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Thursday, October 16, 2014

entering Mars orbit - Pride for India .... unbecoming cartoon of New York Times

Every Indian is feeling happy with the success of the mission of -  Mars Orbiter Mission popularly “ Mangalyaan ” now hovering Mars.   The Mars Orbiter Mission probe lifted-off from the First Launch Pad at Satish Dhawan Space Centre (Sriharikota Range SHAR), Andhra Pradesh, using a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) rocket C25  on 5 November 2013. With  India's first interplanetary mission, ISRO became  the fourth space agency to reach Mars, after the Soviet space program, NASA, and the European Space Agency.  The Nation’s joy knew no bounds when it successfully entered the orbit of the Red planet on 24th Sept 2014.  The spacecraft entered into an elliptical orbit around Mars. After its successful entry,  ISRO’s Mars Orbiter has sent pictures of Phobos — the largest of the two natural satellites that orbit around Mars.

Just as quickly as the rocket was launched - Western journalists who marvelled the moon walk in their childhood were out to unnecessary provocation – coming as it did from media houses was rankling.   Many  chose to include poverty right in the headline: “India Mars Mission to Launch Amidst Overwhelming Poverty.” – screamed one…… note the poverty was with adjective  “overwhelming poverty”.  To them poverty is not a global phenomenon – developing Nations like India need to solve poverty and not think of moon, mars or space.  Guardian’s note was sour. It read: “ISRO to launch India’s first spacecraft to Mars: Critics of Britain’s aid programme in the country have also been angered by the mission. The UK gives India around 300m each year.”  So, to them, the India is dependent on their aid and should not be meddling on Science and technology initiatives. This Economist article was querying - How can poor countries afford space programmes?

Now months after its launch, the Indian satellite successfully orbited  into Martian space in what was described as “a triumph of frugal engineering,” – the Western media including BBC, The Guardian, The New York Times and The Washington Post mentioned the fact  that India was the first country, in the world and in Asia, to put a satellite in the Martian orbit in the first attempt.  Then there were global concerns in the international media as to how India could bear the costs of such a mission in the face of its poverty issues.

The New York Times published a cartoon ridiculing the effort, portraying  a man wearing a turban and a dhoti, dragging a cow along - 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.

Days later, New York Times posted an apology letter on its FB page reading : "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. Perhaps, to them by simply saying that cartoonist Heng often uses image in a provocative way, provocation this time too was justified. There were many comments from India, in Malayalam too on the FB page.  They were not alone as Huffington Post blogger also 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.

It is not all about joining any elite club – it is more of Scientific advancement and help for the Nation.  As pointed out by Scientists of 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 is justifiable pride in these space missions as India is prepared to spend on such technological advancements for taking the Nation in to higher orbit. India's space mission cost around Rs 450 crore, or nearly $74 million, and cost roughly a tenth of NASA's Mars mission Maven spacecraft that also reached the planet's orbit a few days ahead of Mangalyaan.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar                                                            16th Oct 2014.

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