visibility at what price: ny times on india and sexual violence

dear readers,

here’s my response to a front page article in today’s new york times, entitled: “Abuse Case Rouses India’s Middle Class to Take on the Powerful.” the sentence i take issue with reads, “Girls are molested all the time in India; powerful officials often abuse their office to avoid criminal prosecution; sclerotic courts are painfully slow and often corrupt.” the article in general is telling a story that needs to be told. the author is a woman of color who’s been in the global trenches for a minute, lydia polgreen. she’s now one of the times’ south asia correspondents. below is the email response i sent her today:


Dear Lydia,

I’m a professor and artist based in NYC.  I perform and write on issues of sexual violence.  Your article today, “Abuse case Rouses India’s Middle Class,” hit a nerve.  On one hand, I am so glad you are joining those who are shining light on the epidemic.  On the other hand, I am taken aback by what I feel is irresponsible journalism.

It’s this front page sentence that I take issue with:”Girls are molested all the time in India,” followed by a clipped, summary dismissal of government and judicial infrastructure, core tenants of any nation-state.  It is true that children are molested all the time, everywhere, and this should not be the case.

While I don’t appreciate the off-handed generalization, I also don’t only mean to say that statistics are needed to back up your statement.  That goes against my own principles of simply believing that sexual violence exists in epidemic proportions, everywhere.

But I am saying that writing about the issue requires sensitivity and some acknowledgment of the power play at hand.

Your ability to write up and write off the safety and then sovereignty of India on the front page of America’s paper of record feels tied to a position of othering India, of orientalising India.  Would such a cavalier statement be made about America?  About France?

Please do consider the impact of your words when writing about sexual violence and post-colonized nations.  Thank you.

Roopa Singh

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4 thoughts on “visibility at what price: ny times on india and sexual violence

  1. madhu says:

    Well said Roopa. I think this is certainly very sensitive issue indeed & should be tackled sensitively & with plenty of caution. It is rather very demoralizing to make such a strong statment & singled out one country.
    I have been in this country for over 40 years & have seen & heard stories from the victims of molestation, the author should try to just look in their own backyard for women molestation as well as hunger & beggers in this white society.

    • naxal says:

      dear mom,

      i know what you mean, it is very hard to swallow “them” talking about “us” in such an intimate and judgmental way. but we must tackle this issue, with sensitivity yes. but caution? i believe this less and less. caution is what keeps it all silent, caution is what forces each generation through the gauntlet anew. without addressing the sexual violence that lives uninvited but dominant in our bodies families and in our countries we lose. we lose.

      roopa singh

  2. Read your doughty attempt to bring some perspective on the NYT article.

    Unfortunately, for me, the old Mrs Gandhi line, “corruption exists everywhere” does not quite cut it.

    The West never had the right to any pedestal to lecture the rest.

    For those who are struggling against abuses of power however, the system has been so thoroughly compromised that help is welcome wherever it comes from.

    This is a brief resume of my experience.

    Since the past two decades, the Government of India, the Government of my own state, Andhra Pradesh, the Andhra Pradesh High Court , the Chief Information Commissioner and State Information Commissioner have combined to impress on me that what works in India is what I have called the “patronage paradigm” and that ideas of the rule of law and democratic processes are merely spectacles to lull the gullible.

    I have been denied the recognition that were commended to me.

    I have been unable to earn a decent living.

    The office of the Governor of Andhra Pradesh incited my neighbours to cut off my water supply.

    The information commissions in the state and at the centre denied me my right to information on spurious, brazenly illegal grounds and punished me for daring to object.

    The Andhra Pradesh High Court, in the inimitable manner of the Indian judiciary, has misbehaved egregiously.

    The high court denied me my right to competent counsel and punished me for complaining.

    Even as we speak, Dr Manmohan Singh’s office, “Daredevil” Pratibha Patil’s Rashtrapati Bhavan, Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah, State Information Commissioner CD Arha are all in an obvious conspiracy to deny me justice.

    Why are we so abysmally cynical and hopeless that conditions will continue to remain outrageously inhuman in India?

    One simple reason: The following comment or variations of it have appeared in almost every major Indian online publication plus in a few abroad.

    However, not a single editor or reporter has had the nous to pick it up and work it to the max.

    My credentials are strong and I have taken much trouble to meet many editors personally, usually on impeccable referrals.

    And of course our editors know it all. They have had nothing but smirks to offer.

    When I sought the solidarity of the press, Shekhar Gupta (editor in chief of New Indian Express) advised me, “You cannot go around taking pangas (quarrels) with people, yaar.”

    Even my comments are mutilated.

    Vinod Mehta’s “Outlook” has banned my comments on risible grounds.

    The Hindu crawled.

    It published “spin” by corrupt officials and got hissy with me for pointing out, with evidence, its craven, yellow soul.

    The Indian Press (with a solitary exception) blacked out the fervent open letter written by Padma Vibhushan Kaloji Narayana Rao.

    That dear man , clear as a bell in his nineties, had laid his head on my shoulder, hugged me and wept.

    In India today, it is difficult to tell the difference between policeman and journalist, politician and criminal, lawyer and judge, Indian Administrative Service Officer and the village idiot.

    But they all are laughing all the way to their offshore accounts.

    If you would like to know about the sheer impossibility of living a sane, unexploitative, equitable life in India, you and your esteemed visitors may want to visit and participate at

    India’s Home Minister has called on civil society to speak out against Maoist depredations. Will he kindly let me know why Rashtrapathi Bhavan and the Prime Minister’s office have not taken appropriate action on the representations made on my behalf by the former Home Minister Shri Indrajit Gupta, Padma Vibhushan Kaloji Narayana Rao and others ?

    Even as the Prime Minister’s Office maintains a baleful and ignominious silence in my case, it appears to have jumped through hoops to heap honour on a businessman alleged to be a serial swindler .

    Andhra Pradesh High Court’s Pernicious Rebellion Against The Law .05/29/09

    RTI Act 2005 Abuse In Andhra Pradesh- SIC Cheats! Chief Secretary Lies!05/07/09

    Prejudiced CIC Laps Up PMO Lies 05/05/09

    Divakar S Natarajan and Varun Gandhi Cannot Both Be Wrong ! 01/28/09

    And India’s editorial class will not report the story!

    Divakar’s Sathyagraha

    News and views from Divakar S Natarajan’s, “no excuses”, ultra peaceful, non partisan, individual sathyagraha against corruption and for the idea of the rule of law in India.

    Now in its 18th year.

    Any struggle against a predatory authority is humanity’s struggle to honour the gift of life.

    In India today any “aspiration” nursed by the “common man” for integrity, innovation or excellence, can quickly get “him” ostracised if not brutally killed.

    (In the last two months 3Right To Information activists have been murdered. A 12 year old who was raped was expelled from school.)

    And in the clumsy political discourse manufactured by India’s ruling class the “common woman” does not even exist !

    A culture of profiting from deceit and dysfunctionality appears to have enveloped India.

    And even while the Indian political leadership spins technicolour dreams of 21st century superpowerdom, its “politics” are mired in the medieval anachronisms of what I have called the “patronage paradigm – the paradigm of shoddiness, irresponsibility, cronyism and corruption that has cretinised us all”.

    Thanks for your attention, Roopa.
    Welcome to

    • naxal says:

      hi there,

      your words are powerful, i checked out your blog, thank you for taking a stand. but why not share with us the crux of what happened to spark the oppression you’ve faced?

      i think the main concern i have with the times article is that the imperial tone discourages sexual abuse survivors from speaking out for fear of being categorized as a hater. to combat the epidemic we need both accountability and humanization. the way this article was written dipped to liberally into the dehumanization of india.

      keep writing!

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