Wednesday, August 24, 2005

What Annoys Indians?

We think we already have a good idea of what annoys Westerners. Since one of the objectives of this blog is fostering Western-Hindu cooperation (partly to counter the Sino-Islamic axis that harbors not-so-good intentions toward Westerners and Hindus), overcoming annoyances that arise between Westerners and Hindus is something this site has an interest in. Over at Gates of Vienna is a discussion, which to begin with, is a summary study of how Westerners piss off Hindus and how pissed-off Hindus react. Let's see if the feathers on both sides can be unruffled. This post will be updated.


Well, the discussion didn't go much anywhere, but up through Sumnath's comment is a pretty good encapsulation of mutual cultural annoyance (MCA). It starts with the main post and goes downhill from there. (If you stick this out to the end, there is dry land at the end of this swamp--I promise.)
Main Post and Comments
If you take the conclusion as the summarization and implications of whatever preceded it (which it usually should be), then its a post about liberty and freedom--like what would it take to liberate these poor, abused women. The facts the authoress marshals to support her case speak not only of widespread abuse but suggests that such abuse has social approval, or has at least met with indifference. In other words, it's not just a bunch of bad men but its the social norms that are being examined. This is a commentary on a society, specifically a South Asian Islamic society.

Now enter the rest of South Asia: (quoted from the post, emphasis mine) As it is in India, so in Bangladesh: very young women — girls, really — are married off to older men. In what should function as a kind of economic surety for the girls, the dowry that accompanies marriage is used by the husband and his family for their own purposes.

Bangladeshi Muslim society is now being used as a proxy for India (meaning Hindu society in India); few things upset Hindus more than being lumped in with Muslims. This begins to explain the comment from Sumnath, who from what I gather from his posted link is not excactly a self-loathing-secular-liberal-hinduoid-offspring of Lord McCauley. Of course, it is not that things like this don't go on among Hindus, either, its just that most Hindus get offended because most Hindus don't do those kinds of things, and then you have someone casually passing judgment on what must be more than a billion people. It doesn't feel good, really.

Then in the comments section things go down hill from there. One commentator wrote, "Maybe it's time to drop them a half-billion Liberty pistols with pictoral instructions on how to shoot their abusive men in their sleep."

And no one commenting is exactly protesting this, either.

You can start to see why Indians, Hindus especially, see the global war on terror as America's war on terror. Hindus haven't forgotten that the British government in India covertly supported the Muslim League to use it as a bargaining chip with the Hindu nationalists, and Muslim behavior toward Hindus back then was no more charitable than it is now--propaganda not withstanding. What does that have to do with the post and comments under discussion? A continuation of ill will, perhaps.

It appears that the commentator Sumnath submitted his comment as a counterbalance to the uncharitable rhetoric about Indian society. Perhaps what he wrote was not so convincing, but after all that's been said in the post and in the thread, he's Indian and subsequently he's already a dog with a bad name. So who's going to take him seriously or reconsider their opinions? I wouldn't regard his attempt to sway the minds of the other readers and commentators as forceful, but undoubtedly it was his way of saying things in India aren't what they've been made out to be.
Here are the essential points:
  • Lack of personal familiarity with the societies being discussed.
  • Culture leaves a distinct impression on all facets of a participant society.
Considering these two points, the post and the comments themselves were overly broad in their criticisms and too far removed from their subject. Non-challant expressions that amounted to suggesting that wiping out an entire civilization might not be a bad thing weren't protested; that undermined any legitimate concerns that may have been expressed in the posting or in the comments. Those kinds of comments were probably not seen as offensive by the commentators because there was little if any personal connection with the people being talked about.

Also, crime as it happens in India or wherever is going to look culturally distinct from crimes as we are used to them in the good old USA or in even older Europe. That distinctness of the "other" is easily confused as a social norm for the other society. For example, Andrea Yates's drowning her five children was a horrible and shocking crime within America. But then if it was so shocking, why did NOW (National Organization of Women) rush to Yates's defense? NOW had their reasons, all of which were about "root causes," and it so happens that lack of conscience or morality somehow never made it to NOW's root-cause list. But come on, NOW--killing your own children because you had a bad day? Indian women, many of whom have 5 or more children, couldn't be blamed for experiencing a xenophobic shiver on getting this news. Ok, the hairy-legged man-haters over at NOW can get silly; most Americans agreed that Andrea Yates committed a heinous crime. But the crime certainly wasn't normal, was it?

This press release from the Government of India in the Washington Times (July 19, 1996) puts dowry deaths in a similar perspective:
Correspondent doesn't permit facts to get in the way of a good story
Let me respond to the article, "`Women's court' chips away at backlog" (World, July 8), which included the statement: "Dowry deaths are a common crime. The usual method is for the husband and his parents to burn the women."

This letter is prompted by the sweeping generalizations in the article. India is a hugely complex society, and it is a nation of more than 900 million people, about half of whom are women. It is easy to make generalizations by buttressing reports with numbers that sound impressive, but just a little more care would produce articles that would be more reflective of the truth and, therefore, would give your readers a clearer picture.

The dowry system is outlawed. Only very recently the Supreme Court of India handed down an extremely tough interpretation of the law that makes dowry de-mands - before, during or after marriage negotiations, a crime. It is a truism that the article ignores that even the toughest of laws does not remove social flaws overnight, particularly if a flaw has existed for thousands of years.

The highest number of dowry deaths in India in a single year was documented by authorities at slightly more than 4,000, but if you compare that to the total number of married women in India (just over 250 million), perhaps then one would understand that describing dowry deaths as "common" is ludicrous. They happen, but they are an aberration.

Arianna Huffington's July 9 column ("Inflicting agony in the name of family," Commentary) mentioned that more than 1,000 children are killed by their parents each year in the United States, and an article in Time magazine a few years ago said that more than 2,000 wives are battered to death by their husbands each year in this country. This certainly does not make the United States a nation where child-killing and wife-battering are "common." These are aberrations, and it is legitimate for an alert and free press to highlight them so that law and society can tackle the problem.

To portray isolated crimes as almost a norm in society, as that article does, is perhaps typical of the "Don't let the facts get in the way of a good story" school of journalism.


Minister (Press, Information and Culture)

Embassy of India

To our Western friends in particular, what's being asked of you is to be a leeetle bit more cautious with what you write and please think 100 times before tarring-and-feathering with the written or spoken word some other society that, when the facts are in, is most likely as civilized as your own. And to our Hindu friends, please try to move on from the past, and don't forget that some of the less savory customs you sometimes associate with Western peoples are becoming prominent among Indians. (And I'm talking about customs and habits that really aren't good for anyone no matter what the civilization and in whatever period of history.)

No one is "fit to cast the first stone," and there is a lot to appreciate in each other. So, with mutual respect, can we please move on from here? We have a world to save. . .


Blogger Dymphna said...

This is a very long post, sir, and I'm not able to address all of it. However, I'll begin with a defense of what annoyed me most at the time: a commenter, Engineer Poet, suggested arming the women. I answered him but evidently you don't think I did so forcefully enough. I thought his idea ridiculous, but I didn't want to derail the thread so I was brief. He often says ignorant things, and on one post I had to simply ban him after he endlessly missed the point. Even then, people thought I wasn't being "fair."

Secondly, the fusion of Muslim/Hindu by us is not as blithe as you presume. It may be a limited understanding, but that understanding does exist and is toddling about on uncertain legs. Patience, sir.

Thirdly, there is affection for Indians in this country. Admiration for a work ethic that outstrips ours and the obvious intelligence behind it. Do we differentiate between Hindu and Muslims here? Only when they are other-ethnic...i.e., when black Americans join up with Musims, when white Americans open there's an interesting dichotomy, don't you think?

The Yates woman is a true horror story. NOW's reaction probably doomed them as serious contender's for anyone's attention. At least one can hope. What do you guess the membership of NOW is? How many women are members that are *not* academics or blue-state liberals? The women I know laugh at NOW -- there's not enough interest to even get annoyed. NOW is irrelevant to the point of invisibility.

The ACLU is another story. They have enough clout to do damage so we can't afford to laugh yet. We have to keep funding the other side -- and saying prayers of gratitude that there is another side.

Come do a post on Gates. Do it on the dowry system, or the lumping of Hindu and Muslim Indians by the West, or the warfare between Muslims and Hindus in India and what you foresee as the main problem in the next five years.

For sure, under George Bush and under the pressure of Islam, America is motivated to move closer to India. India is certainly more motivated to move toward America since Russia collapsed; India's decision to ally with one of history's losers didn't pay off so well.

India and America have mutual concerns: Islam supremacy delusions, Chinese supremacy determinations, and all the unreasoning and unrest in those two parts of the world.

I don't know how India's birth control program went, but China's has resulted in a HUGE cohort of single males who have little chance of ever marrying or reproducing. That's a lot of rage to contain and elsewhere -- guess where?

So here's an invitation to come and have your say. Our blog was established to combat the forces of Islam; I'm not interested in ruffling the feathers of anyone else. All I ask is that you give us information we wouldn't have otherwise and that you have the patience to educate people who haven't been exposed to the same learning opportunities you have.

If "mutual cultural annoyance" is your phrase, thanks. It's pithy. And it's certainly what I'm feeling right now, given the tone of your post. A post entitled "What Annoys Indians" perhaps ought to be re-titled: "What Annoys Hindu Indians."

I'm done. On my way to buy some salve that unruffles feathers because mine certainly are.

8:54 AM, August 24, 2005  
Blogger krishna_kirti said...


You wrote: "Secondly, the fusion of Muslim/Hindu by us is not as blithe as you presume."

I generally appreciate your writing, but in this case don't you perhaps think that you may have been a bit overreaching in your text? I mean, if what you wrote above was what you intended by the posting, then why the comment by Sumnath? Hindus generally don't stick up for Muslims.

Your reaction to my point about NOW exactly illustrates my point about cultural misunderstanding. We may know that NOW gives women's rights a bad name, but how might that look from a different culture? Whatever NOW is, they get enough media share to look representative of more women then they really are representative of. What is perceived to be true is often as important as what is really true--sometimes more important.

It wasn't my intention to "ruffle your feathers", and I apologize for doing so.

At the same time I am not certain how to better communicate that the initial post that started it was perhaps overreaching. I don't think it was just me that felt that, either. Since of us two you are the better writer, I would appreciate some help and pointers on how I could better communicate things like that, if you would be so kind.

Once again, my apologies, and I hope your feathers aren't so ruffled that future cooperation and communication is no longer a possibility.

9:38 AM, August 24, 2005  
Blogger Sumanth said...

People in West use the "Differentiation" operator too often. On the other hand Asians use the "integration" more.

So, good in these cut and paste technologies that they went on to apply it everywhere. Finally, the divide and rule game backfired.

The illegitimate children of the border are haunting west.

The obsession with reductionism makes the matters even worse. They fail to see the complete picture and how system dynamics shape up.

My post in gates of vienna has nothing to do with my feelings towards west. I accept the way the people in west are. But, we are opposed to an uniform world. The solutions which work well in west, may completely backfire in other societies.

10:15 AM, August 24, 2005  
Blogger Bharat said...

Well well... Let me show you the real picture about today's modern daughters-in-law, and destruction of Indian Families:

Misuse of Dowry Laws

3:40 PM, November 29, 2005  

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