Games India Isn’t Ready to Play
By Pankaj Mishra, New York Times, October 2, 2010
ON Friday afternoon, public spaces across north India were flooded with policemen and paramilitaries. Thousands of alleged “troublemakers” were arrested. The sending of bulk text messages from mobile phones was banned. These precautions had nothing to do with the opening on Sunday of the Commonwealth Games, the athletic competition among the nations of the former British Empire that so many Indians have hoped would be their country’s symbolic coming out as a world power.
Rather, the police were out in force because an Indian court had pronounced its verdict on the site in the town of Ayodhya that has been long claimed by Hindu nationalists as the birthplace of Lord Rama. The government did not want a repeat of the horrific mob violence that in 1992 had followed the destruction by Hindu nationalists of a 16th-century mosque standing on the land in question.
Shortly after the verdict, which split the disputed site unequally in favor of Hindus and to the detriment of Muslims, I went for a walk through the Himalayan village near my home. Even here, 600 miles from Ayodhya, people seemed to be playing it safe, the market partly closed, and shopkeepers clustered around television sets behind shutters.
Only the migrant laborers, who have come hundreds of miles from central India to the Himalayas, were still at work, men, women and even children carrying heavy stones on their heads at the construction projects that litter the hillsides.
Easily identified — the parents small and thin and dark, and the children with distended bellies and rust-brown hair that speak of chronic malnutrition — these migrant laborers have been a regular sight here for some years, building summer homes for the affluent of Delhi all day, and then huddling under tin shacks at night.
I stopped to talk to a couple I know. All morning news channels had been working themselves into a frenzy of fear and anxiety. Even the more sober commentators fretted whether our “rising economic superpower” would be torn apart again over the question of whether the mythical Lord Rama was born in a ramshackle provincial town.
But the laborers hadn’t heard of the court verdict. As colder weather approaches, their greatest anxiety seemed to be to protect themselves: the punitive rains this summer have blown away the roofs of their living quarters. And it seemed only right that these helots of India’s globalized economy should be indifferent to the possible despoiling of India’s image in the West.
So who is anxious over India’s image in the wealthy world? That particular burden is borne by India’s small affluent elite, for whom the last few months have been full of painful and awkward self-reckonings. Certainly, the fear of violence over Ayodhya was only the latest in a long line of reminders that, as the columnist Vir Sanghvi put it, “as hard as we try to build a new India ... old India still has the power to humiliate and embarrass us.”
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Commonwealth Games: For India, Games Are Entree to World Stage - NYT
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Is India really shining? - Riz Khan show, Aljazeera