Misleading Reports About Indians Throwing Their Babies
Thursday, August 27, 2009 at 09:03 AM EDT
It was when Shefaly sent me a news clipping from the Daily Mail (UK) that I became aware of this so-called ritual. While the article does say at the start that â€œThis particular ritual took place in the village of Harangal, Parbhani, in Indiaâ€™s Maharashtra,â€ it goes on to add that this â€œâ€¦annual event, which is thought to have been followed by Hindus and Muslims for nearly 700 years in the belief the fall ensures good health and prosperity for their familiesâ€. This together with the headline â€œHorrific baby-throwing ritual in India where toddlers are tossed from roof for good luckâ€ are all meant create horror and disgust in the minds of readers. It is not meant to inform.
This is what Shefaly said when she sent the link:
S0-called respectable newsites also circulate this sort of nonsense, calling it a ritual that â€œIndian villagersâ€ follow. On the CNN newsite last year they said:
Most â€œIndian villagersâ€ would be surprised to hear of such a ritual, and I am not talking just in India, in Maharashtra state too. CNN mentions the village as Musti village in the district of Solapur, Maharashtra, but the article ingenuously clarifies that â€œit also takes place elsewhere in the country, mostly in smaller villages, on special occasions.â€
I was quite sure that this ritual is rare in India, and not just today in 2009, but from the beginning of Time. Had people even heard heard of it? I hadnâ€™t, but then I was city-bred. I called up some relatives of mine who live in rural Maharashtra (my momâ€™s side has farmers) and none of them knew of it. I called up a blogger, Suda, who is originally from rural Maharashtra, and asked him as well. He hadnâ€™t heard of baby-throwing, although when asked his mom recalled that it was an isolated practice which took place in a few villages in the heart of Maharashtra.
I wish the foreign media had bothered to explain this fact, and had also mentioned that India is a diverse country with different ethnic groups. If something happens in one village, it need not happen in the village next-door and certainly not in a village a thousand miles away. The news reports should also have clarified that â€œbaby throwingâ€ is unfamiliar to the vast majority of Indians. Ninety-nine point nine percent of them.
Misleading reports fuel racism. This article on baby-throwing has given rise to a fair number of racist comments. Some readers got so carried away that they compared this practice with female circumcision/genital mutilation in Africa, while others who are not racist, defended India and felt that westerners should look into their own cruel practice of male circumcision. And even readers of the Daily Mail have compared it to male circumcision. But hey, male circumscision is widespread and even female genital mutiliation is not an unusual traditional practice in some African countries. But baby dropping is extremely unusual in India!
A commentator asks why the western world does not dig into its own colonial and cruel past:
A comment on the Daily Mail article, probably by a disgruntled and angry Indian says:
Angry and retaliatory words which are a reaction to some racist comments, but these retaliatory comments (some by westerners, some by Indians) are few and far between. Most readers condemn, blindly believing that Indians throw their babies from rooftops! While on this topic, it is necessary to mention that the practice of Sati, where widows throw themselves on their husbandâ€™s pyre, is an ancient practice which used to take place in some parts of India, but today it is rare.
I know we shouldnâ€™t be surprised when India gets slammed for something it hasnâ€™t done, because we seem to have a reputation of being a primitive society. The evil practices here, like female foeticide, dowry, and child marriages have created this impression. The good things about India are rarely highlighted in the west, and if they are, itâ€™s all about economic development. The fact that there are a lot of good things about Indian society, like for example the closeness between family members, the feeling of community, and the child-centricness of families, but these things are ignored by many westerners. Probably these seem to be the contradictions of India that the West cannot understand. It is never easy to understand any society, be it an eastern one or a western one. There will always be contradictions, because societies are complex and evolving, they are dynamic and alive. All societies have their value systems, their ethics, and all societies have their double standards.
What is saddening that even as India tries hard to rid itself of its evil (stern laws against child marriages, dowry-taking, domestic violence and female foeticide) the western press doesnâ€™t seem to highlight this. So while it may not see India as a land of snake charmers and elephants anymore, it does seem to see India as a backward, primitive society.
Today when the world has become a smaller and flatter place, where people of all races mingle, misinformation that creates distrust and hatred is to be condemned. Britain in particular should be careful as it is a virtual hotpot of different races.
This article originally appeared on A wide angle view of India.