Monday, August 28, 2006


Why are Indians so averse to criticism??? I finally found the story that has pushed me to write this post. It was a ridiculous, ridiculous piece on ‘Slum tourism in Mumbai’ from a channel that exhorts us to ‘Feel the News’. I feel sick.

The two Indian anchors practically bullied two foreign tourists invited to their studio, for walking through the squalor of the slums of Dharavi and stripping its residents of ‘dignity’ and being totally ‘insensitive’ to these real ‘people’.

(They took the moral high ground that Indian tour operators were making money off India’s poverty.)

But frankly, who are we to talk about dignity and insensitivity? If we were so sensitive, we’d be thinking of ways to get foreign tourists to help these people lead better lives with their dollars, not abuse them for wanting to see the reality of India and for gods sake - stop lying to the world - it is a reality!

The beleaguered male foreign tourist said, “I agree that there might be some insensitivity in going through their slums, but these people were actually happy to see us. They were happy to talk about the industry in their slum and show us what they were manufacturing.’ Its certainly more than what most Indians have time for so what are we complaining about??

The female tourist was more combative. She said, “Of course, I’m here to see the slums. I want to see how people live. That’s why you travel.” Whats wrong with that?

The story ran a sound byte of some average Mumbai lady saying, “I don’t want others to see the dirty side of my city, Mumbai. That’s certainly not the side I want the world to see.”

I think its clasically representative of a misplaced pride that many Indians have. There is a certain rejection of the realities of India and a selective choice of things we are proud of. Real pride is when you accept these bitter realities not pretend they don’t exist.

Another instance of this misplaced pride is the hue and cry over the treatment meted out to the 12 Mumbai passengers detained by Dutch authorities for suspiscious behaviour. Admittedly, we live in unhappy, paranoid times but the Dutch authorities don’t call in fighter jets just to scratch a racist itch.

Such misplaced pride. Show the world your slums. Atleast it might bring in tourist money that you can use to improve the slums – the festering eye-sore you are so ashamed of but find no creative solutions to improve.

In an interview on the protests in Pakistan over the death of Baloch leader, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, Pakistan foreign ministry spokesperson Tasneem Aslam, pretty much told India to mind its own business. She said, “Let India not worry about the protests in Pakistan. Let them concentrate instead on its flooding dams, its dying farmers and its malnourished children.” We will, when we aren't so busy trying to sell the world a half-truth.


cynicalcount said...

What else can you expect from Arnab. He is a fit case for an asylum. I think this is by far the most a tv channel can sink.

journovoice said...

The channel that you are talking about is taking this type of 'news reporting' to the max. I watched a restaurant owner who made the mistake of giving his eating place the wrong name being grilled by the chief anchor with an almost fanatic guest raving about how he will take action against him.
I don't know if this is 'feeling the news', but it sure does give news a bad name!

Keep blogging!

Unknown said...

I'm sure someone in Dubai would be reading this . I wont be suprised if Tourist Packages like this is offered to Labour Camps in the Gulf.

I'm sure the firangs will love to see 20-25 desis living in 10X 15 rooms, with poor ventilation and constantly fighting for water and seats in thier buses at over 45 degrees temperature and extremely tought conditions.

Its high time we stop glorification of poverty, starting with the Art moviewallahs...

cheers n peace

rajesh said...

im EXTREMELY happy in reading this response.

The reality is that a majority of indians are poor ppl, struggling with their lives.

The true insensitive nature is trying to ignore the facts....and as alaphia puts it: selectively seeing what one wants to see.

There is an unfortunate aspect in this whole episode though...the slum dwellers dont get a share. I think once this part is taken care of, no one can complain against this type of tourism.

If the elite gang is so shamed by it, let them get to alleviate the harsh conditions in the slums.

GeekBeyondRedemption said...

I see no reason to not 'show' our slums. If the person is so damn worried about the image it projects then let them help clean things up.

India is a very large country, with a very large contrast in all kinds of things. So you may have the poorest people in the world, but you can also find the richest. We're trying out hardest to pull things up, but accepting that there is a problem is just the first step.

I dunno how people view Kerala but I found "The Enigma of Kerala" fascinating.

When will the day come when the whole of India is in at least as good a shape?

And given the size and contrasts in India, I have to disagree with the Pakistani spokesperson. Sure we have a lot of problems - we also have a lot of people. And we can easily afford a few of them to keep track of things happening outside India. In fact, I'd argue that it's even more important that we remain aware of our surroundings than heave two or three thousand more civil servants at poverty or education.

Alaphia Zoyab said...

Cynical - I did expect better to be honest with you.

Journovoice - I personally thought naming a restaurant 'Hitler' is plain stupid. Just really and seriously stupid. Unfortunately, the coverage of potentially good stories is ruined by such myopic, aggressive television.

Bombayite - I didnt catch your point. Do you want people to stop pointing their cameras towards poverty. I think its a good thing that someone from a rich, developed country sees these slums... i think it makes sensibile people, sensitive. Let art moviewallahs do it.

Rajesh - thats a first. You agree with me!

Geek - The Pakistani spokesperson has to make these political statements to deflect attention from Pakistan's internal problems, but she's also telling us that people in glass houses should be more careful.

whoknew said...

damn, i seem to miss out on all the good stuff on TV :), someone should start run a PPstream script for Indian news channels. It would do quite well.
I quite agree with the pakistani spokesperson, we've rgot our hands quite full and dont really need to take a dig at Pakistan just because it is Pakistan.
To solve the slum problem and the poverty will take a lil more than 'slum tourism' and by showing India's dirty underbelly we do more damage than good.
Everyone knows its there, come to think of it, thats the picture the rest of the world has of India viz. Urchins and Cows, ... and maybe a few God-men (persons, for the feministically challeneged). I saw a change is long over due.

Nazgul said...

while it is true that foreign money can be pumped in towards developing the quality of life of people in slums, it isnt as if we dont have enough money to help them out.. afterall we'r supposed to be the world's 12th richest nation!!! believe that!!! we got to do something about eradicating slums n improving people's life but frankly i dont think slum tourism is gonna help or have a major impact!! it should happen only with willingness of people who are ready to co-operate and a dedicated spirit towards social upliftment of this sort than the Arjun Singh style. But having said all this, slum tourism might well be the catalyst that might embarasse us into doing something good.. so its not so bad too!!!

Arif Syed said...

Ms. Zoyab:

To begin with I am surprised that you are surprised at this! However I have failed to understand how you seemed to significantly have linked these 3 issues here.

The Slum tourism is quite abvious. Make money at all costs.

The pakistani spokesman issue is literally a non-issue. We seem to love to hate them and they the same. Nothing positive is going come out of it.

About the Indians detained at Schipol aiport. hmm I wonder how much you have travlled. Presumably a lot being a journalist. These people were seem to be quite badly manhandled. The thing you have to look at is, if 12 white Europeans where doing the same, it may have be dismissed as innocent fun. The fact is Ms. Zoyab when somebody dehumanises you then nothing else is left. The Nazis regarded Jews are subhumans, hence it became easy for them to slaughter them psychologically.

One has to have respect and pride for oneself. If you dont respect yourself, then others are not going treat you with respect. I wonder if you would have liked it if you were singled out at the airport and strip searched in front of 500 people? Would you think that is dehumanising?

I think the way India reacted was appropriate and sent a strong message to other communities in the world. Hey we may be a poor country but we respect our citizens, whatever colour, caste, creed, shape they maybe. Just as you stand up to your collegue in the office, we have to stand up amongst the world community and respect ourselves first. And by the way Indians a pretty racist too. I can send you a recent article about that if ur interested.

In my little 15yr experince of having travelled, I hate it when they do that to me. I hate it when I am singled out just becasue I happen to look brown.

Best wishes.

cynicalcount said...

Mr. Syed

If you have 15 years of travelling exprience then you must know which nationality the airline hostesses and stewards dread the most. The answer is Indians. You go on any international airlines and the first thing you will notice is the number of drinks most indians consume. They keep on asking till the stock is over. After getting drunk, they start calling the hostesses on some pretext or the other.

The moment the aircraft hits the runway while landing they switch on their cell phones. Especially on Thai I have noticed that some dont even switch it off and they keep playing games. I wonder which indians you are talking about. They try to take photo from their cell phones while landing through the window. You ask anyone airlines who the worst passenger is and you will get the answer.

It seem you are highly misinformed about the mumbai dozen being manhandled. This news is fiction and infact not one of them has said so. The only channel which said about manhandling was India TV and may be some regional channels. Everyone knows the credibility of those. Its really shameful when sitting in an aircraft you notice indians doing nonsense and thinking its their father plane. This kind of attitude is the reason that everyone is looked at suspiciously.

Just because you dont respect the rules in your own country does not mean you do it outside also and if singled out say its racism , brown , blue , green etc.,

All I would like to say is we should stop being a ostrich and rectify our faults rather than blaming others.

Alaphia Zoyab said...

Dr. Arif,

The Pakistan angle was an aside... but the first two issues are representative of the same problem. If there is anything reprehensible about slum tourism, then its the fact that your own countrymen peddle its poverty without sharing it with the people they stop blaming foreign tourists.

The other reality today is that asians are under greater suspicion than others. It has unfortunately, become the responsibility of those who travel to be conscious of that. You cant come along swinging your cell phone and play musical chairs in mid-air and then when you get pulled up turn blue screaming "racism." There is prejudice, you are going to have to fight it... it is unfortunate but it doesnt help that you are not extra careful.

Ro said...

we can't obviously hide all our slums. if its there, people are free to go to it and do whatever they please. its not like they put spy cameras inside anyones house.

i think the problem with too many 24 hour news channels, and business channels, is the pressure on the media to keep coming up with "different" stories. so they just make a story out of anything.

Smoochy said...

I dont understand why we, as a country, pick up trivial causes so vociferously. Now NDTV reports a ban on wearing turbans in French schools Frankly, I dont think its any of our business what the French want to do about their security concerns. I agree with the French who say "Get used to it or leave our country". But I'm sure lots of people are going to make noises about 'how the West is not fair to our brethren'. Dont we have more important issues to deal with at home? And arnt we the same country where sikhs were massacred after Indira Gandhi's assassination?

But the pattern is very typical - we make 'national issues' out of Mittal not being respected by Arcelor, Nooyi becoming Pepsico head, Kalpana Chawla's death, Narain Karthikeyan and Sania Mirza's very limited success... the list goes on.

I guess we are a nosey people who want to mind everyone's business except our own.

E Pradeep said...


I do agree that we need to be more careful with airline ettiquette and maybe the 12 Indians were not too good at that.But this is a sensitive issue and should have been handled with a certain sense of maturity which the Dutch did not.I mean after the event, they did not do enough to explain themsleves and so we do not know the exact turn of events.When the overall situation is so tense,it is not just enough to be fair but also important to appear fair.

Regarding the Pakistani response to the Bugti issue,she probably was being so overtly critically because of domestic compulsions.We may have our set of issues(as she rightly said) but then I think it's also imperative for us to speak in matters which affect us and the Bugti affair has definite political implications for us.

We have always been a very preachy country who does not like criticism and always try to harp back to our past to hide all our issues.Probably,that's why all criticism we face from outside becomes examples of firangi racism. It is important to face criticism but then if we are not just ready to stomach that there are certain things that need to be changed,we will continue to remain this way.

And by the way, I found the article on "The Enigma of Kerala" interesting and providing a certain food for thought. Any reason why a different point of view is to be ignored or criticised just because we don't agree with it?