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The Truth About India

The Truth About India

September 29, 2010

A fellow foreigner's response to Sean-Paul Kelley's scathing assessment of India.



I usually skim over and delete forwarded emails within seconds of receiving them, but when Sean-Paul Kelley's scathing assessment of India popped up in my inbox, I carefully read and re-read each word with rising irritation and, ultimately, anger. Kelley is an American travel writer whose bio on several sites, including The Huffington Post, states that he has had several very good jobs, he maintains a highly regarded blog called The Agonist and he has travelled in more than 47 countries. While this last fact makes his voice a little more deserving of deliberation, it does not transform his words into gospel, even if the majority of what he writes is true; the accountants' truth matters little if couched in words that are roundly negative, Westernist and irresponsible.

A brief summary of Kelley's piece:

India (except Kerala) is polluted, infrastructurally backward, bureaucratically inefficient and riven with corruption. And things aren't going to get better, because no Indians (except in Kerala) “give a shit”.

Yes, those four central points are certainly true. Kelley is also correct in suggesting that the majority of Indian nationals care little about improving their nation, their society, their infrastructure; the focus is on making the best life for yourself and your family long before any thought towards your fellow man. What frustrates about Kelley's evaluation isn't that he might be wrong, but that he writes so clearly from a Westernist perspective, a view of India for (white) foreigners rather than India for Indians. As such, his negative view lacks gravitas because it betrays a lack of genuine interest in why things are as they are, or what the people he writes about represent historically, philosophically, emotionally.

What is perhaps strangest of all from my perspective is that Kelley excludes Kerala from his criticisms entirely, the words 'except Kerala' cropping up again and again as he lurches from one judgment to another. While I haven't travelled extensively in India, I have lived in Kerala for over two years, and it isn't the land of unicorns and rainbows – so different from The Rest Of India – that he would have you believe it is. I am told that there is a considerable difference in standards of hygiene as you travel further north, but while you aren't likely to see people defecating openly alongside Kerala's highways, you will still see discarded plastic strewn everywhere, increasingly polluted waterways and a general lack of civic sense. Kerala may compare favourably to other parts of India, but among those 47 or more countries Kelley has visited, the stench of human urine outside Thiruvanathapuram railway station surely does not put Kerala anywhere near the top, or even the middle, of a cleanliness-and-efficiency scale.

In her novel The Inheritance of Loss, Kiran Desai alludes to the idea that there is a nobility about India's aristocracy and peasantry that is conspicuously absent in its burgeoning middle class, “bounding over the horizon in an endless phalanx”. To me, that is at the core of modern India's problems, and if the middle class were to mobilise themselves in a way that were more socially conscious and removed from consumer habits, the nation as a whole would surely benefit. Still, Desai is of Indian descent and has the benefit of understanding the culture from the inside; Kelley, on the other hand, spent less than two months in India and cannot reasonably be expected to 'get' everything about the place in such a short amount of time.

He can, however, be expected to represent what he sees with some understanding of why it is the way it is, or at least suggest some small method of possible improvement. He does neither, preferring instead to condemn India to an eternal, toxic otherness. I bear no ill will towards Kelley, but I regret that it is his words that have been circulated widely as a well-travelled foreigner's perception of India; I pray that in his future writings he gives consideration to deeper truths than the superficial, to what cannot be glimpsed or understood in a glance.


38 Comments

  • Siddhartha
    By
    Siddhartha
    27.04.11 11:09 PM
    Most of the communities in India (such as Bengali), are succumbed in 'Culture of Poverty'(a theory introduced by an American anthropologist Oscar Lewis), irrespective of class or economic strata, lives in pavement or apartment. Nobody is at all ashamed of the deep-rooted corruption, decaying general quality of life, worst Politico-administrative system, weak mother language, continuous absorption of common space (mental as well as physical, both). We are becoming fathers & mothers only by self-procreation, mindlessly & blindfold. Simply depriving their(the children) fundamental rights of a decent, caring society, fearless & dignified living. Do not ever look for any other positive alternative behaviour (values) to perform human way of parenthood, i.e. deliberately co-parenting of those children those are born out of ignorance, real poverty. All of us are being driven only by the very animal instinct. If the Bengali people ever be able to bring that genuine freedom (from vicious cycle of 'poverty') in their own life/attitude, involve themselves in 'Production of Space’(Henri Lefebvre), at least initiate a movement by heart, decent & dedicated Politics will definitely come up.
    - Siddhartha Bandyopadhyay, 16/4, Girish Banerjee Lane, Howrah-711101, India.
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    By
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    11.03.11 10:27 AM
    Anna, thank you for an excellent comment - you've given me plenty to think about.

    You're quite right that I think of pre-1947/pre-Raj India as a number of separate states, differing in number according to the reach of each era's rulers. I know little more than that. I'd be very grateful if you'd recommend a few of those assessments - scholarly or otherwise - that you mentioned.

    I could also stand to study about Kerala culture a LOT more than I have. Which comment was it that betrayed my ignorance? I will certainly follow your advice and check out some histories of Kerala. Learning some more Malayalam couldn't hurt, either!

    Finally, with regard to each group of people setting themselves apart, I don't doubt that is indeed the case - I just have no experience of it myself. So the next thing is to travel more. Honestly, though, for now I'm pretty happy here.

    I'd love to know a little more about you, if you have the time. Where are you from, and where do you live now?
  • Anna
    By
    Anna
    06.03.11 12:37 AM
    Barnes,

    I came to your posts via a link placed in another blog.

    I have read a few comments you have left on other blogs and some of your posts. You seem to be overly fond of the rather simplistic view that 'India' as a national notion did not exist before the British or pre-1947. This is only true if you think of a nation as synonymous with state (i.e. governed politically with a single boundary). India as a nation existed for many centuries before India as a state existed. If not convinced, you should read some excellent scholarly assessments of this subject (I can even name a few if my old age would let up and let me recall those). The majority of Indian people share great commonality of art, music and mysticism as well as a common social and political philosophy.

    Also, you display great empathy and curiosity when talking about Kerala and its culture. But, at the same time one of your comments showed that you didn't know some very basic facts about the Keralan society. I don't blame you because it is very easy to stay on the skin of India's society without ever learning more about the undercurrents of philosophy, literature, social reform, politics, art and anarchy that shapes it. If you spend some time reading about Kerala and its provenance, you may benefit a lot (please do not expect your average Kerala man or woman to educate you, because they too are ignorant!).

    As to your point about Keralans keeping themselves apart: you will find that this is the case with every group in the land of diversity called India. All believe they are unique, and you know what, they are all right too! It is not for nothing that India is compared to a 'thali meal' and not to the melting pot made famous by the cliche.

    Anna
  • caste?
    By
    caste?
    04.03.11 09:46 PM
    Well it is also interesting to note a few things here.

    The caste system as originally designed and practiced was there to define roles in society. It was, however, fluid, and movement between castes was not unusual. It was not used as a form of discrimination, merely a delineation of roles.

    The caste system became more rigid and entrenched on the arriavl of the British ( who, let's not forget, had a pretty rigid class structure of their own up until recently and the echoes of that still exist today in many spheres), because they attempted to match it to their own rigid class system.

    So, the caste system in its oppreesive form actually came about on the arrival of the British.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caste_system_in_India

    Perhaps Mr Morris could enlighten us on the treatment of the Maoris in his native New Zealand or the Aborigines in Australia - I'm sure that would be an instructive insight into how allegedly developed countries have many, many problems of their own.

    Stones in glasshouses and all that...
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    By
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    04.03.11 05:08 PM
    Mariappa, I'm not sure why you're trying to provoke me into writing about the caste system, though your latest comment suggests a healthy contempt for those blessed by it (i.e. upper caste folks) - I'm guessing maybe you want to see someone speak out against it?

    I avoid commenting on caste to avoid offending people, yes, but also because it's something I have very little to say about. I have lived my entire life completely outside it, even these last two and a half years in Kerala, and so my observances are hardly likely to be illuminating. That said, I may tackle it someday.

    Anyway, as 'caste?' says, India is tackling the problem. A social structure that's been in place for centuries or millennia will take a long time to die out; the progress of the last 50 years is, if you ask me, pretty good... though by no means an acceptable end.
  • caste?
    By
    caste?
    04.03.11 04:20 PM
    Caste is certainly a problem in India, but measures are being taken to deal with it and have been taken for quite some time now.

    However, it is worth bearing in mind that developed countries also have problems with "caste" except they don't call it that. You might want to ask any hispanic, black person, people living in trailers living in America how they get treated.

    Come on guys, wake up. Every country has problems of this kind, the west just hides it better and has a better PR machine.

    The key point to remember is that India is actively tackling the problem and has been for some time. They should be commended for that.
  • mariappa
    By
    mariappa
    03.03.11 05:52 PM
    @barnaby
    you had better (dare) not write about caste lest you become an outcaste yourself you better be scared about caste.If you make any adverse comments you will lose your readers,who are all likely to be uppercaste and support casteism.Actually you wud need a lot of guts to write about it if at all.Which I dont think you do.Prove me wrong I am defying you
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    By
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    15.10.10 12:29 PM
    Well, you're quite right. Things are never quite as simple as they seem, are they? I have written something specifically related to getting sisters/daughters married off, watch out for that article soon.

    And yes, those damned hartals and rent-a-crowds... I'm all for agitation, but only where it's truly necessary!
  • Blue Lotus
    By
    Blue Lotus
    15.10.10 12:09 PM
    Barnaby,

    I know when we think of "gelf malayalee" we have this fat balding man in silk kurta's sporting a gold bracelet and imported cigarettes.

    I have interacted with construction workers from different parts of the world.None of them told me they enjoyed what they did.They were there only for money.To get sisters married off,a home,good education for children and then set up a small tea stall in their hometown.They live through the squalid living conditions just to make life a little better for their loved ones.

    Yes it's nice to be home with greenery around.But thats when you are on a holiday here.Take a trip to Palakkad villages,most of them don't even have regular buses and no auto-rickshaws.Children there still walk a lot to get to school(no schools.just school).

    I wish I could say "Industrialism" would thrive in Kerala.Even before a factory is set up,labour unions and their flags appear.I hope you are familiar with the "Hartal (holi-)days".
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    By
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    15.10.10 11:42 AM
    Mariappa, I didn't check the links, but thanks for reminding me - I will have a look. As for my feelings on caste, I'm a little reluctant to get into that debate and would rather save that for another article. Sorry!

    Blue Lotus, my feelings about Gulf money are that Kerala has the knowhow and resources to be self-sufficient without having to rely on remittances or Gulf-based investors. This doesn't mean that people shouldn't go there to work, or shouldn't accept capital from Gulf businessmen, but I do think a lot of people forget the things Kerala has going for it.

    (Edited because I thought I was posting on a different article...!)
  • Blue Lotus
    By
    Blue Lotus
    14.10.10 08:52 PM
    Nice post Barnaby. Nice discussions too.

    I don't want to exclude Kerala from the rest of India when it comes to cleanliness. As you said the matter ends at ones own compound wall. It irks me to no end when people drop plastic cups and bottles on to the railway track. But then we are talking about civilizing a 100 billion people, people from various strata of society.

    Poverty is a truth in India. You don't see it in Kovalam or Goa or hill stations like Himachal.I think when one thinks about writing about such stuff we need to remember the “Below Poverty Line” citizens. Citizens who are struggling not to make ends meet but to stay alive.
    Lets say staying alive a priority than staying clean at times.

    So the issue stems from the huge disparity in distribution of wealth.
    And when British left India, they left an amorphous India, India in shambles. In 60 years I think we have come far in spite of corruption and dirty politics. For a large country (land area and population) it’s a good progress. As all critics I can also say “We should’ve done better”.

    With a multitude of languages, dialects and ethnic groups, India truly symbolizes diversity. The rest of the world countries have a maximum of 10-15 languages spoken in a country (I’m talking about natives, not foreigners).And we don’t even have a national language (No Hindi is not our national language), but have instead recognized 21 regional languages.
    Now it's not an easy task to improve drastically the standard of living of this potpourri.Not to forget we have been through 4 wars after independence.India had so much do on her own in her early days.

    India,inspite of her many misgivings,is beautiful.I am sure you agree that..


    Let me correct one thing for Daisy. It’s the same Gulf money which in many a case funded a lot of schools and other charity institutions. And it’s the same communists who had done a lot of work for a lot downtrodden farmers. The literacy level of Kerala is very high compared to rest of the sub continent and that probably that means slightly better civic sense.
    (I’m not a communist and my knowledge about their ideologies end with the lessons from school. I’m not from Middle East.)
    Not all keralites are orthodox.But most of them are.And for them women some how remain an object of constant ridicule.
    Single,Married,Minor.A women walking on road after 6:30 pm is considered a person inviting trouble.Sorry about that.
    Inspite of the literacy level this attiude hasn't changed much.
  • mariappa
    By
    mariappa
    14.10.10 12:40 PM
    sorry I did call out the wrong person its not Anne Marie I meant Nalini Hebbar's comment"Caste does play …but it was the first to do away with it too".
    BTW did you look up the links I had posted.
    whats your take/reactions on the present state of caste system in India, hope you are not too afraid to comment on it.
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    By
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    10.10.10 09:54 AM
    Prasanna, I see now what you mean about Kerala - most of the ideas I have regarding it being exclusive have a social basis. However, one thing that I would note is that there is a very strong culture of within=state marriage here, i.e. Malayalis should only marry Malayalis. I'm not sure of the statistics, but it must be far and away the most prevalent combination of bride and groom, probably around 90%. I'm sure this contributes to an increasingly unique ethnicity, as most children continue to receive this state's set of genes.

    On the flip side, thank you Daisy for noting the varied and clashing ethnic groups even within Kerala! If not all of us can agree that these groups are varied ethnically, surely we can agree that they are varied socially/culturally. As for the rise of ethnically or regionally motivated political groups, that's a big part of what I was getting at earlier regarding the modern, different face of India.

    Some very interesting points regarding exclusivity among Indians are coming up here. Thank you all for your comments so far! At bottom, I would like for Prasanna's belief that an Indian is an Indian to be true... more than that, simply for a human to be a human.
  • Daisy
    By
    Daisy
    10.10.10 08:01 AM
    Thanks, Barnaby.

    I think you are right in a way about the clash of ethnic groups in post-colonial India. To a large extent, this is because of the changed political system. In the new multi-party, parliamentary democracy, it is possible for different ethnic/regional groups to aspire for their political ambitions by appealing to the ethnic/regional sentiments of the people. The micro-level alliances that have existed for centuries in Indian society have become the basis for the rise of ethnic or region-based parties, clashes between micro-regions and also demands for separate states, which have both positive and negative effects.

    Even within Kerala, there are so many ethnic groups which have their own interests and it's true for other states of India as well.

    I also find it interesting that when these same people emigrate, their sense of "community" changes abroad and they tend to form linkages with the broader "community," as the Indian or even South Asian identity matters more abroad than the micro-level based one.

    But when back in India, they fall back on their traditional linkage structures.

    For example, if Kerala govt's economic policy is not conducive for investing in industries, do the NRI Malayalis invest in other states?

    No and it's the same for the NRIs from other states of India.

    As a result, despite the Indian diaspora being the most successful community abroad, it's not helping India much.
  • prasanna raghavan
    By
    prasanna raghavan
    10.10.10 01:43 AM
    Barnaby

    Yes of course post 1947 India is politically different from what it was before under the the oppressive colonial rule.

    It was in the context of ''varied and clashing ethnic groups'' that you mentioned about Kerala. In that context the point you should look into is whether the Malayalis who see ''themselves as different from the rest of India'' are citing those diferences to project their ethnic differences from the rest of India? That is the question here.

    Of course there are disparities between people from various states of India in terms of their developmental indicators.
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    By
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    09.10.10 10:22 PM
    Prasanna, I fear we have such different understandings of the words 'ethnic' and 'ethnicity' that our other words might fly back and forth without us ever seeing eye to eye. I hear what you're saying, but I still maintain that modern, post-independence India is a very different place than it ever was before. Especially politically. As for Malayalis seeing themselves as different from the rest of India, I think a lot of Malayalis would at least cite the literacy rate, the average income, the state's reputation for cleanliness and the per capita number of skilled workers as elements that set them apart by comparison.

    Daisy, certainly any place in the world - and probably any state in India - has problems and divisive issues, and Kerala is no exception. I definitely feel very much an outsider here and I always expect to be, but I think I've managed to achieve something of a healthy equilibrium between being 'inside' and 'outside' the culture - something I always strive towards.

    Oh, and thank you for drawing attention to the other responses to Kelley's article, which I hadn't seen. Kim's is very astute!
  • Daisy
    By
    Daisy
    09.10.10 04:02 PM
    (Please delete my previous comment. Thanks.)

    Kelley has responded to your post and has also published responses to his write up since you wrote this post. I don’t know if you wrote a follow-up, as I have not explored your site that much.

    I would encourage the readers of this post to read these responses at the following, especially Kim’s response towards the end, which says what I wanted to say –

    http://www.seanpaulkelley.com/?cat=28

    As for Kelley’s singling out of Kerala as an exception, I differ from him.

    I am an Indian and have travelled through the length and breadth of the country, having lived in many places.

    To an outsider who comes to Kerala for the first time, Kerala does come across as a place with some of the most beautiful houses built amidst coconut groves and relatively cleaner streets. Perhaps to someone coming from the West, that matters a lot.

    But as a traveller coming from outside (in India, even Indians are outsiders in a place which is not their native place), what matters to me is the attitude of the people towards the outsiders.

    I found during my visit to Kerala that the people there have a very closed mindset and they simply don’t want to accept an outsider amidst them – especially if the outsider happens to be a single Indian woman travelling alone – a concept they are not familiar with and don’t want to face in life.

    I also found Kerala to be very orthodox and inflexible. Besides, the influence of communist party’s rule there has made the place quite mechanical, hostile and insensitive.

    The truth about those beautiful houses is that they are built in the rice fields with the Gulf money from expatriates.

    No one lives in those houses and these houses have practically finished off the rice production of Kerala – which happens to be a predominantly rice eating state.

    Now, Kerala survives on imported rice from Andhra Pradesh.

    What else has been done with the NRI money? Big show rooms selling jewelery and silk saris in Trivandrum.

    All because the economic policy of the Kerala government makes it near impossible to invest this NRI money in building industries. So, encroaching upon the rice fields by building houses in which no one lives, buying jewelery and silk saris are the obsessions of the Malayalis. add to that a closed mentality.

    Honestly, I never want to go back to Kerala again voluntarily, despite its cleanliness.

    Compare this to Goa, the place I keep on going back to whenever I can – people are open and friendly and have a cosmopolitan outlook and it doesn’t matter to them if I am a single Indian woman travelling alone. There are places in Goa which are no more than small village hamlets, but I would rather go to Goa than to Kerala, even if Goa is not as clean as Kerala.

    Consider Himachal as compared to Kerala. It is not as urbanised as Kerala. In fact, after Bihar, it is the least urbanised state in India because of its rugged Himalayan terrain. But it is easy for a person like me to move around in Himachal and even live there. I have lived in Shimla for two and half years and never faced any problem. The people of Himachal are again very open towards the outsiders.

    It’s not a surprise that Goa and Himachal are the top-ranking tourist states in India. Kerala tries to compete with them without understanding that its people's mindset is not conducive for a tourism industry.

    Kelley says in his post that he was critiquing India from the perspective of the problems the American investors will face in India.

    It is true that despite its economy India is nowhere like a developed country. It is centuries behind a developed country in terms of its infrastructure, pollution and sanitation.

    But as Kim says, developed countries make their own spaces look beautiful by creating problems for the under-developing countries.

    Besides, India has to grapple with a population of over a billion in a country as big as the size of Texas and keep pace with the rest of the world all at the same time.

    None of the developed countries has this kind of problem to face. Sometimes I feel declining population is a blessing for them.
  • prasanna raghavan
    By
    prasanna raghavan
    09.10.10 03:13 AM
    Barnaby

    ”I think modern India (i.e. since 1947) is a completely different beast to anything that existed in these lands before”.

    Though i quoted it fully, my reaction was to your point that India since 1947 is completely different to anything how it existed before. i hope that is what you meant.

    ''Gorkhaland/West Bengal is a prime example of India’s varied and clashing ethnic groups. And here in Kerala, plenty of Malayalis set themselves apart from the rest of the country in a number of ways.''

    Let us see what is the meaning of ethnicity or ethnic group from the following link.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethnic_group

    If we can believe in what is given in this link, we can see that the very usage and the meaning of ethnicity has undergone changes and transformations from the 14th to 19th century to the modern time.

    Categorizing people who lived in contact with the nature and forest as ethnic and tribal was mainly a colonial practice in India. It is similar to the usage of pagans in Europe.

    But they are Indians. But since they were living in the forest (or may be they were chased into the forest)they acquired an impoverished and primitive lifestyle. If the very sophisticated moderner is put into similar circumstances she will also become primitive in due course, i believe.

    So in the case of the WB, there are people who are primitive due to being subjected to primitive and meager lifestyle for a long time.

    And India is an ancient country. since time immemorial different kinds of people had come over to that place; some refugees, some barbarians, some conquerers, some primitive and uncivilized some seeking political asylum etc. None was sent back. Not only that, all were given a space and a right to survive and progress. But some among them were cruel. As clever as jackals they thought they could own India for themselves. So they came up with fabrications that they are of a supreme origin and others are backward and inferior. of course they have managed to undermine the moral texture of india. As time passes by they emerge as more and more troublesome, greedy, and unpatriotic.

    ''The current conglomeration of so many different ethnic and cultural strands that make up India is a nightmare to navigate diplomatically,..''

    How exactly is that ethnic strand forming that conglomeration?

    On what should be agreed upon is that, some in that make up are made unfortunate by others who use ethnicity as an important political and economical strategy of elimination.
    As far as I am concerend this is the story of the Indian ethnicity.

    But in the case of America and Canada as the link explains the ethnic are the minorities and the migrants. Here you can see that the very concept is used to mean something opposite.

    In other words the term ethnicity, in my understanding, has no meaning of its own, but it gets meaning depending on what its user wants to make out of it.

    i would like hear in detail how the malayalis see themselves as different from India :)
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    By
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    09.10.10 12:23 AM
    Prasanna, I hope you didn't think I meant that the difference between pre-independence and post-independence 'India' is that it is more beastly! The phrase 'different beast' has no negative connotation, with 'beast' meaning more or less the same as 'animal', or 'creature'.

    When it comes to varying ethnic groups, I have to say I disagree with you... Gorkhaland/West Bengal is a prime example of India's varied and clashing ethnic groups. And here in Kerala, plenty of Malayalis set themselves apart from the rest of the country in a number of ways.
  • prasanna raghavan
    By
    prasanna raghavan
    08.10.10 10:51 PM
    correction please...

    ''But it may be true, in the case of Britain, Australia or Canada'.

    In this sentence in my above comment please replace Britain with US.
  • prasanna raghavan
    By
    prasanna raghavan
    08.10.10 10:44 PM
    hellow Barnaby,

    what do you mean by ''I think modern India (i.e. since 1947) is a completely different beast to anything that existed in these lands before''.

    That needs a bit of explanation, I think.
    It is true, a few beastly elements are there whose political and economic control over India is problematic. Other than that India has not changed from what it was. Because India is what it is because of its ordinary people. They also change but not in the way you have indicated.

    ''The current conglomeration of so many different ethnic and cultural strands that make up India is a nightmare to navigate diplomatically, so perhaps it will take a few more decades or centuries to get a few inches close to equilibrium''.

    About this, it is inappropriate to qualify the different people in india as belonging to various 'ethinic' groups. Because all migrants who came to India starting from time immemorial have melted down to one thing-the Indianness. Though they retained some kind of their religio-cultural identities what they adopted were more than what they retained. So, to say about ethnic groups in India does not make much sense.

    But it may be true, in the case of Britain, Australia or Canada.

    What is wrong with India is its caste system or its racism-that is a malicious system of categorizing people in the name of birth and a senseless spirituality based on some re-birth, after life, mumbo jumbo.
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    By
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    08.10.10 03:22 PM
    Mariappa, I couldn't find anything you wrote of in Anne-Marie's comment. Did you call out the wrong person?? Anyway, in general I agree with you - poverty in India seems more or less self-perpetuating, in large part to those social factors.

    Abhishek, now don't go proving that Indians can generalise too! To give you some understanding, people like Kelley and I usually write reports of India's dark side because we care - either for India itself or simply for fellow human beings - and we would like to see things get better. Wait, are you saying that I'm a Communist as well?

    Jeet, yeah, that's very true, but I think modern India (i.e. since 1947) is a completely different beast to anything that existed in these lands before. (The same would go for NZ, which was first discovered by the Maoris circa 920 AD, depending on which historian you listen to.) The current conglomeration of so many different ethnic and cultural strands that make up India is a nightmare to navigate diplomatically, so perhaps it will take a few more decades or centuries to get a few inches close to equilibrium.
  • Jeet
    By
    Jeet
    08.10.10 12:47 PM
    Barnaby, just to correct you. New Zealand may be two times older than India as we know it today (ie the title given to it by the British) but India, Hindustan, the Indus civilization, as it were, has been around for at least 5000 years.
  • Abhishek
    By
    Abhishek
    08.10.10 07:19 AM
    Also, honestly, I dont understand why Western people write these accounts of India and why anyone even takes notice of them. I never sat down to write an account of America. Some random commie from the Huffington Post writes something and we get excited. The Huffington Post spends its time glorifying leaders such as Fidel Castro, Stalin, Kim Jong-Il, Chavez and Ahmadinajad. No wonder our free and democratic billion plus nation failed to impress the followers of Che Guevara and Mao Zedong.
  • Abhishek
    By
    Abhishek
    08.10.10 07:15 AM
    The explanation here is so simple it's amazing they are debating it. Kerala is full of Commies and the Huffington post is Communist...so its easy as cake to figure this out.
  • mariappa
    By
    mariappa
    05.10.10 01:29 AM
    sorry its a shadow report not by a UN team but by another team to the UN
  • mariappa
    By
    mariappa
    05.10.10 01:25 AM
    and you can also see http://www.chrgj.org/docs/IndiaCERDShadowReport.pdf
    which might be more genuine to you its a shadow report by a UN team
  • mariappa
    By
    mariappa
    05.10.10 01:22 AM
    @Barnaby Haszard Morris what Ann-marie says is not at all true neither conversion to christianity nor Islam makes any difference and exactly in Kerala where there are separate churches for separate castes find out for yourself on youtube in a documentary by K Stalin called "India Untouched" and also see "dalit voice" a magazine also available on the web
    -which says -"But why Untouchables alone are subjected to torture? Not because of their poverty but their degrading social status
    The main cause of India's poverty is, therefore, social and next only economic. This has to be clearly understood. The Untouchables are kicked, killed, burnt, raped and their little property destroyed not because they are poor. Poverty is not their problem. They became poor because the Hindus robbed their human rights." If you think they are exagerating you could see this "http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2010/08/on-caste-privilege.html"
    and "http://www.upliftthem.blogspot.com/" and read Dr B R Ambedkar's writings which you ll find in these places he was india's martin luther king
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    By
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    04.10.10 10:08 PM
    Anne-Marie, I think he made a good point there too. I still don't agree with his methods, and stay by what I wrote above, but I was impressed that he even bothered to write a reply - let alone such a lengthy one!

    Jeet, I honestly couldn't care less about whether or not the West continues to lead the pack. I'd be happiest just to see more people trying to understand each other. Anyway, what you say is quite true - these are still comparatively early days. I'm from an incredibly young country myself - New Zealand - and even we are more than two times older than India! Perhaps what's happening, with articles like Kelley's and the CWG backlash, is a phase of strong India criticism that will wear itself out eventually.
  • Jeet
    By
    Jeet
    04.10.10 09:54 PM
    I think the real problem here is that people are expecting too much from India too soon. What Kelley points out is nothing new to anyone really. India will get there, it just takes time.

    You have to remember that India had two hundred years of colonial rule which ended about 60 years ago or so. Before this rule India and China together made up something like 30% of GDP. India's economic prominence, natural resources and to a certain extent its national pride was taken from it by the colonialists. We all know the stories of how the British believed that they were superior to Indians and that their policies reflected this feeling (eg famines causing millions of deaths caused by British policies).

    It takes time for pride to be restored and for development to occur. It will and is happening, but to expect it to happen overnight is a mistake.

    Also, with all due respect to western journalists and westerners in general, if I was them I would be more concerned with the fact that their economic growth is stagnant and their time as "leaders of the pack" is drawing to a close.

    Anyone who has any sense of the future knows that it belongs to Asia, and India will play a big part in this. So westerners should spend less time looking down on India and more time worrying about what they are going to do when Asia wakes up one day and realizes that they don't need the West any more, for anything.
  • Anne-Marie
    By
    Anne-Marie
    04.10.10 08:51 PM
    "And sometimes the most responsible (and kind) thing is to deliver harsh truths without sugar coating."
    I do agree with sean paul kelley ... However this is a highly touchy subject in India ...Money should be invested to collect rubbish, build sewage systems, clean the streets etc ... But these are not the priorities in a country where people struggle just to survive !
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    By
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    04.10.10 09:31 AM
    Alert! Sean-Paul Kelley has responded!

    http://www.seanpaulkelley.com/?p=993

    Definitely worth a read - it never hurts to hear both sides of the story. Not surprisingly, his reaction isn't particularly positive.
  • Chronicles Of The Return » Blog Archive » A Westernist Perspective?
    By
    Chronicles Of The Return » Blog Archive » A Westernist Perspective?
    03.10.10 10:29 PM
    [...] Haszard Morris takes me to task for having a ‘Westernist’ perspective. He also notes that my post, “Reflections On [...]
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    By
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    02.10.10 12:13 PM
    Wow, you say two or three things about Kerala in a tiny paragraph that I have no idea about! To the bookstore with me.

    As for poverty being the reason for lack of hygiene, there's a passage in Gandhiji's autobiography that kind of contradicts this idea (though it may be more true now than it was back then). He talks about doing hygiene checks in Mumbai (I think) and how the untouchables inevitably had the cleanest homes, presumably because their 'holes' were all they had and so they took greater pride in them, while the latrines of the rich were often stinking. I think this is still relevant in some ways.

    The words 'civic sense' keep ringing in my hears because I feel that is the main thing that India, or at least Kerala (I haven't really been anywhere else), lacks.
  • Nalini Hebbar
    By
    Nalini Hebbar
    01.10.10 07:34 AM
    Caste does play a great role and Kerala had a worst form of caste discrimination in the past...but it was the first to do away with it too. Kerala is the melting pot of world cultures and Christianity arrived there even before it did in Europe.
    Poverty is the reason for the lack of hygiene. Toilets and waste disposal are not yet streamlined, and may never be, given its ever growing magnitude. But educating people and governmental schemes are working towards that...here in Andhra Pradesh we have the Indramma Housing scheme for the poor where they are given plots of land and financial help to construct houses, and in them a toilet is a must.
    Let us look at things positively...a huge country with huge problems...and efforts too have to be on that scale, and it is. In a tropical country, conditions are difficult and challenging. Fingers Crossed!
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    By
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    30.09.10 11:06 PM
    Joseph, don't get me wrong, I really love Kerala for a lot of reasons but it just isn't as much of a shining example of How Things Could Be as Kelley seems to think it is.

    Prasanna, I agree with you completely. You touch on something that I've been feeling a lot recently - most Indians, the middle classes, will do everything they can to elevate themselves, their family and their house & garden... but that compound wall (or picket fence, if you're in a really trendy neighbourhood) boundary is where that pride of ownership seems to end.

    It's also interesting what you say about the caste influence - I know so little about the caste system, and your comment has pushed me to find out more.
  • prasanna raghavan
    By
    prasanna raghavan
    30.09.10 05:46 PM
    hai thanks a lot for making some noise on that topic. Yes, i agree, Kerala cannot be taken as a model to the rest of the Indian states for hygiene practices.

    An average Westerner usually makes that mistake of comparing India or Kerala with her own country.

    The problem however is that there is not enough nationalist sentiment to challenge those mistakes through action. This is truly an Indian problem. Though a nation or a state cannot resolve all such problems its leaders can show leadership in instilling values in its citizens. Being civic and to maintain hygiene are important social values.

    India's general disregard in hygienic matters, I believe has a lot to do with its casteism from which has evolved its racism and classism. Purity or hygiene played a big role in caste discrimination which defined upper caste as pure and lower castes as impure. So purity is a caste identity there. Hardly any measure was taken by Indian leaders to eradicate this feeling from the social circle. Hence the emerging middle class seemingly wants to see purity as their essential identity but not as a national value. This is my take on this.
  • Joseph
    By
    Joseph
    29.09.10 02:50 PM
    The different thing about kerala is that the average quality of life, security, cleanliness, hygene, education and development is uniformally much higher than the indian standard.
    It's very hard to find a mallu begger...infact, things have reached a stage where it is almost impossible to find a mallu labourer...the biggest example is the acute shortage of coconut tree climbers....
    But, unlike other states, kerala lacked metro cities, indusrties, shopping malls, etc....so, there wasn't this hifi crowd you find in mumbai or bangalore....
    Things are changing....kochi's showing promise of a future metro with changing lifestyles and a promising IT industry...
    kerala, especially kochi could have been developed into an indian singapore only if we had a good government...
    but alas!we have the red flags...:-(

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