Monday, October 13, 2008


Houses and churches were vandalised even in the first round of violence that hit Kandhamal district over Christmas 2007. Nearly 11 people were killed. Photo credit: Dr. Angana P. Chatterji

The Indian media devoted significant chunks of time and space to the Indo-US nuclear deal. But in the US, its coverage was conspicuous by its absence. The 700 billion dollar bail-out package and the shenanigans of the legislators on the Hill overtook everything else. Bush’s rare foreign policy ‘success’ went largely unnoticed.

So, given that a huge story involving India, of tremendous national and international importance got the royal ignore, how did the communal conflagration in Orissa make it to the front page? In the New York Times this morning was a colour photograph with a story headlined – ‘Hindu Threat to Christians: Convert or Flee.’

I am surprised not because it made the front page. I am surprised because there is enough and more happening on the campaign and in the American economy to dominate the front page. This is not to say that I am disappointed. I think such awareness forces India to be more accountable for its actions and that is a very, very, good thing.

What intrigues me is why this particular story received such prominent status.

The obvious answer is of course that several western Christian nations, the Vatican included, have questioned India on what it is doing to protect its co-religionists.

But a somewhat deeper and more convoluted answer is that the concern of the west is itself part of a long tradition of Christendom. For instance, before the 20th century, humanitarian intervention in military form, to protect people other than the intervening nation’s own nationals was largely done to protect only Christians from the Ottomans. In fact, “human” in the word 'humanitarian' two centuries ago usually meant being Christian. Persecuted Jews and Turks were ruthlessly massacred with nary a word of concern from anyone.

And interestingly, the discussion in India over the Orissa story has involved the damage to India’s image because it is the powerful west for the first time seeing one of its interests threatened inside India and raising questions on its conduct. Contrast this concern over the dent to the Indian image with the outrage over the US denying Modi a visa over Muslim killings in Gujarat. There was plenty of nationalistic anger over Indian sovereignty being undermined. With the Orissa story it is almost entirely about ‘image’.

Isn’t the contrast interesting?

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