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    Posted July 8, 2014 by
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    Slumdogging but not Millionarizing India

    Tell us your storyWestern media, in my opinion likes to plays Archangel Gabriel and “exotifies” India’s problems. With Slumdog millionaire, #hashtagsavingthirdworldchildren, #takingselfieswithstarvingchildren and as soon as you open National Geographic – you find articles about primitive India with people still eating with their hands, “kids who never move out of their parents’ homes even when they are married (shock), and other clichés that saturate western media. And I cannot even count the number of times I have rolled my eyes of the reminiscent images that populate the West when it comes to India.
    Over a period of time, these constant exposure to the same stereotypical portrayal of “Third world needy, dependent India” throughout movies, news articles, magazines inadvertently start growing into what we form as notions about a particular social group – in this case India. Ultimately, I believe that these clichés just preserve the widespread stereotypical attitudes toward India and even influence the policies toward it.
    To simplify my statement through an example, let us talk about the constant pictures of Indians eating with their hands. The West already believes that the fork and spoon is an advancement and that eating with hands is primitive. So when magazines constantly puts up pictures of the “average Indian family” eating their family dinner with their hands, without explaining why the people still do that, the image that the reader gets is that it is because the average Indian cannot afford a fork and knife or that India just doesn’t have the capability to make one. Seriously over the course of my life, I have had young and old people alike come up to me and say, “I heard Indians still eat with their hands, it must be a hard life.” My teacher in 3rd grade when I first came to the U.S. thought she was being helpful, but it was hurtful to hear,
    “Do you want me to teach you how to use the fork?”
    For these negative connotations to be prevented, there needs to be an explanation. The average Indian family prefers using their hand over utensils because we believe that food is tastier when more of your senses are used. And even then we have utensils to serve food and not all Indian food is eaten with hands.
    Similar to the insecure bully who picks on others to make themselves feel better, I believe that this is done in order to better the self-image of the West and its audience. I would go as far to say that it is modern imperialism of the West by establishing the Indian and other developing nations as inferior and imcompetent who needs to be civilized. Which brings me to my next point. These media influence cause missionaries and social workers come to India to educate the Indians and civilize them, but without first understanding the scope of our culture, background, or even geography.
    Growing up as a proud American who was just simply in love with India, my motherland was hard. I love both streams of my cultures and I grew up speaking English, Malayalam and Tamil.
    And yet when I talk to my western counterpart about India, these are the questions I still hear.
    “So India is in Africa?” (I kid you not, a master’s student at UVA asked me this one).
    “Wow, you come from India, I saw the movie about the slums, wow you must really appreciate coming here.” -_-
    Or my personal favorite- when I tell my friends that we get around in India by car. “Wow, you guys have cars there?” (*sarcasm, no in fact we have elephants, and sometimes, when ours falls sick, we have elephant sharing schemes with other families).
    In a way these questions were just too hypocritical. I mean, seriously, how can someone play missionary and educate these “poverty stricken” kids the “western way” and English, without first understanding, embracing, and acknowledging their culture. I mean seriously:
    How can you help a nation if you don’t even know which continent the nation is in?

    But this girl was telling me how excited she is going to India and helping the less fortunate. She asked me about my background and I told her I am Christian and I am from the south. She asked me if I converted. I told her no and just as St. Paul went to Rome to convert the Pagans, St. Thomas came to India to convert the Hindus. Her response: “I don’t think so… India is a HINDI country, if there are Christians there, they were probably converted by missionaries. Yes I practice the Hindi religion, just like I practice the French, German, English, and Spanish religion. But as if that wasn’t enough, she just didn’t understand nor acknowledge my culture when I attempted to make her aware and help her understand. And that is the problem. How is she going to educate and help people in India, when she is not willing to understand it in the first place?
    And let me be honest I am not trying to sound high and mighty. There are other cultures I probably do not know anything about. But when someone tries to tell me something I do not know about their culture, I do not tell them they are wrong.
    Why Slumdogging is Detrimental?
    Of course increasing awareness of issues is good….if the intentions are good. But more often than not, I think that it stems from the exploitation of human emotion. What happens is that not only does these stereotyping affect Western viewers to create in their mind what India is but it also makes native Indians have a complex regarding their “Indian-ness” and it might dictate what are expected behaviors by the targeted group. Especially with more and more Western products in developing nations, the stereotyped group creates an “imagined identity” of what acceptable norm for behaviors, culture, and dressing is. And slowly, it becomes an embarrassment to have even the slightest essence of “Indian-ness.” And some people may call it globalization. But I respectfully disagree. Globalization to me is a salad bowl not a melting pot. Globalization is when one country is aware of the other. When cultures, religions, nations interact with one another. To me globalization is when a nation is able to learn from another and take the good but still be intact with their own culture.
    Back to India:
    While I agree that India still has massive work to do, it is unfair to portray India as if it is still stuck in infancy, halted in development and not capable of growing on its own, especially given that India just gained its independence about 70 years ago, has the second largest population in a country that is only the 7th largest, with so many cultures, religions, and languages, and still is third largest economic power at least in terms of PPP.
    While, I cannot prove that racial prejudice and hate crimes are direct results of media portrayal, I think that it is a crucial first measure toward disentangling from these socially pertinent relationships. I hope that there is a way to stimulate Western media creators to consider other less stereotypical representations for people of other cultures and developing nations.

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