A patronising view of the “Other”

Salil Tripathi set off a seriously interesting discussion of Arundhati Roy at Facebook, via a piece by Andrew Buncombe in the Independent. (This is why, say what you will, FB is not altogether silly.) I got his permission to quote him.

The subject is, as Buncombe put it:

It was the writer and activist Arundhati Roy who set foreign journalists in India busily chattering recently. In an interview with Stephen Moss in the Guardian, Ms Roy was discussing the Maoist and Adavasi “resistance” to encroachment on tribal lands. Mr Moss, asked her why, “we in the West don’t hear about these mini-wars?”. Ms Roy replied: “I have been told quite openly by several correspondents of international newspapers, that they have instructions – ‘No negative news from India’ – because it’s an investment destination. So you don’t hear about it…”

Salil said (among other things)

I agree that journalists who probe too much into Kashmir are likely to have visa problems. I also agree that editors in the West like to look at unusual stories out… of India, and not ones they’ve been covering all the time. But I don’t think there’s a grand conspiracy among editors, who meet at a pub every night in Wapping, exchanging notes, about which rah-rah story about India should they run. Likewise, there is no conspiracy among correspondents either, to meet at specific places and plan coordinated stories that decide to underplay poverty and overplay the Gurgaon malls. In fact, most journalists want the unusual – and so you will find stories that show cracks in the India shining story, just as you will find stories about Indian companies making it big abroad. The trouble with Arundhati Roy is precisely that she thinks only her truth is valid, only the story she focuses on is important, and others must write the same story, and reach the same conclusions. That was infuriating at one point; it is tiresome now. Which is why she is less relevant in India than at any time, and continues to be loved by the Guardian and the Nation, two newspapers which have a patronising view of the “Other”, and can see only one form of stories from that place. (Sure, Guardian will write about Outsourcing, but focus on the soullessness of the job, and not about how it has liberated a person from the Indian hinterland, who’d have married within her caste to whoever her parents insisted, and exposed her to an urban lifestyle, and allowed her to assert her identity, creating her own space in the big adventure called India. Roy sees her as a collaborator; I see signs of emancipation there.)

I’ve noticed the same thing (perhaps alerted to it by reading Meera Nanda): the way UK and US journalists treat Roy as an oracle when there are countless other Indians they could talk to but don’t. (They do the same thing with Vandana Shiva.)

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