The Commonwealth Games are upon us. It should be a festive occasion, but instead Delhi seems oddly quiet. I live near one of the Games stadiums, and I’ve seen far more stern, gun-wielding policemen than enthusiastic athletes or fans. Street vendors and beggars have been kicked out of the city. Even stray dogs are being rounded up and carted away (to where and to what fate, I dare not ask). Delhi is trying its best to present a sanitized image of itself to the world, and, in the process, it’s losing its raucous charm.Foreign news groups aren’t fooled by this sleight-of-hand, but that’s largely because they are eagerly seeking whatever squalor they can find. While there are many valid criticisms of the Games – its environmental impact, its spiraling economic costs, its deleterious effect on Delhi’s citizens, especially the city’s poorest – most international news coverage prior to the Games focused instead on the “filthy” condition of Games’ facilities. “Oh, these developing countries,” was the tone of these media reports. “Can’t they do anything right?”
The pre-Games news coverage also played up the exoticism of the locale, with Reuters reporting on a snake found in the Commonwealth Games Village. To be fair, this story was not entirely a media creation; South Africa’s High Commissioner to India, apparently a master of hyperbole, called the snake – and the filth – “really a threat to the lives of our athletes.”
However, the condescension implicit in many articles on Delhi’s unhygienic conditions did make its way to the surface in an unbelievably immature TV segment. A New Zealand TV host – who has since been fired – giggles like a second-grader while repeating the Indian surname Dikshit, before saying, “And it’s so appropriate because she’s Indian.” Of course, the New York Times or the BBC would never make such insensitive and juvenile comments, but behind many of their stories lies the same sense of superiority.
It’s not all racism and superficiality from the media, though. I have to give props to my hometown newspaper, the Boston Globe, for publishing some stunning photos of the run-up to the Games. Yes, some stereotypes are there – the women in saris, the man on an elephant – but the photos also show both the grinding poverty and the flashy new appearance of the city. It’s the poverty that will live on long after the pomp of the Games has passed.