Poverty: The Icon of India

Contributed by Shivani Sethi

A few days ago I was conversing with a teacher about my future trip to India. A student who apparently overheard our conversation mumbled, "why would anyone want to visit a third world country?" I longed to fiercely reprimand him but I couldn't. There was nothing to say. It is a fact. India is a third world country. Poverty is the reigning icon of India. Thats not to say I'm ashamed my parents were born in India or that I hide my Indian identity. On the contrary, I'm proud to be an Indian American and would like to place an accent on the hidden beauty of India rather than it's poverty.

Poverty, illiteracy, over population, and government corruption are the issues concerning India most often exploited by the media. Although the United States of America also suffers from poverty, illiteracy, over population in certain areas and other problems such illegal immigration and welfare abuse, these problems are not overly publicized. Instead the universal media has depicted the U.S. as being an omnipotent power withholding unlimited wealth, excelling in the production of luxurious automobiles, and boasting of extensive armed forces. The U.S. is able to lend protection to foreign countries and serve as a role model for countries without a structured government however, it does have its fair share of problem situations, many of which are similar to those of India.

As a proud young Indian American I often wish that when I speak highly of my country I can see the heads of fellow Americans nodding in agreement. Instead I'm often faced with situations similar to that with my ignorant classmate who failed to revere the cultural richness of India and instead recognized India as a mere third world country. India should represent a strong culture with high family values. Women are respected and worshipped as goddesses in many festivals. Although some may not agree with the concept of the arranged marriage system, no one can deny that those who follow the traditional Indian marriage system are deserve great respect. Both the groom and the bride must have complete faith that their family members will choose a suitable life companion for him/her. The arranged marriage system is still prominent in India today. The divorce rate in India in comparison to the divorce rate in the United States is ironically lower. These statistics represent the tolerance, values, and beauty reflected by Indian culture.

Immigrants from India residing in the U.S.A. are living comparatively better than many other immigrants. A vast populace of Chinese and Japanese immigrants come to the U.S.A. bringing all of their wealth which they have earned as well as borrowed from relatives and then begin to build on top of the already existent foundation of wealth. Indians however, start from scratch. Many of these Indians who once came to the U.S.A. with nothing but a strong desire to succeed, have today become role models for the future generations. Dr. C. Kumar Patel who is UCLA's Vice Chancellor of Research and a professor of Electrical Engineering and Physics, holds 35 major scientific patents and inventions. President Bill Clinton named Dr. Patel to receive the National Medal of Science. This is America's highest scientific honor given each year. Indian women are also receiving recognition. In fact, Sushmita Sen and Aishwarya Rai recently received worldwide applause. Sushmita Sen paraded with elegance after winning the title of Miss Universe. Aishwarya Rai flashed a radiant smile after winning the Miss World contest.

The media and those ignorant to the richness of Indian culture may falsely depict India as symbolic of a culture revolving around poverty, illiteracy, and corruption. The fact is that poverty exists everywhere. India has three times the population of America but it doesn't have three times the space. Poverty under these circumstances is inevitable. The existence of poverty in India should not be able to hide the wealth. India holds a different type of wealth: cultural wealth. Illiteracy is prominent in certain areas similar to the situation in America where illiteracy is mostly prominent in ghetto areas. In India, the state of Kerala has 100% literacy. Corruption, similar to poverty, is inevitable. Situations which exist in India are also existent in the U.S.A.

India's icon is falsely identified as poverty. India's image has been distorted by both the media and those who ignorant towards Indian culture. This ignorance should not hinder the pride and reverence Indians carry for their culture and homeland. We must continue scratching at the dark scab of poverty which covers the deep wound left from India's noble struggle for Independence which was fought with dignity, not bloodshed, and encouraged the emergence of admirable leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Slowly, the scab will begin to disappear and reveal the healing wound which is gradually being soothed by India's strides toward success. Mark my words: India is on its way to becoming a world power.

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