Thursday, August 8, 2013

What Right Does A Foreigner Have to Talk About India?

This is a topic that seems to quickly become a heated topic. Many of my fellow pardesi and expat bloggers as well as myself have been told we have no right to say anything about India. We've also been told we have every right. Some of us have lived there and have been told this gives us the right to say what we feel. Some of us have only visited there and we still occasionally hear how we have no right or every right to talk about India.

This doesn't always come from Indians. Occasionally the debate pops up among the pardesi and expat communities of whether or not we have any right to talk about India. I've heard both Indians and pardesi's alike tell us bloggers they have no rights to talk about India.

Before I hit publish I always think about whether or not I should publish a post. Some of the comments I hear come to my mind and weigh them as I make the decision. I have well over 60 posts currently in my draft box and many because of this very issue.

Then I think about all the tourist guides you read. Yes, they are there to highlight the best of India. That's what a tourist guide is meant for. To tell you all the wonderful things you should see and do. They are not there to tell you anything negative you might experience. People wouldn't purchase a tourist guide that tried to steer them away from doing what they perceive to be exciting, exotic, etc. So they're not going to mention the down sides to India.

Like every other country in the world, there ARE negative aspects to India. There are certain so called "chest thumping Indians" out there who would argue you to the death that this is not true. They live in it, see the problems, do nothing about them and dare you to ever say a word about them. There are many reasons they do this but the biggest one seems to be that many of them are taught to ignore the bad, hide anything negative from your eyes, never say anything bad, etc. It's that good ol' sense of Indian denial at play.

Likewise there have also become "chest thumping pardesi's." I've read a couple of their blogs and on the blog they will blatantly b*tch about something they experienced in India but to your face they will rip you to shreds if you ever have anything negative to say. Ironically, one of these bloggers quit blogging altogether when her world became less than idea. The other randomly starts and stops based on what kind of reality she can make up for herself. Let me give you an example.

One blogger posted this: (and it's not me but sounds almost exactly like something I would say!) BTW, the following posts are edited for privacy as I have no intention of outing anyone, I'm simply trying to show an example of an attitude.

Clearly she attributed her sickness to India. It was an implied generalization. She thought leaving India would free her from being sick.That was in July 2008.

Now here's the exact same person making a comment to another pardesi in 2012.

The comment was on a post where someone made an obvious joke about the level of corruption in India.

There are others who don't blog who try to hide their true feelings and tell others they're wrong every time they say something negative about India but then make comments themselves using wording that show their true feelings and expect no one to question them.

So it stands to question who has the right to talk about India? IMO, anyone who has visited or lived in India, anyone in a relationship with an Indian and anyone who has taken any interest at all in India. Though I will say that it bothers me to hear or read comments from people with no ties to India at all who try to teach someone else how wrong they are about India. This ranks right up there with people who have no children telling someone else how to parent in my book.

So pretty much anyone. Of course there's going to be those who don't like what you say. It happens...look at what happened to Oprah when she dared voice an opinion on India. The same will happen to you regardless of what you say (good or bad!). Still, you have a right to your opinion.

What can you say about India? Anything you want. Just be prepared for disagreements, regardless of what you say being positive or negative. If you say something negative, it's 100% certain someone will disagree with you. If you say something positive, there's still a good chance of someone coming forward to say they didn't have the same experience.

In the end, it's your experience and they don't have to agree. Stand by your opinion. If you can't stand by it then don't post it.


  1. I am in an LDR with an Indian I met while working in Delhi. I have since moved back to the states, we are trying our hardest to stay together and our biggest issue is that I do not want to move back to Delhi - because of my negative experiences. I have also lived in Pune and Mumbai. I can tell you, I would live in either one of those cities. I still love India, but there are aspects of it that make me never want to live in Delhi again.

  2. Good for you standing up for yourself. I know how hard that can be in marriage sometimes. If you don't mind sharing, what things about Delhi (that aren't found in Mumbai and Pune) make you not want to live there? You have piqued my curiosity!

  3. Alexandra MadhavanAugust 9, 2013 at 1:44 AM

    Indians are much like Americans in the fact that they are so patriotic (even more so that Americans)! I got into a big debate over at Sharell's blog about it last week. I think it irked a lot of people because as a foreign woman you're supposed to keep your mouth shut - I'm not used to that!!! There are good and bad things about any place and everybody has the right to talk freely! It is hard for us bloggers, because we put everything on display. I think many Indians want to know what it is like for a foreign woman in India/or with an Indian, or else then why are our blogs so popular? But then they only wanna hear the good stuff, and not air the dirty laundry.

  4. Indians fall under two categories. The ignorant common man who knows little about his country's history and religion and the "western wannabe" who is ignorant as well indifferent and biased against all things Indians. When a foreigner arrives in India, he is bewildered by the complexities of India. He turns for advise to the common Indian, who is unable to explain things to him, since he himself does not know the significance of various customs and practices. He at best misguides him. The "western wannabe" on the other hand, is eager to impress the foreigner (they love to impress foreigners). He invariably paints a bad picture of his country because of his inherent bias. Not to mention that he is equally ignorant of his own culture. This forms the basis of the foreinger's opinion about India which he then mixes with his own negative experiences in India. It is only with experience that he realizes that what is true about India, its opposite is also true. With correct interpretation more than half of the negativity about India would be reduced.

    About Oprah, she behaved like a arrogant westerner. Not to mention she appeared fake. There was no balance in her narrative. She visited a slum and then dined with a super rich. So typical of the foreigners who portray that India is inhabited either by the dirt poor or super rich. There is no middle class. It is primitive and chaotic. This celebration of backwardness and poverty reinforces stereotypes about India. Since Oprah is coloured person, who had a trouble childhood, I expected a more nuanced approach from her.

    About Delhi, it is rustic and not safe for women and not as cosmopolitan like Mumbai or Pune.

  5. I don't think "rustic" is the right word for Delhi, since it's one of the world's biggest metropolises. Aggressive, superficial and anti-female are more appropriate.

  6. Yes, sometimes I have to be careful with my opinions here, I don't want to offend anyone!! I find Indians complain about India and Indians a lot and say they want to get out and live abroad. But I can't say the same thing!
    Honestly, I think it can go the same way in any country...I would feel offended if a foreigner complained abut Australia..because its my home country. Nice post and thoughts :-)

  7. I don't find that it bothers me very much to hear people complain about the US. I've had just as many god experiences here as I have had bad myself and maybe that makes it easier for me to understand when a foreigner complains. With us having so many cultures represented here, it's understandable why some may not be as welcomed or get along. They each bring their own culture from their respective homeland and with it a lot of potential good/bad feelings for those of cultures no their own.