New York Times apologises for Singapore cartoonist's work on India's Mars mission

NEW YORK - A Singaporean cartoonist's work published in the New York Times has drawn readers' complaints that it mocked India's Mars mission, forcing the newspaper to apologise on Monday.

The cartoon, published on Sept 28, showed an Indian farmer with a cow knocking at the door of a house marked Elite Space Club where two men sit reading a newspaper on India's feat.

Last month, India won Asia's race to Mars, with its unmanned Mangalyaan spacecraft successfully entering the Red Planet's orbit after a 10-month journey on a tiny budget.

The total cost of the Indian mission was put at 4.5 billion rupees (S$93 million), which makes it one of the cheapest interplanetary space missions ever, BBC reported on Monday.

The cartoon by Mr Heng Kim Song has riled some readers for its depiction of Indians as cattle-rearing folks, in what India media say is racist stereotyping.

Mr Heng, 50, has been an editorial cartoonist for 30 years, according to his profile on World Economic Forum.

"Mr Heng, who is based in Singapore, uses images and text - often in a provocative way - to make observations about international affairs," Mr Andrew Rosenthal, editorial page editor of the New York Times, wrote in a Facebook post on Monday.

"We apologise to readers who were offended by the choice of images in this cartoon," Mr Andrew Rosenthal said, adding that Mr Heng "was in no way trying to impugn India, its government or its citizens."

Only the US, Russia and Europe have previously sent missions to Mars, and India succeeded in its first attempt - an achievement that eluded even the Americans and the Soviets, said BBC.

The Mangalyaan robotic probe was launched from the Sriharikota spaceport on the coast of the Bay of Bengal on Nov 5 2013.

The satellite joins four other missions that are circling the planet: Maven (US), Mars Odyssey (US), Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (US) and Mars Express (Europe).