India slams French media reports on Narayanan

Paris, April 18. (PTI): The Indian Government has slammed French newspapers for their tasteless reference to the Dalit background of President K R Narayanan during his State visit here.

"It was in bad taste and the usage lacked taste, dignity and grace. But we believe it does not reflect the popular French attitude," a visibly embarrassed Foreign Secretary Lalit Mansingh told agitated Indian journalists, accompanying the President, at a press conference here yesterday.

The right-wing French daily Le Figaro used a headline "An untouchable at Elysee (French presidential residence)", while the leading daily Le Monde profiled the President with the title: "K R Narayanan, the success of an untouchable."

The Indian Embassy sent a letter of protest to the papers saying they should not have restricted themselves to a very narrow aspect to describe the historic visit.

Indian Ambassador Kanwal Sibal said that unfortunately those articles ignored the commendable social transformation taking place in India. However, the same papers had carried positive articles on India's information technology revolution, he added.

Response of Dalit E-Forum

Dear friends,

This is not the first time the Indian 'authorities' have protested at westerners who revealed the caste of a well known Indian personality. Some years back When a commentator at a cricket match in britain mentioned about the 'untouchable' status of Vinod Kambli, there was a furrore.

The westerner doesnot mention the word 'untouchable' is without any derogatory connotations. It is far far from...'saala chamar hai'.

Imagine 'untouchab' prefixed each time Kambli's name is mentioned during a one day testmatch?

Frequent mention of the prefix 'untouchable' gives us a lot of exposure about our capabilities. I think that is the problem.

Dear Friends,

French Media high-lighting the 'untouchability' of the President Mr KR Narayanan brought out protests from the establishment. Why? Has untouchability disappeared? Has upper caste supremacy disappeared? No!

For the western/European media, the exotica of the east and Inde is a USP. So they use the 'untouchability' as another oriental exotica. Being physically and socially separated from Inde, they can look at untouchables with curious delight rather than social disgust prevalent among the upper castes here.

The last two dozen pages of Arundhati Roy's book deals explicitly with sex between an untouchable (named Velutha = light complexioned) and a syrian christian woman ( the syrian christians claim desendancy from the brahmins who were the first to be converted by St Thomas; circa 5AD).

It is a diff thing that Velutha is killed by the police in a final act of upper caste revanchism against the sexuality of a dalit... the police crush the genitalia of the dead Velutha by stamping with their boots/feet ... so remniscent of physical attraction of a black male for a white in the occidental parlance.

And what does one read into the official resentment at the president being called an untouchable...where the subject of untouchability finds expression only in films that could be counted onthe fingers of one hand...? 'Sujata' of Bimal Roy, Satyajit Ray's TV movie with Om Puri and...'Ambedkar' of Jabbar Patel with Mammooty in the lead role...when once considers that Inida made the largest number of films in the world...!?

Time we felt proud and the E-forum informed the french news agencies Agencie Francaise Presse and the papers that we are happy that you highlighted our man who is the President of India.

Isn't it an apt opportunity to highlight our cause...? instead of towing the line of the upper caste controlled media and establishment?

Let us stop getting pananoid each time the word untouchable or low caste or dalit is mentioned.

Dear Mr Opeh

You are right about the use of the word 'untouchable' in the West. When Westerners use the term, it not only highlights India's caste-ridden society, it also serves to highlight the great success of Dalits like the president who have achieved world acclaim inspite of the many hurdles in their path. However, Indians, even those living in the West, only ever use the term in a derogatory way and usually to claim superior status, especially when they cannot compete on equal terms with so-called lower castes. Hence the uproar among Indians in India and the West. Its just a case of not wishing to wash their dirty linen in public.

Yours sincerely
Deepa Pathi

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