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Dogs, Frogs and Dalits: The Indian Model Minority Has A Dark Side
When Mahatma Gandhi was asked what he thought of Western Civilization, he famously answered, "I think it would be a good idea."
India has brought the world an array of cruel social norms, from bride burning to the still-existing caste system, a racial social stratification in which those on the bottom are sometimes called "untouchables" ("dalits"). But Gandhi and many after him apparently believed that India's supposed spiritual heritage outweighs this rather serious deficit on the side of social justice, particularly regarding women's rights.
Make no mistake, Gandhi was convinced of Indian superiority:
"…Modern civilization represents forces of evil and darkness, whereas the ancient Indian civilization represents in its essence the divine force. Modern civilization is chiefly materialistic, as ours is chiefly spiritual. Modern civilization occupies itself in the investigation of the laws of matter and employs the human ingenuity in inventing or discovering means of production and weapons of destruction, ours is chiefly occupied in exploring spiritual laws." [GANDHI: Biography, Ideology, Resources]
Gandhi had a highly selective view of a society which remains largely unchanged despite the current image makeover in techno-hubs like Bangalore. The internet may be widely available for the middle class, but cows and untouchables remain, along with the usual assortment of Third World dysfunctions, from the subjugation of women to the high incidence of child labor, continuing religious violence and widespread poverty.
Incidentally, since "peace" activism is in the news, we should keep in mind that the pacifism which Gandhi espoused was absolute. He made no exceptions for self-defense. He thought the Allies should have surrendered to Hitler in WWII and that Jews should have hopped willingly into the gas ovens. Needless to say, none of this gets mentioned by today's peaceniks when they speak admiringly of Gandhian nonviolence. [The Gandhi Nobody Knows, By Richard Grenier, Commentary, March 1983]
Here in the United States, Indian immigrants have a reputation as being a model minority who have above-average incomes and education. We haven't seen many Indian gangs as yet—although they have become a problem in Canada—and for that we are grateful. Indians see themselves as hailing from the "world's largest democracy" (over one billion served). Some among them say openly that this will be the Indian century. And with greater wealth due to the outsourcing of American technology has come the desire to erase the tacky images of bovine creatures roaming city streets.
The Washington Post reported an Indian immigrant mom who objected to U.S. school materials: "American children will think India is some Third World country with pagan beliefs and backward thinking, not a forward-thinking country," Sandhya Kumar complained [Wiping Stereotypes Of India off the Books, By Maria Glod, April 17, 2005].
Frankly, it's hard to regard a country as "forward thinking"—or uniquely spiritual, in the Gandhian view—when it has engaged in an ongoing genocide of females. Males are valued, and females have been killed off through sex-selection abortion and infanticide. The number of "missing" Indian women and girls is estimated to be 50 million.
Such attitudes are hardly new in South Asia, where sons are frequently seen as economic assets and daughters as liabilities, given the need to marry them off with large dowries. Some parents have resorted to murder, smothering or starving their newborn daughters or even poisoning them with opium balls. [The Desperate Bachelors: India's Growing Population Imbalance Means Brides Are Becoming Scarce, By John Lancaster, Washington Post, December 2, 2002].
Modern technology has made sex selection easy. Many villages have an ultrasound machine. So unwanted female fetuses can be easily detected and discarded. Prohibitions against using sex-selection technology are widely ignored and never enforced.
India's gender disparity has been rising as a result.
There is some understanding in the public mind that if no one has any girl children then many little boys will grow up to be bachelors. But the old preferences persist, outweighing any rumblings of individual responsibility, so many Indians want someone else to bother with girls, who are seen as more expensive and troublesome. Let Sanjit do it.
There's evidence that a large gender disparity undermines social stability in fundamental ways. Some in government evidently agree, because the state Andhra Pradesh began offering cash rewards for girl babies in 2005.
Because of today's permissive multiculturalism, Indian immigrants to the U.S. see no need to leave their objectionable cultural baggage behind. Indians have brought sex-selection abortion with them to America, despite the fact that they are free to have as many children here as they want. According to a New York Times article, "Clinics' Pitch to Indian Émigrés: It's a Boy", [By Susan Sachs, August 15, 2001] services to deliver male heirs do a brisk business among Indian (and Chinese) immigrants.
Another noxious custom which has been imported to America is the caste system, a kind of Asian-flavored apartheid. Even the diversity-loving New York Times had to do a little tapdance to excuse Indian immigrants' attachment to their ancient social categories: "just as descendants of the Pilgrims use the Mayflower Society as a social outlet", the paper opined about why Indian immigrants still retain caste [Family Ties and the Entanglements of Caste, October 24, 2004].
Caste in America is justified into more acceptable terms, like the computer programmer quoted by the NYT as saying, "That's why I went into the Brahmin group, because I wanted to give my children the same values." But the fact remains that Indians come to America, a society with minimal class distinctions, and see no problem with bringing their discriminatory caste system with them. Social mobility is certainly not an Indian value, although they expect to benefit from US egalitarianism when they immigrate here. When it's time to consider marriage, many parents want to choose a spouse of the appropriate caste and may want an astrologer's consultation as well.
The caste system extends back into India's history and has a racial basis. The Brahmin class of hereditary privilege is light-skinned while the Untouchable dalits are darker. It has been reported that newly affluent Indian women are spending millions of dollars on beauty products to lighten up unwanted dark skin, noting "It's believed that caste occupations were originally decided by skin color, with dark-skinned people assigned to the latrines and light-skinned people assigned to the Hindu clergy" [Modern India's complex connection with complexion, By Mike McPhate, Toronto Globe and Mail June 6, 2005].
The caste violence that remains an accepted fact of life in mother India has been brought to America too, although not as flagrantly as the brutal gang rapes and murders of dalits who don't know their place.
The case of Lakireddy Bali Reddy shocked liberal Berkeley a few years ago. Successful immigrant Reddy procured two teenaged sisters from the poor Pratipati family in his hometown, Velvadam India. The two were brought to America through a fraudulent H-1B visa scheme, and one of the girls later died from carbon monoxide poisoning due to a malfunctioning heater in one of Reddy's rathole apartments. When the Pratipati sisters were not providing sexual services for the wealthy landlord they were working on Reddy's rental properties. The autopsy of the dead girl, who was believed to be 16 or 17, revealed she was pregnant.
At trial, a cultural defense was employed—that the virtual slavery that the sisters endured at the hands of a powerful man was a social norm of India. But the Alameda County jury nonetheless found Reddy guilty of smuggling illegal immigrants into the country for sexual purposes. The judge sentenced him to eight years in prison, a longer term than the one requested by the prosecutor.
But the caste aspect of the Reddy case was little discussed. Reddy was born into a respected landowner clan—in fact the family name Reddy is a caste—and Pratipati sisters were dalits. So it was perfectly normal for the parents to hand over the girls to him to do with as he pleased. In India, members of the landlord class get to do what they want with their social inferiors and no one complains. "He's god in my village", the mother said about Reddy after the death of her daughter.
Another Reddy victim, a 20-year-old who shared the fateful apartment with the Pratipati sisters, told federal investigators her father had sold her to Reddy because of economic hardship when she was 14. Some reports allege the Pratipati sisters were purchased by Reddy.
Such attitudes are part of traditional Hindu culture that believes that you are born into the appropriate social class because of your karma, resulting in punishment or reward for actions in previous lifetimes. Dalits are regarded as deserving their sorry state. While dalits as a whole have bettered their social standing in the last few decades—there was even a dalit president, KR Narayanan, from 1997 to 2002—the old prejudices are hard to eradicate, particularly in the countryside. In tech-hip Bangalore, dalits do the jobs higher-caste Indians don't want to do, e.g. the nightly cleaning of toilet pits, until 2003 when machinery was introduced. Of course, a female dalit is lower than low, so it's not surprising that "Gang rapes are mostly of Dalit women" according to Human Rights Watch.
One might think that India's increasing modernization would improve the status of women. But in one way at least economic improvement has contributed to more murders. While some retro customs are dying out in the cities, the new consumerist urge reportedly fuels the increasing number of "dowry murders" occurring in well-to-do families as well as among lower classes. It is a speedy way for a young man's family to acquire cash and desired consumer goods. Woe to the young woman whose family doesn't cough up. [India's dowry deaths, BBC 7/16/03].
Ranjana Kumari, who runs seven domestic violence refuge centers for women in Delhi, believes up to 70 cases a month are linked to rows over dowry. "Sometimes women are tortured to squeeze more money out of their families and in extreme cases they're killed. Then the husband is free to remarry and get another dowry", she told the BBC.
Many Americans learned about India's increasingly extortionist dowry customs when Sixty Minutes featured the story of a young Indian woman, Nisha Sharma, in 2003. After her family had put itself into serious debt for the dowry prior to marriage, Nisha stopped the wedding when her future mother-in-law demanded an additional $25,000 as the ceremony was about to begin. A shoving match between the families ensued and Nisha called the police to prevent more havoc.
But instead of being condemned, Nisha has received kudos from women's groups, offers of marriage and an appearance on Oprah. Indians' positive reaction to Nisha's repudiation of dowry is one small sign of genuine progress beyond the much celebrated increase of information technology.
OTHER CULTURAL CURIOSITIES
- No toilet, no seat. In the ongoing effort to improve the quality of candidates for public office, the rural development minister proposed that anyone running for village council must have indoor plumbing at home. The idea is to promote plumbing generally, since "more than 65% of India's rural population defecated in the open, along roadsides, railway tracks and fields, generating huge amounts of excrement every day" which is a problem for the water supply.
- Women face accusations of witchcraft in rural India. The old superstitions live on in the countryside: the weather or someone's bad luck may be blamed on a woman of low status.
Doggie Marriage. No analysis of the
subcontinent's colorful culture would be complete
without mention of canine-human nuptials. In certain
ethnic groups, a child whose first tooth appears
inauspiciously located in the mouth is married off
to a protective canine. For example, little
Karnamoni Handsa, a member of the Santhal tribe, was
wed to a rather ordinary stray pooch named Bacchan
as reported by the BBC. The ceremony was no
perfunctory affair: it was attended by over 100
guests who celebrated to drumming and drank
Fortunately, the girl's doggie marriage will not preclude a more normal pairing when she grows up.
- Froggie Marriage etc. When drought strikes, the thing to do may be to invoke a higher power by marrying off a couple of toads with appropriate flourish to propitiate the rain gods. In another curious wedding, a teenaged boy married a hill in Jharkand state to remove a curse from his mother. In Orissa, a woman became connubially attached to a cobra out of affection, it was reported.
The odd and objectionable cultural practices of Indians may not seem important when millions of Mexicans are turning the Southwest into a colony of their homeland. But the 2005 Census count of India-born immigrants was 2,319,222—a not insubstantial number.
Furthermore, the whole foundation of diversity in immigration and the ideology of multiculturalism is the idea that all cultures are morally equivalent. But a closer examination of even this "model minority" shows values that are not agreeable to Americans. It's another example that the whole edifice of multiculturalism is false, worthless and rotten.
India has gotten a free ride from cultural critics. While Islamic societies are rightly condemned for their brutality toward women, India has been given a pass even though its misogyny is in some ways even worse. Even the demonstration by Nobel-prize-winning economist Amartya Sen that tens of millions of women and girls are missing from India has found little attention among those who claim to value human rights.
Instead of pursuing genuine reforms, India puts on a show of being an up and comer. It has employed public relations strategies to convince American business that its tech workers are not only inexpensive, they are also smarter and better educated than their US counterparts. Just being dirt cheap doesn't have the same cachet.
This image makeover of a rather backward Third World country is an instance of monumental denial. This delusion is often aided by immigrants with a case of amnesia overlaid with arrogance and is stoked by too many viewings of the hagiographic film Gandhi.
And if mother India is doing so well (as suggested by immigrants returning home), then Indians don't need to immigrate here at all. All parties involved would be better off with less diversity in immigration.
And less immigration period.
Brenda Walker (email her) lives in northern California and publishes two websites, LimitsToGrowth.org and ImmigrationsHumanCost.org. She began practicing yoga at age 11 and in later years was disappointed to learn that the culture of India is not very spiritual at all.