At the Bildkorrekturen conference we met Medha, a research fellow and doctoral candidate at the German Institute for Global and Area Studies (GIGA) in Hamburg. She did her Master in Media Sciences with a focus on Conflict Studies in Denmark and the United Kingdom. She spent the last years in India, Canada, and Germany, sometimes working as a scientist and sometimes as a journalist. At the Bildkorrekturen conference, she was taking part in a panel about digitalization in India. Afterwards, we interviewed her about the role of minorities in India and how the Internet can help them to express their identity.

Pictures by Sarah Pache.
      
    

Sarah Pache and Sören Götz: Medha, why do you only have a first name, what about your family name? 

This has to do with my grandmother. The last names in India often reflect the cast one belongs to, so she decided to give up the cast name to show solidarity with everyone. It has become a family tradition not to use the last name. My grandmother was of course not the only person who did this, there were several other people at the same time who decided that we probably need to give up the last name. It is one way of erasing distinction, because it leaves no way to find out who you are, at least not because of your name. Recently, there has been a petition in India, that we should get rid of cast space last names. Which is a good thing on one level, it takes care of everyday discrimination that happens, but on the other hand it really doesn´t address structural choice. I come from a higher cast family, we have been more privileged than someone else with a lower cast background. For example, my grandmother did have a PhD in the 1950s, a time when literacy level in India was really low. So for me it was much easier to go into higher education and to do any kind of profession than for someone whose family had to struggle for a longer time. So a lot more needs to be done beyond dropping the second name.

Does it maybe help to move away from one’s home town?

 Those identities are much more rigid in rural than in urban areas. Also, if you grow up in a certain area and remain there, then it is more likely that you are identified as belonging to a cast, but if you move out of this space and go somewhere else, that part of your identity gets lost, in the sense that people may not be able to immediately recognize which cast you belong to. It creates a sense of fluent identity and anonymity when you move out of your home space, but in some ways, of course, you still must deal with that baggage.

More and more Indians also have a digital life. Is it possible to change your identity by retreating to the Internet in which cast does not matter?

 The Internet definitely provides space. Online, a lot of people from lower casts found space to voice their opinions and to form coalitions across the country and even beyond, organizing themselves. So yes, the Internet is a platform for highlighting issues. Cast is not disappearing in India, though, if we just deny that it exists.

Apart from cast, another social divide in India is religion. What is needed to let the Muslim minority participate in society and to give them chances like everyone else?

 When Muslims are marginalized in India, it often has to do with the socio-economic status. There was a community report looking at the living conditions of Muslims in India and it was found that they´re among the poorest groups in India despite efforts right from the beginning in India to establish a more plural multicultural identity for India. But that was done more on a legal level rather than on the ground. So it left a lot of Muslims marginalized from the mainstream in the sense that they´re much more likely to go to religious schools and therefore they do not have as much scientific education as the others. Also, the government is a Hindu oriented government, so it has also done much to marginalize Muslims in the social sphere. That said, there have always been prejudices separating Hindus and Muslims. It’s not that they cannot live together, but for example they do not marry each other, which is considered a taboo.

Is the situation even worse for female Muslims?

 They are often seen as double marginalized because the Muslim community is marginalized and women are marginalized, too. But I’m not sure whether this picture is true because they have formed associations even before the digital era. Those associations are working on issues that they have and making sure that they get education. What makes it difficult for Muslim women is that in India, we have a kind of personal law, as it is called, which deals with property, inheritance and marriage. It is different in every community since each religion can decide what works best for them, which has led to different laws, many of them discriminating against women. So, for instance if you get married under the Hindu marriage act, there are certain marriage-portions that the husband gets. If you are married Muslim, the husband can have four wives and can divorce three times. Christians, on the other hand, often cannot get a divorce because they must get the agreement from the church.

Do these community laws strengthen stereotypes?

 Yes, in a way they reinforce prejudices. These laws originate in the colonial time when the British government saw India divided into different communities and what they realized was that if they interfere with traditions of communities, protests were more likely. So they let each community deal with these matters in their own way. Recently, there is a movement to finally have a uniform civil code. Of course, there is need to ensure that women get equal rights within all communities, but very often the Hindu right wing party uses the Muslim personal law for further marginalizing Muslim women. It is similar to what happens when the headscarf issue comes up in Germany. It becomes a feminist issue according to a lot of people because Islam per se marginalizes women and we need to bring them into the mainstream and the best way to do it is to get rid of the head scarf. So it reduces a complicated issue to a very small thing. Similarly, this tripled divorce issue is completely unfair for women of course because it is only the men who can use the law.

In which way can the Internet contribute to empower women?

 I´m not sure if the digital media is the solution to everything because it does not reach everyone. Even though mobile phone penetration is really high in India, women are less likely to use it. These prejudices are spread across communities: Muslim men, for example, are likely to prevent women from using the Internet as likely as Hindu men, both are the patriarchal institution. So what is actually needed is ground work with people rather than through the digital media. However, we can use the Internet to amplify voices and bring them to the attention of the people and attention of the government, but it is really a minor proportion of the population that can actually utilize it.

The Bildkorrekturen conference is not only about digitalization but also tries to question stereotypes spread by the media. How does the German journalism represent India?

 In contemporary German media, there are two rather contradicting ways in which German journalism represents India. On the one hand, India is presented as the world’s largest democracy, a rising power, and a software powerhouse with a large and skilled population. In terms of depictions of India as a large, but chaotic democracy, it is often favorably contrasted with China. On the other hand, images of India as socially regressive and especially genderIm Englischen wird zwischen dem biologischen Geschlecht "Sex", und dem soziokulturellen Geschlecht Gender", unterschieden. Im Deutschen gib es allerdings nur einen Oberbegriff: "Geschlecht". Im Englischen wird zwischen dem biologischen Geschlecht "Sex", und dem soziokulturellen Geschlecht Gender", unterschieden. Im Deutschen gib es allerdings nur einen Oberbegriff: "Geschlecht". Gender“ drückt aus, dass geschlechtsspezifische Zuschreibungen dynamisch und veränderbar sind. Der Begriff geht über die biologische Unterscheidung zwischen Geschlechtern hinaus. Gender“ drückt aus, dass geschlechtsspezifische Zuschreibungen dynamisch und veränderbar sind. Der Begriff geht über die biologische Unterscheidung zwischen Geschlechtern hinaus. unfriendly continue to persist. In this respect, news about rapes and genderIm Englischen wird zwischen dem biologischen Geschlecht "Sex", und dem soziokulturellen Geschlecht Gender", unterschieden. Im Deutschen gib es allerdings nur einen Oberbegriff: "Geschlecht". Im Englischen wird zwischen dem biologischen Geschlecht "Sex", und dem soziokulturellen Geschlecht Gender", unterschieden. Im Deutschen gib es allerdings nur einen Oberbegriff: "Geschlecht". Gender“ drückt aus, dass geschlechtsspezifische Zuschreibungen dynamisch und veränderbar sind. Der Begriff geht über die biologische Unterscheidung zwischen Geschlechtern hinaus. Gender“ drückt aus, dass geschlechtsspezifische Zuschreibungen dynamisch und veränderbar sind. Der Begriff geht über die biologische Unterscheidung zwischen Geschlechtern hinaus. violence against women receives prominence. In both cases, the media often ends up producing a unidimensional view of India as romantically positive or entirely negative and thus often ignoring the nuances.

           

Since Medha is an expert for both Indian and German culture, we asked her to show us the stereotypical image of an Indian woman. And what the cliché of a German in India is.