Houston, we have a problem. It's our content, not image
Flashing headlines across the world declaring India as the world’s rape capital is making many of us cringe. The government insists it’s not all that bad and tourism hasn’t got hit, but industry says there is a 25 per cent drop in foreign tourist traffic and a 35 per cent drop in female travelers coming to India.Some hotels think that complementary spa treatment for women would increase female tourist traffic! Err…maybe a panic button in the room is more realistic?
The media is being blamed for ‘over-highlighting’ the pathetic law and order situation in the country which is negatively impacting India’s image. But the image can only reflect reality. If the image seems ugly it’s because the reality isn’t very pretty…hasn’t been for a long time.
The world and most of us got carried away with the India that was surging. Our shiny airports, smooth as silk flyovers, flashy, multi cuisine restaurants, wifi and telephony. We really had come far from the days of booking ‘trunk calls’ and a waiting period for two wheeler scooters which stretched from seven to ten years !
It was round about then, that a young Prime Minister made some speeches about technology missions, about bringing computers into the country, about being a leader among nations in the 21st century. Many ridiculed him as being naïve at best and foolish at worst. When we had no drinking water, no schools in thousands of our villages, we were not self sufficient in food grain production, our urban areas had pathetic infrastructure, he was talking of leading India into the 21st century and improving its image. He didn’t live to see that India’s emergence as an economic power. Some of us who were in school and college in the eighties when Rajiv Gandhi made those speeches were not as cynical as our elders; we did hope that he might be right.
When his son, Rahul Gandhi made his CII speech last week, I reacted with the same cynicism as those who were cynical of his father in the eighties. I was just as irritated when he said that a lot needs to be changed and that one man cannot change it. Unfortunately he was speaking to an audience hungry for a leader and in the absence of such hope, his message fell flat.
Hell yeah! I am the cynical Indian who has gotten used to computer generated bills, making online travel reservations, choice of 100 news channels , but then ‘ye dil maange more’. And frankly it’s not wrong to expect that ‘more’. Because really, that should have happened a long time ago, along with the flyovers and the video coaches and the private airline boom. We should not have 3 crore cases pending in our courts. We should not have been ranked 56th out of 86 countries for gender equality. According to government statistics half of the country’s children are chronically malnourished. The child sex ratio has slipped from 945 to 927 girls for every 1000 boys. 626 million Indians don’t have access to closed toilets and defecate in the open.
Large tracts of our country are so under developed that it seems hopeless. This weekend in many cities and towns people watched IPL matches but if you were living in Ranchi or any other city in Bihar or Jharkhand you would have faced a 48 hour bandh called by Naxals. The rest of the country is not bothered that you couldn’t reach your coaching centre, tourists couldn’t visit monuments and patients couldn’t reach hospitals. It makes one wonder is India marching ahead or slipping. But, this is reality and no amount of image floss can hide that.
This isn’t something that is going to embellish India’s image. It’s the content which needs to change. How can Indians be then ridiculed for hoping that somebody will come on a horse, camel, elephant or a bull to change things? No really, hope is eternal and don’t take that away from us. Even if it is a mirage to console oneself in these turbulent times.
Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter @smitaprakash