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Indian-American organisations slam Glenn Beck

By Aziz Haniffa
Last updated on: December 17, 2009 11:50 IST
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Several Indian American organizations, including the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin--arguably the largest and most influential international medical group in the US--and leading Hindu leaders have blasted Fox News' conservative talk show host Glenn Beck for insulting medical care in India and joking that the holy river Ganga sounded like a disease.

Dr Vinod Shah, president of AAPI, said, "Having carefully read the transcript of Beck's comments, we are disappointed by his careless reference to the quality of medical schools in India.Many Indian American physicians received their medical education in India, and combined with top medical training in the United States, they have contributed enormously to their local communities," Shah noted. "Additionally, physicians of Indian origin around the world from Canada, the UK, and other nations who received their medical education in India, have made great strides in delivering quality health care to millions of patients on a global scale."

Shah said, "We understand that Mr Beck's comments were directed toward the Department of Labor and labor unions, and his statement about medical schools in India was in response to an American woman who received a hip replacement in India, a surgery that costs much more here in the United States. Beck erroneously claimed that the higher costs were attributable to the quality of the medical school a physician attends, comparing Harvard to schools in India."

Shah argued that "however, the higher medical costs in the United States have nothing to do with where a doctor went to medical school. They have to do with much higher labor, overhead and infrastructure costs, and a constant threat of liability and litigation, resulting in needless lawsuits, defensive medicine, and higher medical malpractice insurance rates.We are disappointed by Beck's comments and offended by his stereotypical references to India, disease, and the Ganga. We do hope he will make efforts in the future to engage in discussions that are not only accurate, but civil as well," the AAPI president said.

Beck, whom Time magazine described as a 'Mad Man' had on the December 9 episode of his weekday show, compared getting medical care in India--called medical tourism--as akin to buying a counterfeit Gucci handbag on the streets of New York.

Playing a clip of a video testimonial of an American woman named Karlyn Zimbelman, who said she had gotten a hip replacement in India for less than one-third of the cost in the US and wondered why--while the health care system in the US was excellent--other countries could do the same procedures for a lot less, Beck said, 'Get this, it is cheaper to get health care in India. Who would have guessed?  He then added sarcastically, 'If you have a choice between getting a hip replacement surgery at the Mumbai Clinic at Punjab or the Mayo Clinic—I'm gonna go for the Mayo Clinic.' About India, he said, 'I'm sure it's beautiful and everything…especially this time of year…especially by that one big river they have there that sounds like a disease.' 'If somebody said, "I'm sorry, you have a really bad case of Ganga," you'd want Cipro,' Beck said.

The US-India Political Action Committee also condemned Beck's insulting remarks about India, its religious heritage and Indian physicians calling it "offensive and in poort taste." USINPAC chairman, Sanjay Puri said, "I am deeply disappointed at the conduct of Glenn Beck. In trying to get some cheap laughs, Beck has ridiculed India's heritage by low and derogatory comments. His remarks about the Ganga, an important part of a lot of Indian spirituality and culture, are especially offensive. He has mocked India's medical education system in an attempt to advance his view on domestic health reform," Puri added, and noted, "This is the same medical system where a large number of the over 40,000 US physicians of Indian origin were educated! I ask Glenn Beck to apologize to the nearly three million Indian Americans for this appalling behavior immediately."

Bhavna Shinde of Forum for Hindu Awakening, filed a formal complaint with the US Federal Communications Commission against Beck's 'denigrating' remarks. The FCC is an independent federal agency charged with regulating interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable, and is responsible for issuing licenses for these entities.

Shinde said in the complaint that these remarks had "denigrated Hinduism and ridiculed the Hindu community," and urged the FCC to take action against Fox News and its parent News Corporation--which is owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch--for such blatant bigotry. The FCC in acknowledging receipt of Shinde's complaint replied that "the Commission will review what you have submitted carefully to determine whether it contains sufficient information to suggest that there has been a violation of the obscenity, indecency or profanity laws.If it appears that a violation may have occurred," it said, "the Enforcement Bureau will start an investigation, which may include a letter of inquiry to the broadcast station."

Hindu priest, Rajen Zed called on the FCC to expeditiously pursue this case as the Hindu American community was "very upset with the remarks" by Beck.

Dr Aseem Shukla, one of the founders of the Hindu American Foundation, and a physician, who writes for the Washington Post's 'On Faith' blog, told, "Glenn Beck may be a shock jock, but his latest diatribe is entirely beyond shocking. In one foolish minute of television, a lame attempt at humor ended up dispraging tens of thousands of America's finest physicians, who trained at world class medical schools in India that happen to be in places on the world map beyond Beck's geographic aptitude. The satirical parallelism of the Holy Ganga with a disease exposes an intellectual incuriosity that seems to be the defining characteristic of the shock-jock genre."


Shukla said, it was also ironic that "Beck, actually seemed to justify the high costs of American medicine by explaining that it lines the pockets of American educated doctors deep in debt."


He argued, "I can certainly attest that the high cost of medicine in America is not because the doctor is profiting immensely, but rather because of the excessive ancillary costs of hospitalizations and caring for the uninsured, defensive medicine due to malpractice lawsuit threats, the runaway insurance industry profits and a medical system that profits from costly interventions."

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC