Coverage of Isro's 104-satellite launch still betrays New York Times' condescension

On 28 September, 2014, four days after India successfully placed a spacecraft in orbit around Mars, The New York Times carried a cartoon parodying the country's attempts to enter the space race.

An Isro rocket with 104 satellites takes off from Sriharikota. PTI

An Isro rocket with 104 satellites takes off from Sriharikota. PTI

The cartoon showed an "Elite Space Club" outside which stood an Indian man with a cow, knocking at the door, urging to be let in. The publication was accused of racism and bigotry, and was eventually forced to apologise.

About two and a half years later, after Isro launched a world record 104 satellites into space in just 18 minutes, The Times of India hit back at The New York Times. A cartoon titled 'Line of No Control' was published by the newspaper on Thursday, and with two juxtaposed panels shows how things have turned. The top panel of The Times of India's cartoon shows the original New York Times strip, while the bottom panel features the same Indian man and his cow, this time within the "Elite Space Club". Standing outside this time are the two gentlemen, holding up rockets, one with the American flag on it, and the other — strangely enough — carrying a Swiss flag.

With the two panels, the cartoonist Sandeep Adhwaryu has managed to convey the message that far from being waiting to be let into the elite space club, India now is the elite space club, having won accolades for its thrifty space programme that has still managed to create a world record.

The global media took note of Isro's achievement. While in 2014, the Mangalyaan launch was met with critical coverage by several international media outlets, who chose to highlight the poverty in India, things were a lot more positive this time.

The launch was "another success for the Indian Space Research Organisation, which is rapidly gaining a reputation globally for its effective yet low-cost missions," The Washington Post said, noting that India has already sent up dozens of satellites, including 20 at once last year.

"Forget the US versus Russia. The real space race is taking place in Asia," CNN commented.

The Guardian commented that the record- breaking space launch will help India to cement its place as a serious player in the burgeoning private space market. "India, which became just the sixth nation to launch its own rocket in 1980, has long made space research a priority. The Indian government has increased the budget for its space programme this year and also announced plans to send a mission to Venus," the British paper said.

The BBC, quoting observers, said that Wednesday's space success was a sign that India is emerging as a major player in the multi-billion dollar space market. "The successful launch is yet another feather in the cap of India's ambitious space programme that has earned a reputation of offering a reliable low-cost alternative to existing international players," it said.

However, The New York Times, perhaps finding the old condescension a little too tough to shake off entirely, still retained some of the patronising tone in its coverage. A report titled 'India Launches 104 Satellites From a Single Rocket, Ramping Up a Space Race', said, "India is fascinated with world records, and Wednesday’s satellite launch prompted a wave of celebratory crowing, some of it aimed at Asian rivals... The Isro has gained attention in recent years for staging successful missions at very low cost, in part because its scientists are paid less."

With inputs from PTI

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Updated Date: Feb 17, 2017 13:00:38 IST

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