(CNN) — A controversial cartoon has shocked India, a nation of 1.4 billion people that has overtaken China as the world’s most populous nation, highlighting what critics say are outdated stereotypes perpetuated by Western media.
The illustration, published last month in the German news magazine Der Spiegel, shows a crowd of jubilant Indians on a crowded old locomotive, many on the roof, as it overtakes a fancy Chinese bullet train.
“West wants to portray India as poor and suffering” wrote Indian legislator Vijayasai Reddy said on Twitter that the cartoon was in “bad taste”.
Other allegations went further.
Hello Germany, this is outrageous racism. wrote On Twitter, Kanjan Gupta, Senior Advisor, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, India.
Population: India overtakes China – © Sabatte, Der Spiegel, Germany> https://t.co/QlRffXMzSe pic.twitter.com/bRbNlP4Dvc
— Chappatte Cartoons (@PatChappatte) April 22, 2023
Within a few years of India’s independence from Great Britain in 1947, the country remained underdeveloped. Average life expectancy at that time was only 37 years for men and 36 years for women, and only 12% of Indians were literate. According to academics, the country’s GDP is only $20 billion.
But more than three-quarters of a century later, critics of the Der Spiegel cartoon say it is unfair to see India from a poverty perspective.
India’s nearly $3 trillion economy is now the world’s fifth largest and one of the fastest growing. The World Bank has upgraded India from low-income to middle-income status, with a per capita gross national income between $1,036 and $12,535.
The literacy rate has increased to 74% for men and 65% for women and the average life expectancy is now 70 years.
Last weekend, India overtook China to become the world’s most populous country, according to United Nations projections, a seismic shift in global population that coincided with confidence in the world’s largest democracy.
call India’s “Population Dividend”Potential economic growth arising from a large working-age population is boosted by the country’s vast consumer market and an affordable labor pool that attracts global investors.
The International Monetary Fund expects the South Asian country to outperform all major emerging and advanced economies this year, with GDP growth of 5.9%. In comparison, the German and British economies are expected to stagnate, while the US is expected to grow by only 1.6%.
It is not wise to bet against India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said Electronics and Information Technology Minister Rajiv Chandrasekhar.
In a few years India’s economy will be bigger than Germany’s. wrote on Twitter.
In a statement to CNN, cartoonist Patrick Sabatte said he was surprised that his illustration in Der Spiegel had become “a geopolitical issue.”
“I was amazed that government officials in such a big country could take a cartoon so seriously and stir up people’s emotions,” he said. “Much of the reaction echoed hatred against the West, a sentiment I can understand: the double standards of Western ideals are something I caricatured.”
Sabbate added that he intended his cartoon to be “good-humoured” and “Indian-friendly”.
“If you look closely, you will notice that his extraordinary convoy is full of youth and energy, as are many of my friends in India, and most importantly, he wins the race!” He said.
CNN has reached out to Der Spiegel for comment.
German Ambassador to India Philipp Ackermann told Indian news agency ANI that the Der Spiegel cartoon “plays on very outdated clichés”.
“I want to invite this cartoonist to come with me on a metro ride in Delhi. “Delhi has the most modern metro,” he said.
However, unlike the capital’s metro system, India’s vast rail network is not all that modern.
Many trains in the country are decades old and dirty, while the tracks need to be renovated. Busy journeys between major cities are often slow, difficult and unsafe. In the financial capital of Mumbai, it is not uncommon to see local trains packed with people, some perched precariously on top.
This is in stark contrast to China, which has built the world’s most extensive high-speed rail network at breakneck speed since the turn of the century.
China has built nearly 42,000 kilometers of dedicated high-speed rail since 2008 and plans to exceed 70,000 kilometers by 2035.
The cartoon’s unfavorable comparison of India to China particularly irritated some critics.
Tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbors have worsened in 2020 after a violent conflict left several soldiers dead on both sides. In recent years, India has moved closer to the West to counter and build on China’s pressure.
“Der Spiegel’s caricature of India bears no resemblance to reality,” Gupta, a top adviser to the government, wrote on Twitter. “The aim is to flatter China by showing India down.”
India’s infrastructure lags far behind its neighbours, with New Delhi working to improve its railways, highways and airports.
Prime Minister Modi pledged $1 trillion by 2021 to create jobs for hundreds of thousands of youth and boost the economy. Earlier this year, the government inaugurated the first section of the 1,386-km expressway connecting New Delhi and Mumbai. Although the exact date is not known, the country plans to open the world’s tallest railway bridge soon.
Along with a bright economic outlook, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has aligned strongly with conservative Hinduism in 2014 – a rise in nationalist sentiment in India since coming to power.
Some BJP ministers have been criticized in the past Attack on media Criticism of India has raised fears of censorship, curtailing press freedom.
In 2021, even right-wing activists and politicians made the call Arrest of a comedian It tackled some of India’s most pressing issues in a powerful monologue, leading some to accuse it of inciting nationalist rhetoric.
“Planned outrage is not uncommon in any nationalist community,” said EP Unni, chief political cartoonist of the Indian Express newspaper. “My problem with the cartoon is that it is bad journalism, not even remotely true.”
He said the Der Spiegel illustration was “a lazy cartoon depicting a cliché frozen in time about India”.
This is not the first time a political cartoon has sparked outrage in India.
In 2014, a New York Times cartoon showed an Indian farmer knocking on the door of an “elite space club” after India’s Mars orbiter mission successfully entered Mars orbit.
The film caused outrage over its racist comments, prompting the publication to issue an apology.
Manjul, a freelance cartoonist who has worked for India’s major newspapers for more than three decades, said stereotyping is a “frequent problem” affecting many people and countries.
“The West has its own worldview, which is not always accurate,” he said. “Similarly, many Indians may be prejudiced against the West. India has progressed and changed significantly in the last 75 years.
But he conceded that it rarely crossed the line into a cartoon, saying instead that it was up to the reader to interpret the image.
Speaking about the Der Spiegel chart, Manjul noted that while some may see it as showing India outpacing China, others may see it as a “negative portrayal of India”.
“However, in my opinion, they are missing the point. The cartoon highlights that India beating China in population growth is not a good thing,” Manjul said.
“Cartoons are a form of harmless commentary,” he added. “Caricature is an art that should be encouraged and supported, despite its negative aspects.”
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