The sleaze and tease that comprise much of Western television is bombarding India and could ir reparably fragment India's traditional culture through a new form of "cultural imperialism via satellite."
And India's women must be careful to avoid the major error made by the women's rights movement in the United States, which was to ignore the diversity among women.In other words, India would be wise to learn from America's mistakes.
So say two two Weber State University professors who are husband and wife, Raj and Priti Kumar. They recently completed four months of research in India and plan to incorporate insights from their India travels into WSU courses.
Although India has great diversity in languages, customs and religions, Indians in general are quite conservative. Until recently, India's government controlled all television channels but now leases some to private firms. A government film censorship board for many years has strictly regulated the content of movies shown in theaters to such a degree that even spouses could not be shown kissing.
But in their own homes, Indians increasingly are being lured to the tube by such shows as MTV, "Baywatch," "Beavis and Butt-head" and other lowbrow fare because it can be imported inexpensively from the United States and Europe.
Western media moguls Rupert Murdoch and Ted Turner regard India as "one huge market," said Raj Kumar, WSU associate professor of communications. "This is what I mean by cultural imperialism by satellite. They are creating confusion in the minds of the people."
Raj Kumar, a naturalized American citizen, worries about Indians who cannot afford food for their families, yet somehow scrape up money for TV sets and sit glued to "sexy soap operas, simple-minded sitcoms or violent movies."
He fears television's bread-and-circuses seductiveness will dull the minds of millions and keep them from asking hard questions about decent housing, education, food and jobs.
On a personal level, he said he was embarrassed to sit with family members and watch scantily dressed American TV characters. "These people were absolutely hypnotized. If a whole country, millions, watch television like this, do you think it is like a narcotic?" he said.
However, Raj Kumar doesn't advocate government censorship. During a teaching and lecture tour of 13 India universities, he urged students to form public pressure groups to force the media to police itself. He also acknowledges that with new technology, it is nearly impossible to stop the flow of information.
He plans to teach a WSU media class that examines the effect of Western television on Third World countries.
Meanwhile, Priti Kumar is concerned that television's hypnotic spell could lure Indians away from the intellectual effort of reading books. This would be particularly ironic since publishing houses, prodded by the government, have been producing a great deal of India literature.
Priti Kumar, an English and women's studies instructor, researched literature written by India women in English and will offer a new WSU course on that subject this fall.
Twenty-five years ago, such literature was not widely available, but in recent years, it has blossomed and Priti Kumar believes these writings signal important changes for women in India. But she hopes India women learn from the situation in the United States.
"A common criticism among women in the (U.S.) women's movement was that it represents upper middle class or middle class white women and does not take into account ethnic differences or women of color," she said.
India women face problems similar to those of Western women, but they must make their own choices based on who they are, where they come from and the options available to them.
"If we have one set of answers for all problems, how can we solve any problems?" she asked. "Inclusion is the basis of any solution."
Such themes will be reflected in her new course, which she hopes will examine women's issues from a global perspective. She's convinced that literature, with its creative freedom, provides a fine avenue for exploring such ideas. "If we are not learning about other cultures and other people, we are not learning about ourselves and who we are," Priti Kumar said.