Tall tales of India’s press

Something to write home about

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I live 8,375 miles from Mumbai, India, the city I call home. I am constantly an average of 12 hours late to all news about events in India, aggressively refreshing the news apps on my phone every morning when I get out of bed. At home — over winter break, for example — I would be frustrated and angry the minute news of something anxiety-inducing would break. In the U.S., I have to wait half a day to know what’s happening. It would be too much to ask that certain events in India not infuriate me — but all I want is to get live, accurate and relevant updates with the same frequency and urgency as I get them in India.

Instead, I clicked on the website of The Hindu this morning, and the first thing I saw was an entire article on a handful of quotes by a conservative religious leader from Gujarat whom I had never heard about. The headline, “Menstruating women cooking food for husbands will be reborn as dogs, says godman,” was most definitely clickbait — which tipped me off even further. I scrolled up to find more pieces of information irrelevant in comparison to the more pressing issues the country is currently facing — about President Donald Trump’s visit to India and reactions to unsettling remarks made by preachers of sexism.

The stories that everyone should get are the ones from publications such as Article 14 — a recent effort by journalists, lawyers and academics to expose the failings of the Indian justice system. Recently, however, a friend asked me if I knew any computer scientists who could help improve the current search engine results for Article 14. Googling the publication, I found no results, even after pages of scrolling. It seems that the most critical Indian news issues are being dangerously hidden.

I cannot even begin to know the fear students in India have of expressing their opinions, but at least I can read about their revolution as much as possible. I want to read more about the raids at New Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia University by the Delhi Police on Dec. 15, for example — information that the Delhi Police continues to attempt to conceal. I also want to read the truth about the Indian economy — a topic that the Indian government works hard to suppress.

India’s economic decline under the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is the worst since 2009. Allegedly, 16 of India’s 23 manufacturing sectors have been devastated, but the government has not provided access to sufficient data to analyze them nor the financial and energy sectors. Instead of helping struggling industries, the BJP has recently announced its plans for the construction of a wall in Ahmedabad, the largest city in the state of Gujarat, supposedly to obscure a slum.

I have had a strange relationship with my country for the past few months. I distinctly remember the morning I heard about a raid at Delhi’s prominent Jawaharlal Nehru University in January. A group of about 50 masked goons, later identified as members of the student wing of a right-leaning party, entered JNU’s campus, attacking and brutally assaulting students. My stomach still churns when I think about that morning; I remember being so angry, so afraid, so horrified.

That said, I also clearly remember the overwhelming hope I felt along with the hundreds of other protesters at an anti-Citizenship Amendment Act sit-in I attended in Mumbai in December. The CAA facilitates citizenship for certain religious minority groups of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, who had to flee their homeland because they were facing persecution, but it does not offer it to others — particularly Muslims. Amid an ocean of artists, students and young activists, I felt the power that comes with masses of people fighting for the same revolution and pride for all the protesters who weren’t afraid to voice their opinions in the streets despite the obvious backlash they might face.

In Mumbai, I read physical copies of a range of news publications every morning; I have hourlong conversations with my family about the current situation in the country. My parents work starkly different jobs: My father is a banker, and my mother is the founder of a nonprofit organization. I hear capitalist and socialist ideas about the CAA and the economy unite and repel. I ask questions, and I have them answered.

At college, however, I mostly have to read about the political and economic state of my home from strangers. Maybe in a few weeks, I’ll wake up to truthful headlines that will encourage me to write about what I can do in the fight for human rights in India, rather than headlines about what I cannot. But right now, I am 8,375 miles from a country that needs all the activists it can get, and I have never felt so helpless.

Anoushka Agrawal writes the Wednesday column on her experiences as an international student from India. Contact her at [email protected]