New York Time Cartoon belittles ISRO Success

Editorial Page Editor apologises after public outcry

A cartoon published by New York Times has been widely criticized for its unjust and racial nature showing the Indians in poor light and belittling the landmark achievement by the proud Indian scientists. The cartoon depicts Indians wearing turbans and dragging cows wherever they go including the Elite Space Club. Sharanya Haridas an accomplished journalist and writer of Indian origin who settled in New York says that the so called Elite Space Club is no more there and it is open for any country to become a member. Here is the piece written by Sharanya in her webzine.

Sharanya Haridas

Sharanya Haridas

 

(Sharanya Haridas is a writer and journalist based in New York City. She is the founder of ThatsSoGloss.com — a young women’s webzine in India, and former editor of The Fifth Estate. She is a graduate of Columbia University and IIT Madras.)

 

Last week, India became the first Asian nation to reach Mars, and the first in the world to do so on its first attempt.

The spacecraft called Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) in English and “Mangalyaan” or “mars craft” in Hindi was launched in November and reached the orbit on Wednesday, too much jubilation from the public.

India’s first interplanetary mission is all the more creditable because, at $72 million, Mangalyaan cost just a fraction of NASA’s $670 million Maven, and $2 billion Curiosity Rover. It also cost less than to produce the film Gravity, and at Rs.7 or 11 cents, per kilometer, cost less than the per-kilometer cost of commuting by autorickshaw in most Indian cities.

So yesterday’s New York Times’ comic by Heng, titled “India’s budget mission to Mars” seems in poor taste.

A cartoon published by New York Times.

A cartoon published by New York Times.

The comic depicts a poor Indian farmer in traditional garb, accompanied by a bored-looking cow, eagerly knocking on the door of “Elite Space Club”. The two people in the elite space club drinking wine and reading about India’s mission in the papers look perturbed and hesitant to open the door. It is also worth noting that the members of the elite space club are male, white, elderly and look wealthy. Whether meant to be funny or ironic, the racial, national and classist stereotyping is apparent.

In reaching Mars, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) joins the ranks of Soviet space program, NASA and European Space Agency. It not only did so on a budget, but also battling “brain drain”. It’s a commonly lamented problem that many of the country’s brightest scientists and engineers end up working internationally, and tend to shy away from research in India, especially an area like space research, because it’s not as lucrative.

The comic strip comes at the time of Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s maiden visit to the United States. Addressing a 20,000 strong crowd at Manhattan’s iconic Madison Square Garden yesterday, he emphasized India’s new role on the world stage and its growing economic clout. “When people ask if we still play with snakes in our country, I tell them that now we play with the mouse,” Mr Modi said, drawing attention to the changing stereotype of India from a nation of snake charmers to one of technical prowess.

Andrew Rosenthal, Editorial page Editor of the New York Times

Andrew Rosenthal, Editorial page Editor of the New York Times

Here is how NYT retracted:

After a “large number of readers” complained about the cartoon, Andrew Rosenthal, editorial page editor of the New York Times, wrote in a Facebook post: “The intent of the cartoonist, Heng Kim Song, was to highlight how space exploration is no longer the exclusive domain of rich, Western countries.”

“Mr Heng, who is based in Singapore, uses images and text – often in a provocative way – to make observations about international affairs. We apologise to readers who were offended by the choice of images in this cartoon.”

 

The following is the full text of the apology rendered by the NYT:

Apology rendered by the NYT on Facebook.

Apology rendered by the NYT on Facebook.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Courtesy: Huffingtonpost, NDTV

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