Sunday, February 14, 2021

The White Tiger: An Incisive Social Commentary on Religion, Caste, Class and Democracy in India

Few films about India offer the kind of incisive social commentary that the recently released "The White Tiger" does. Based on a novel of the same name by Aravind Adiga, it tells  the story of a poor but ambitious young man from a village in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. The film touches on religion, caste, class and democracy in India. It is directed by Iranian-American director Ramin Bahrani and now available on Netflix. 

The White Tiger: Adarsh Gourav, Priyanka Chopra and Rajkummar Rao


The movie opens with a scene showing Balram Halwai (Adarsh Gourav) looking back at his life. It follows up with a series of long flashbacks to tell his story. Along the way, Balram sarcastically compares India's democracy with China's sanitation system. “If I were in charge of India, I’d get the sewage pipes first, then the democracy.” Numerous scenes in the film illustrate poor sanitation in India by showing Balram and others squatting and defecating in the open

Raised in an Indian village, Balram is determined to rise above his "halwai" (confectioner) caste in India's rigidly defined caste system which makes any such escape extremely difficult. He persuades a corrupt landlord known as the Stork (Mahesh Manjrekar) and his son Ashok (Rajkummar Rao) to give him a job as a back-up driver.  Ashok is married to Pinky (Priyanka Chopra Jonas), a chiropractor who grew up in the United States.   

Balram soon replaces the primary driver (Girish Pal) by revealing his Muslim identity which he was hiding to work for the Islamophobic Stork. Balram spends most of his time working for Ashok.  Ashok’s older brother, referred to as Mukesh Sir or the Mongoose (Vijay Maurya), doesn't  particularly like Balram. Unlike Ashok who has studied abroad, the Mongoose character accepts India’s culture of corruption and participates in it willingly. The Mongoose visits Delhi regularly to help Ashok distribute bags full of cash to politicians and bureaucrats. He also helps Ashok deal with his sadness when Pinky suddenly leaves him to return to the United States.  

The White Tiger is a well-made film. I recommend it to anyone interested in understanding the real life in India

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7 comments:

Amjad M. said...

Very well made movie.
Director did a good job addressing very depressing issues while keeping audience glued to their couches.

Kudos to Netflix.

Riaz Haq said...

Hate factory: Inside #BJP leader Kapil Mishra’s ‘Hindu Ecosystem’. Mishra is leading a network of over 20,000 people who are working in an organized fashion to create and spread hatred against #Muslims. #Hindu #Modi #Hindutva #Islamophobia #India https://www.newslaundry.com/2021/02/15/we-infiltrated-the-telegram-groups-of-the-bjp-leaders-online-network-to-see-what-they-do

All the ecosystem members need to do is hit “Tweet” and, boom, Twitter spammed! If enough people spam it at the right time, the hashtag starts trending. Just scroll down this trend and you can spot the pattern easily.

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If the ever-growing reality of Hindu Rashtra were one big Christmas, Kapil Mishra would be Santa Claus, and the members of his “Hindu Ecosystem” hardworking elves delivering the gift of religious hatred and bigotry, packaged in the seductive wrapping of Hindutva, to the masses, secretly but methodically.

On November 16 last year, Mishra, a former Aam Aadmi Party minister who is now with the BJP and has been accused of inciting the February 2020 Delhi carnage by the victims and activists, posted a tweet asking whoever was interested to fill in a form and join what he described as the “Hindu Ecosystem” team.

The form is straightforward – seeking such details as name, cellphone number, state and country of residence – but for one standout question. It asks the prospective footsoldier of the Hindu Ecosystem to state their “special area of interest” and, lest it wasn’t clear what that meant, gives a set of examples.

It also asks them to make a “declaration” about joining the group online and/or on the ground. Our curiosity was heightened and, of course, we had to join. We filled in the form and became members of the Telegram group. We were later added to other associated groups.


Thus we came to have a fly-on-the-wall view of how this ecosystem operates, how it creates propaganda material, how it comes up with toxic narratives, and how it manufactures trends across social media platforms to whip up communal hatred and bigotry, and, of course, support for Hindutva. Oh, they also share toolkits, like the one put out by the climate advocate Greta Thunberg to support the farmer protests over which the Delhi police have lodged an FIR, and arrested a young activist named Disha Ravi.

This is the sum of what we found: Kapil Mishra is leading a network of over 20,000 people who are working in an organised fashion to create and spread communal hatred.

Welcome to hate factory

On November 27, Misra posted a video for members of his network announcing that their first campaign would begin at 10 am that day, using the hashtag #JoinHinduEcosystem.

He said about 27,000 people had filled in the form and nearly 15,000 people had joined the Telegram group. Additionally, 5,000 people had signed up with the Hindu Ecosystem’s “Twitter team”. No points for guessing what social and gender groups the members came from: going by the usernames they were mostly upper caste Hindu men.

Riaz Haq said...

Hate factory: Inside #BJP leader Kapil Mishra’s ‘Hindu Ecosystem’. Mishra is leading a network of over 20,000 people who are working in an organized fashion to create and spread hatred against #Muslims. #Hindu #Modi #Hindutva #Islamophobia #India https://www.newslaundry.com/2021/02/15/we-infiltrated-the-telegram-groups-of-the-bjp-leaders-online-network-to-see-what-they-do


As of publishing this story, we have exited all the groups as our journalistic fly-on-the-wall purpose has been achieved.

If you don’t yet fully grasp the gravity of what’s being done through groups such as the Hindu Ecosystem, allow us to spell it out: they are fountains of misinformation, propaganda, directed hatred. They create and spread, in an organised way, Hindu supremacist and anti-minority bile, and incite communal hatred.

We joined Kapil Mishra’s group without expectation, only to witness a factory of hate and propaganda operating in real time. Over 20,000 people are working in a coordinated way to incite communal hatred; it doesn’t matter what event pops up on their radar they quickly give it a hateful spin and turn it into a conspiracy theory, complete with readily shareable images, videos, and forwards to tap into the hate-network effect.

As we were about to exit the group, we saw the hate factory begin circulating a video that purportedly shows a mob attacking a house as the Delhi police stand by.


Shazad S. said...

Nice review. I had watched it previously.

The same is true for Pakistan as well. Its extremely hard to escape your circumstances.

Riaz Haq said...

Shazad: "The same is true for Pakistan as well. Its extremely hard to escape your circumstances"

In spite of all its problems Pakistan still offers better upward mobility than India, according to data from multiple independent sources.

Please read this: http://www.riazhaq.com/2019/11/upward-income-mobility-in-pakistan.html

Riaz Haq said...

#India's "Untouchable" #Dalits Face Discrimination by upper #caste #Indians in #US: “I was slowly pushed out of the Indian social circle among my colleagues, and then my errors were magnified by a Brahmin boss who made it difficult to keep working there" http://entm.ag/ZGuzNN

When Nitesh (name changed on request) immigrated to Michigan to work for a Fortune 500 company, he was unaware that caste prejudices would follow him from his hometown in southern India.

The 44-year-old ended up working as a tech specialist at a company employing many high-caste Indians. Nitesh is a Dalit, a member of India’s lowest caste, once referred to as “Untouchables.” He enjoyed his job and got along well with his colleagues until one of them found out about his background.

“I was slowly pushed out of the Indian social circle among my colleagues, and then my errors were magnified by a Brahmin boss who made it difficult to keep working there,” he said. I hung on long enough to get a green card and moved to the Silicon Valley, but many companies there were headed by casteist Indians, who had a problem with working with a Dalit: I stopped hiding my caste.”

Most senior executives in the U.S. of Indian origin come from privileged high-caste backgrounds, with less than 2 percent of Indian immigrants belonging to lower castes. Nitesh and others interviewed by The Vertical say caste-based discrimination is rampant around the country.

According to study conducted by U.S. non-profit Equity Labs, two out of three Dalits reported unfair treatment in the workplace, and 60 percent of Dalits reported caste-based derogatory jokes or comments.

Last July, California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a suit in a federal court against Cisco Systems for allegedly failing to prevent discrimination and harassment against a Dalit engineer.

“I walked out on this kind of behavior, but with the queue for green cards getting longer each year, those on H-1B visas deal with discrimination,” Nitesh says. “I started a marketing technology company in North Carolina and there’s been no looking back for me.”

Nitesh employs 30 people from several backgrounds. “Getting away from the Indian community was a blessing for me,” he adds. “Americans do not ask you your last name to deduce your caste and place you in a hierarchy.”

Nitesh says he hasn’t faced discrimination from white Americans or any minority group in the U.S.

Entrepreneurship as a tool of empowerment
Maya (name changed) came to the U.S. in 2008 on a T visa, which allows some human trafficking victims to remain in the country for up to 4 years, provided they help law enforcement investigate and prosecute their traffickers. She has since managed to acquire permanent resident status and now runs an Indian food catering business in New York City.

“We have a wide range of clients and I provide traditional food from Gujarat, but the dishes are modified for non-Indian clients to suit their palate,” she said. “Although the pandemic affected my business, we have managed to stay afloat.” Maya learned English after moving to the U.S. and employs 10 people.

“I find having my own business both liberating and empowering,” Maya adds. “Being a woman and a Dalit made it far worse for me in India, but here it is easier to blend into a wider multicultural society.”

In India, women from the lowest caste are particularly vulnerable to discrimination and sexual violence. On average, ten Dalit women are raped in the country every day by higher-caste men. Most of the offenders get away with their crimes.

Not all the Dalits that this publication spoke to wanted to hide their identities. Vijay Shanker, who is originally from the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, moved to the U.S. as a professional in 2000 and became an entrepreneur six years later. He founded h3 Technologies, an information technology solutions company that focuses on consulting, product development, and staffing.

Riaz Haq said...

Only 7% of urban #Indian #women have paid jobs.....the share of Indian women who actually find a perch in the workforce is lower than in #SaudiArabia, where 22% do. 53% of #Indonesian women have jobs.
https://www.economist.com/leaders/2021/02/20/only-7-of-urban-indian-women-have-paid-jobs


But the dearth of working women in India is not simply a reflection of cultural preferences. Many women on the sidelines of the economy are not there by choice. They say they would like to work if they could. Were they all to get their wish, it would add over 100m women to the workforce, by one calculation. That is more than the total number of workers, male and female, in France, Germany and Italy combined.

Moreover, Indians are not as hostile to women in work as the employment numbers suggest. Their answers to questions like “Should men have more right to a job than women?” are more egalitarian than poll responses in Indonesia, where fully 53% of women pursue work outside the home. Despite that, the share of Indian women who actually find a perch in the workforce is a shade lower than in Saudi Arabia, where 22% do. And in so far as social attitudes do hold women back, they are not immutable. Indeed, employing women is often a catalyst for social enlightenment, rather than a consequence of it.

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India will soon end China’s long run as the world’s most populous country. But by some projections its workforce will not exceed China’s until mid-century, even though Indians are much younger. One reason is that so few women in India are in paid work (see article). The International Labour Organisation says that only a fifth of adult women had a job or sought one in 2019, compared with three-fifths in China. The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, a local research firm, put the share of urban women in or looking for work at just 7% in November.During the pandemic, women have typically been the first in India to lose their jobs and the last to regain them. School shutdowns have forced some to drop out of the labour force to look after children who would normally be in class. Young women who have been unable to study, train or work during the pandemic are being married off instead. That is a worrying development. Whereas women in other countries often withdraw from the workforce when burdened with a child, women in India drop out when burdened with a husband.Some would say that nothing should, or can, be done about this. If Indian women choose not to work outside the home, the argument runs, that is their business. Dropping out of the labour force is a status symbol for upwardly mobile households, showing they are able to get by on the husband’s earnings alone.