel I am trying to justify those problems, you shall have strayed away from the object of the article. As a law student who values her constitutional right to express deeply, I submit that my problem is not with reporting. I contend that international media houses, particularly those of the West, be dragged within the ambit of the whip and be answerable for selectively reporting horrific incidents from India.

Dissent is the soul of any democracy. And India is no different. There are debates and protests and sometimes things can get ugly. At this point, I would like to mention how the State is distinct from the government. The government changes every few years but it is the State - India - that we owe allegiance to. Reports by Western media houses, while critiquing the government often tarnish the image of the State. Most are incoherently ignorant about India. One such article in a leading British paper took the liberty to portray India as though it were an amalgamation of Syria under ISIS and Kim Jong-Un’s North Korea with a dash of Orwellian thought police thrown in.

Hostility of the Western media towards an erstwhile colony is not new. It can be traced back to when India was set to hold its first General Election in 1952. A poor and illiterate nation introduced universal adult franchise at a time when many countries in Europe had not given voting rights to all women. Yet it was said by the West that ‘Nehru shall live to confess the failure’ of this project in India. Well, the Indian experiment proved everyone wrong and confounded the sceptics. Since then, the bias has seemed to spiral out of control. This includes shoddy work in documentaries like ‘India’s Daughter’ which, in my opinion, should not have been banned, but that does not free it from the burden of being biased, systematically portraying the average Indian man to be a rapist. It can easily be argued that rapes in India do happen and that is the truth. Factually however, opposed to what a European individual visiting India fears, proportionately there are less rapes in India than in Sweden, which had the maximum number of rapes in the world in 2017. India does not feature in the top ten countries[2] (number of rapes per 100,000 citizens). In fact, ‘Nirbhaya’s Story’ by the South African artist Yael Farber presents a much better, propaganda-free presentation.

Let’s talk about the matter of utmost importance today – Covid – 19.  I humbly submit that the following fact goes unreported. There will be no food shortage in India, D.V. Prasad, chairman Food Corporation of India said in an interview[3].There will be 100 million tons in warehouses across India by the end of April, compared with an annual requirement of 50 million to 60 million tons under various welfare programs for the poor.’ It is important to get past the Bengal famine narrative that the West tries to ‘feed’ us. It must hurt the white man’s privilege perspective of the countries who have always wanted to devour the credit of ‘civilizing’ their colonies.

While certain media houses are too busy reporting the migrant problem in India, they seemed to have skimmed over the following facts. India has successfully completed 1 million Covid-19 tests. As on 31 March 2020, 20,000 trains were set be modified to accommodate 3 lakh isolation beds. India has supplied 85 million Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) tablets and roughly 500 million Paracetamol tablets to 108 countries. It sent military aircraft carrying lab and scientists to test 6000 stranded Indians for Covid -19 in Iran. Almost 3-4 lakh Indians are expected to be evacuated from Male, Maldives, Iran, USA, UK, Malaysia, Russia, New Zealand, Kenya and from the Gulf region. India has already evacuated almost 2500 Indians and 48 foreign nationals from various countries including China, Japan, Italy and Iran[4]. The Indian example of lauding the corona warriors seems to have been conveniently overshadowed by the appreciation of the NHS[5] in England. Yet, what a famous newspaper’s headline read in March was “A Vulnerable Population Braces for the Pandemic”. Yet, another leading British Media outlet chose to report something as insignificant as ‘new born twins in India named ‘Covid and Corona.’ Make no mistake - reporting about the poor migrants is correct. However there shall forever be a difference between ‘I love the colour black’ and ‘I hate all colours except black.’

While a certain British paper recognized that the hardship for the citizenry that the lockdown has brought about was ‘necessary’ in order to combat the pandemic, it refused to afford Narendra Modi the same courtesy. In fact, it calls India’s nationwide lockdown ‘brutal’ while reserving no such criticism for the Australian Prime Minister. It's not a problem unique to India. People in Africa also find their countries falling prey to misrepresentation by Western media. 


All this is not to say that all international media outlets are negative propaganda driven. Many of them are why international organisations remain in check. The reason I chose to constructively criticize them underlines our dependency on the Media. Furthermore, the fact that some of the statistics I have quoted have been derived from newspapers is all the more reason for us, as readers, to shoulder the responsibility to check what we consume, to be wary of misinformation or information, even selective reporting for that matter. Never should the dissent for the government turn into despise for the nation. Just like no event can be viewed in isolation, world affairs can also not be seen through the blurred lens of bias or through the prism of privilege. The Guttenberg press has proven to be a boon for humankind. Let us pledge to be the guardians of the press. Let us learn to analyse, question, investigate before we believe and never let the ghost of India’s past image haunt us.

[1] Indian Space Research Organisation




[5] National Health Service


Having a strong inclination towards International politico-legal arena, Vasundhara Mehta is a student of Law.  Besides being passionate about Criminal Law, Human Rights and Diplomacy, she's always up for a discussion on psychology, poetry, music, cricket or fashion.


All views presented in the article belong solely to the writer. The editor does not support or condemn the views, and neither does The Global Telescope. The Global Telescope remains impartial and promotes every individual's right to freedom of speech and expression while not holding any responsibility for the views presented whatsoever.



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