NYT apologises for 'racist' Mangalyaan cartoon on Facebook

The New York Times, which faced criticism over a racist Mangalyaan cartoon, has apologised for the same on it's Facebook page. The cartoon as we had noted earlier in this post, showcased a man wearing a turban and something like a dhoti, dragging a cow along and knocking on the door of the 'Elite Space Club'. The club, which housed only white men, were shown reading a newspaper which had the launch of Mars mission as the top story. The men looked rather curious and apprehensive at the thought of an Indian man knocking at the club's door.

NYT's apology letter post on Facebook reads,

"A large number of readers have complained about a recent editorial cartoon in The International New York Times, about India's foray into space exploration. 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 apologize to readers who were offended by the choice of images in this cartoon. Mr. Heng was in no way trying to impugn India, its government or its citizens. We appreciate that readers have shared their feedback, which we welcome. — Andrew Rosenthal, Editorial Page Editor."

While NYT has chosen to apologise over the cartoon, it hasn't removed the cartoon from the website, making the apology seem merely a lip-service. The international publication's apology was hardly one. To begin with, NYT in their clarification say that the cartoonist - Heng - "often" uses image in a provocative way. If that's the situation, we feel NYT should be extra cautious. Heng through his cartoon showed to the world that he has a very little knowledge of India or he chooses to be ignorant.

The NYT cartoon is seen in this photo.

The NYT cartoon is seen in this photo.

Interestingly, the NYT's Facebook page before the apology was covered is filled with comments in Malayalam. As this report on TheNewsMinute points out that given that Isro is a "mini-Kerala," the subsequent "hurt Malayali pride" led to the trolling.

In fact, the post points out, one person even asked on a long comment written in Malayalam, "what language is this", thus revealing that perhaps for many of NYT's regular Facebook commentors, the onslaught of Malayalam was probably a shock. According to the NewsMinute, while one person wrote, "Till these guys apologise, there is no question of exiting this page. Go call your Obama!," another suggested that they should report the page to Facebook to get it closed.

As far as the cartoon is concerned, we had noted earlier that criticisms which were based on hurt national pride would hardly do justice to the Isro and Mangalyaan mission. For instance Huffington Post blogger, Sharanya Haridas had noted that the cartoon was racist and stereotypical which is all fine but had also felt the need to point out that Isro scientists don't dress up in turbans and drag cows around and that the men wear western clothes as well.

What needs to be pointed out that the Isro mission, isn't just about joining some elite club and while Mangalyaan does show the technical skills that India's space programme possesses, it also offers a very real way of helping the country.

As three scientists from Isro pointed out in an AMA on Reddit, Isro "through its remote sensing and communication programs (IRS and INSAT), we are only helping build an essential infrastructure for the country. We saved millions (of lives and dollars, both) by being well prepared for the cyclone Phailin."

There's no denying that pride and prestige are attached to space missions in India but that doesn't mean they don't hold real consequences for the country. And this is precisely what the NYT cartoon refuses to acknowledge.

Updated Date: Oct 06, 2014 13:49 PM

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