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When a major news outlet like CNN chooses to focus on a humanitarian issue on its front page, it naturally draws attention. Today's focus, widows in India, is particularly interesting to read not because of the article itself, but more so for the reactions of its readers.

On the one hand, you can find a large contingent of Indians quite proud of their heritage and culture and offended by the article.

"I am absolutely outraged at some of the responses here on this story. By focusing on a few cases, the story tries to portray Hinduism in an extremely poor light." - Rohit

"This is at most an isolated case. Hindu tradition and Indian society hasn't ever sanctioned this nonsense. It's believed that yes, dying in certain places in the world does allow one to liberate their soul, but that applies to ANYONE, not just widows." - Varun

"I think this is a grossly exaggerated story. Why is it that CNN always seems to be interested in picking only the negative things about India? Did the author not find a good populace of remarried widows? " - AK

Are they justified? Is CNN making a generally false statement about Hinduism or India? After examining the facts that CNN puts forth, I too am forced to conclude that this is a shoddily written article. Something that belongs to the likes of the 700 Club and Geraldo Rivera. Certainly not of the caliber that one can expect from CNN.

First, Vrindavan draws a disproportionate number of widows. So 15,000 widows in a city of 50,000 is disturbing. But, how do you judge 15,000 homeless widows against a country with 40 million widows? In order to do that, we need to collect data on the total population of homeless widows in India. Let's sit down and chat after that, because till then, all you have is anecdote and conjecture and little else. I don't deny that there is an issue, but I can't appreciate an issue with such flimsy facts. There may be more homeless widows out there, but unless you make the effort to reach out and count them, how do you make people realize the severity of the issue?

Second, there are flimsy attempts to examine the reasons for widow ostracization.

"An educated woman may have money and independence, but even that is snatched away when she becomes a widow." Is it just me or does this statement not contradict itself? What does it mean to have independence when it can be snatched away?

One widow's experience though draws light to what is quite possibly the main reason why widows find little support. Childlessness. To an audience fed on a capitalist society where individuals bear responsibility and joblessness is a negligable factor, that a childless widow has no recourse to support may come as a surprise. But, to a society with a poor history of government social support networks and where a vast number of people rely on their families for support, childless widows are essntially deprived. But of course, it need not be that way. Certainly not in a civilized society. But instead of insisting on more economic growth and government reform, CNN would rather have you believe that this is an issue with Hindu traditions. Yes, it is to an extent, but not to the extent that you can generalize it and call it an "Indian" issue or a "Hindu" problem. Which brings me to my last point - what are India and Hinduism?

At the other end of the comments to the CNN article, you can find people with an unrealistic image of India. I suppose many of them are tired of hearing about Indian family values and how the country is forging ahead on economic terms. So they readily jump on a story like this because it fits that tiresome, Orientalist myth of a superstitious India torn apart by its blind beliefs. The problem here is perception of information. Many people and I'm not sure whether this is the effect of poor schooling, see black for black and white for white. Boys and girls, life isn't a cookie-cutter.

In the end, CNN like many other media outlets will always seek to highlight the news that generates the most controversy. I have yet to see any articles in popular media or elsewhere that offers a holistic examination of India's internal contradictions.

A while ago, Aishwarya Rai was interviewed by David Letterman and asked whether she stays with her parents. It was a deliberately prejudiced question that fetched an even poorer answer from Rai.

My answer to Letterman would have been that modern Indian youth do not necessarily stay with their parents. It can also be viewed that the parents live with them, because after a certain point, it's the younger members of a family who earn more than their previous generation. It's all a matter of perception. But, if you stop at perception, that's all you'll get. The golden standard of truth is further down a prickly road.

Both views of India - a family-loving nation and a widow-rejecting society - are jaundiced, narrow-minded views of a society that has extremes like any other society. In fact, it would more apt to say that India is not merely a society, it is a society of societies. Similarily, Hinduism is as diverse a set of beliefs as are Christianity and Islam. I know that this is rather disappointing news to folks like CNN because they would then have to spend more than a page on their website to cover "Indian society" and Hindu-"ism". It would mean doing some in-depth analysis of a multi-faceted socio-economic problem. I am almost tempted to tell CNN to stick to covering war zone stories and leave the analysis to the experts. Or should I be berated for expecting the golden standard from an attention-deficit media?

Sometimes, I wonder how our Gods end up as characters on underwear, our religion ends up as nothing more than two paragraphs on the caste system in western textbooks and the sitar as a hippy instrument among various other degradations. Chalk it up to sadhus who preach ludicrous cures for cancer! Why does yoga need to be spread this way? Why can't Ramdev encourage people to practise yoga purely for its meditative and stress-busting benefits? Somehow I feel he is no better than the thousands of other "gurus" that have sprung over the last decade who breach their own "brand" of yoga and try to patent it. And if not patent it, try to glorify it beyond what it is.

This constant obsession with glorifying Indian tradition in medicine or any other field is partly borne by an inferiority complex and partly by alienation. Ramdev feels left out of the vast strides that modern medicine is making in tackling diseases. He can in no way contribute to modern pharmaceutical R&D because he doesn't hold any genuine doctorate and probably has not even had a complete education. Instead, he would equate a disease that has its roots in a phenomenon as complicated as mutating cells to something as simple as "wrong breathing".

Now, before all sorts of yoga followers begin criticizing me, I would like to reiterate that my problem lie with the man and his institutional beliefs, not the practice of yoga, which is a very healthy form of exercise. Stick to the fundamentals, yoga = healthy, and the whole world will follow you. But stray from the truth into the land of half-truths and lies and you not only hurt yourself, you also unwittingly hurt that which you espouse.

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