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Why I quit reading the New York Times

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Recently the New York Times published an opinion piece titled “In India, Fashion Has Become a Nationalist Cause” by Asgar Qadri in the “Fashion & Style” section. The piece had little to do with Saris but went on and on about the usual anxieties of NY Times and writers like Mr. Qadri about India, which is to say Hindutva, Prime Minister Modi and Yogi Adityanath.

Though one would be hard pressed to consider the article too dense to associate it with any kind of logical analysis, I wasn’t surprised that the New York Times had chosen to publish such a vile racist piece about India or about Hindutva. The response it evoked from the ladies in India was a splendid display of women standing up to the imbecility New York Times published as opinion. (Unsolicited Advice to New York Times: DO NOT make a negative comment about Indian women’s sarees, they don’t take it kindly).

Subsequent to the publishing of this article, every woman who liked to wear sarees and men who liked to see women dressed in sarees started thrashing the piece with the contempt it deserved. Some were even surprised, that a leading international newspaper could choose to publish such a blatantly offensive article. But if one has been reading New York Times for long enough, and is acquainted with their editorial policy about India, they have to be frank and admit that it was least surprising that the article was published.

In 2006, as a young graduate student as I stood in front of the Times building in Manhattan, I was overawed by the sight. I was watching (what I thought) the bastion of truth, the gold standard for journalism and above all the shining beacon of that simple human desire to feel liberated by speaking the truth. How wrong I was, only time was to tell.

I quit reading New York Times in May 2014, till then I had held hope that someday it would turn objective while reporting about India and on Hindus. But I was wrong, and I quit. The articles published in New York Times which cause deep revulsion are too many to list, but a few articles which deserve a stellar mention are mentioned next.

Though I am not sure even my great-grandfather was born in 1857, I came across the articles then New-York Daily Times had published. I came across these passages in “Penguin Reader of 1857” edited by Pramod K. Nayar.

Towards the end of the year 1857 on 25th November, when the First war of Independence by Indians had been or was being viciously crushed by the British, the then New-York Daily Times commented (Penguin Reader of 1857, pg.250)

“They (Indians) had challenged the superiority of rulers, to whom, for a century they and their fathers had submitted”.

A few days earlier in that same year, oozing contempt for the Hindus who had dared rise against the British, and perhaps hoping that the British would civilize them the New-York Daily Times wrote (Pengiun Reader of 1857, pg.244)

“If the British dominion in India is held by so false a tenure that the teachings of Christianity and the influence of civilization will overthrow it, pray what is its value to the subjects in India or what credit does it reflect upon its protectors in England”.

That a newspaper from USA, a country which had gained independence from the same colonial master a mere 81 years ago to speak in such a tone about the struggle for independence of another country is a bit puzzling. But this is the line which has been consistently adopted, propagated and published by the New York Times (New-York Daily Times in 1857) and it continues till date.

There are many skeptics who believe that, what an ignorant newspaper like New York Times chooses to publish in the Opinion pages of its newspaper should be mocked, citing incompetence. But such skeptics would do well to remember, that this was the newspaper or liberal outlet whose articles do have an impact in the real world.

NY Times reporting in the build-up to the Iraq war about the non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction and the subsequent annihilation of that country is something for which New York Times has itself expressed dissatisfaction in this article. In what should have been an unconditional apology to a people besieged by a sadistic dictator, NY Times editors said, “we fully intend to continue aggressive reporting aimed at setting the record straight.” At which point, one rues about when exactly do these people start to think of the lives of people they helped destroy.

In the year 2008 though just about a decade ago, it definitely feels like a whole different era when Facebook, Twitter and other social media hadn’t yet picked up great steam. The year is unforgettable for Indians as terrorists on the 26th of November unleashed an attack which claimed 160+ lives. It was the time when India was being wounded time and again by Islamic terrorists, primarily because of motivations which are hardly non-religious. Even at such a time the Indian economy was growing, albeit with its own problems which an extremely complex society like India has to countenance.

But then how could the west gloat about its own moral superiority and legitimize its position of virtuosity if it didn’t put down a rapidly developing democratic country. The best instruments that are in the hands of the Western publications and media to fault Indians, is academics, writers with a marxist ideological bent with a virulent hatred of Hindu society as bottom line. “Useful idiots/brown sepoys” to be blunt.

Somewhere in the future when Hindus sit down to assess as to why the West could so easily preach its superiority, these marxist folks will have a lions share of the blame. It was in this year that a book called “The White Tiger” by Aravind Adiga won the Man Booker Prize.

Instinctively, I realized it didn’t bode well for India, since the previous Indian to win the booker, had been on a mission to defame India with foulest lies. In the review of this Booker Prize winning book, the NY Times published:

“Every scene, every phrase, is a blunt instrument, wielded to remind Adiga’s readers of his country’s cruelty. …..(the novel) seemed to strip away the sheen of a self-congratulatory nation and reveals instead a country where the social compact is being stretched to the breaking point”.

In 2010, again a book review was published, this time about a book called “Serious Men” by an author called Manu Joseph. The very beginning of the review went something like :

“India, we are reminded ad infinitum, is a land of contradictions. Immense wealth rubs shoulders with unimaginable poverty; soaring modernity with crude tradition; the world’s largest democracy with its most stifling caste system”.

The puzzling part about this was why was Indian society imagined as such a stoic entity unwilling to reform such that science and tradition are always at odds. Why is it necessary to imagine that every society is a mirror image of the Abrahamic societies of Europe and Middle-East whose Scientific progress bubble bursts ever so often. That Hindus themselves are actively striving to get rid of the caste system is perhaps conveniently ignored.

Reading further as the review mentions :

“These Serious Men may be clichés, but they’re thoughtfully realized, interestingly conflicted and surprisingly sympathetic clichés. For one thing, each has a higher purpose.”

The higher purpose of the protagonists maybe some abstract achievement which they care, but the lens of casteism to convey this message was horribly cliché. The only lens through which the western world tends to understand Hindus.

We also know of movies like Patther Panchali, Salam Bombay and Slumdog Millionaire which are the archetypal works of film through which the film makers bring India and Hindus to ordinary Americans. Poverty porn and in India’s case, Caste porn are two genres favoured by the western audiences. I guess all the characters are out to achieve the higher purpose, maybe to convince the Americans of how unbearable ordinary life in India is.

This same Manu Joseph, writing for the same NY Times in calling Arundhati Roy in 2012 then wrote

“If Dickens was the lament of the Victorian age, the conscience of modern India is the sentimental writer Arundhati Roy”.

If something had a conscience as ungrateful, thankless and pathologically lying as Arundhati Roy, it would be much better not to have a conscience. Arundhati Roy, a writer who has used every single forum where she has been invited, to insult India and Indians, and to call her anything close to “conscience” of modern India is perhaps a bit unflattering at best and seriously clueless about Indian society at worst (which people who write in New York Times often are).

In 2012 again, a certain William Broad, wrote a singularly stupid piece with a rather deeply offensive title “Yoga and Sex Scandals : No Surprises Here”. A few gems from this article :

Why does yoga produce so many philanderers?” , “The rites of Tantric cults, while often steeped in symbolism, could also include group and individual sex. One text advised devotees to revere the female sex organ and enjoy vigorous intercourse.”

After reading these sickening lines, which when extrapolated seem to indicate that the whole of India which practices Yog Asanas from centuries is a land full of philandry, debauchery and unbridled licentiousness.

The pioneer of such Freudian lens for viewing cultural aspect of Hindus was none other than the great Hinduphobic “scholar” of Hindus Wendy Doniger. Who can forget the case of Wendy Doniger and her book called Hinduism : An Alternative History. After her book was withdrawn from publication, New York Times invited her to write a piece in which she wrote :

“I have devoted my entire academic career, going back to the 1960s, to the interpretation of Hinduism and Indian society, and I have long been inured to the vilification of my books by a narrow band of narrow-minded Hindus.”

For a woman who tends to portray herself as someone who admires Hindus and Hinduism, she openly admits and rather delightedly in this video (15:50 mins) that her book was being sold in India illegally. Such is her respect for the Indian law. This woman was given a chance by the New York Times to write an opinion about her book but the New York Times never cared to ask Mr. Deenanath Batra, who she contemptuously calls semi-literate, old-aged man in the video to write a piece.

Then we had the genius Ellen Barry, who quoted Teesta Setlavad as some kind of activist. An activist who cheated the people of Gulbarg society, allegedly embezzling donation money they had collected for building a museum.

But the straw that broke the camels back came in form of two pieces by the editorial boards. With a prejudiced notion of Modi, the first one published in May 2013 which said :

“Mr. Modi cannot hope to lead it (India) effectively if he inspires fear and antipathy among many of its people”.

This at a time when Modi was exonerated by the courts, and Indians had moved on from the riots of 2002. The final one published on May 16th 2014, merely two days after his electoral victory which said

“.. whether he will be the strident Hindu nationalist who might impose a sectarian agenda on a largely secular state….but he can’t achieve those goals if he exacerbates sectarian divisions, for example, by using divisive rhetoric against Muslims.”

The open prejudice and bigoted opinion about the democratically elected leader of a country was astonishing. After that there was absolutely no point in reading hopeless articles in the New York Times at a time when India was looking up to Narendra Modi with renewed hope.

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