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Misleading Reports About Indians Throwing Their Babies

Thursday, August 27, 2009 at 09:03 AM EDT

Have you heard about babies being thrown from roofs for their own good as some kind of traditional ritual? My guess is that you haven’t, unless you read about it in the last year or two in some foreign publication. There have been news stories about this baby throwing “ritual” abroad and the impression created is that this is a traditional Indian ritual.

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 “This particular ritual took place in the village of Harangal, Parbhani, in India’s Maharashtra,” it goes on to add that this “…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 families”. This together with the headline “Horrific baby-throwing ritual in India where toddlers are tossed from roof for good luck” 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:

Although this article appears in a tabloid, the tabloid is read by the masses here and opinions are formed about entire 1 Billion of Indians based on the crap they constantly write.

S0-called respectable newsites also circulate this sort of nonsense, calling it a ritual that “Indian villagers” follow. On the CNN newsite last year they said:

In a ritual that would terrify most mothers, Indian villagers have cheered as screaming babies were dropped from a 50-foot temple tower…

Most “Indian villagers” 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 “it also takes place elsewhere in the country, mostly in smaller villages, on special occasions.”

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 hadn’t, but then I was city-bred. I called up some relatives of mine who live in rural Maharashtra (my mom’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 hadn’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 “baby throwing” 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:

And you also used to take half caste children from their families and force them to assimilate in hopes that their race would just disappear. Which was a failure by 1910 but didn’t actually end until 1970

A comment on the Daily Mail article, probably by a disgruntled and angry Indian says:

You have more child abuse in England with all your peadophiles and wicked parents raping and killing little kids than in India. Sort out your horrible culture and mind your business.

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 husband’s pyre, is an ancient practice which used to take place in some parts of India, but today it is rare.

I know we shouldn’t be surprised when India gets slammed for something it hasn’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, it’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 doesn’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.

Related Reading: British teens and Indian parenting
The disadvantages of British Rule in India
Is Britain as multi-cultural as India?

India is a multi-cultural multi-racial country
What I love about being Indian
Humans love to form ghettos

The difference between the East and the West in pictures