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Understanding India

This seems to be Via Meadia’s day to praise the New York Times.  Besides publishing an important story on poverty, the NYT also deserves credit for a blog post that sheds light on modern India for a western audience. Such coverage of culture is often overlooked by the western press. The post, on the India Ink blog, is a profile of the “entertainer” caste in India, a low caste typically pigeonholed into occupations like dancing, sex work, and acrobatics.  A careful reader will learn much about how India is and isn’t changing and about the sometimes complex dynamics of child labor.

“The children work for the community,” Barsati’s brother, Manish, tells me. “We did the same thing when we were their age. But once we grew big, around 13, 14, we had to stop. Who gives big children money? So what could we do? We stopped working, we married, we had children, and our children started to perform. Now we move with them, protect them. When they come of age they’ll stop and be like us. This is our tradition.”

As an isolated, one-shot story, this would not be a particularly enlightening piece: mysterious people behaving exotically far, far away.  But the blog entry comes as part of a sustained effort to cover India from many angles and points of view.  In the 21st century, Americans are going to need to know India and China as deeply as they learned to understand Europe in the 20th; congratulations to the Times for helping to redress the gaping holes in US knowledge about the world’s largest democracy.

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  • Anthony

    WRM, cultural legacies encountering modern/democratic/economic/technological restructuring are almost as old as humanity. To quote God and Gold: “They wept like anything to see Such quanties of sand: If this were only cleared away, They said, it would be grand.” Conditions and existence in foreign countries (India in this instance) linked to traditions should inform us but not readily alarm us (all beaches cannot be cleared of sand).

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