Just a mention and an image is conjured up in most minds full of beaming colors. As Indians migrate to different parts of the world and India becomes home and host to the world, the old ancient notions of India involving bull carts and dhoti’s and about Indians as snake-charmers and naked fakirs lying on a bed of nails have long been eradicated only to be replaced by more contemporary stereotypes. It is actually amusing to discuss the current stereotypes that exist about India, seeing how diverse Indians themselves are and how very little in common people from different states of India actually have.
Though of one country and citizenship, the population of India is scattered across 28 states all of different diverse cultures and ways of life. Yet still you see and hear the clumping together and stereotyping of Indians into sometimes silly and ridiculous stereotypes. Why is it that these stereotypes are created? And how in the world do people even come up with such quims about such a diverse cluster of people?
Today I present to you five of the most outrageous Indian stereotypes that I have come across. Some are true to some level, some ridiculously false, while some lie somewhere between. But Indian or not, these are bound to entertain you.
1. All Indians are either Engineers or Doctors – 50% Truth, 50% False
For centuries, Indians have had an exclusive relationship with medicine and engineering. And annually, India grinds out more than a million engineers and doctors. This was an accurate stereotype until the 19th century. But in the last few decades, with economic expansions and a rise in job opportunities, India has seen a rise in youth taking initiative in a lot of other fields inclusive of law, designing and business. Although many Indian parents still hold the traditional notion of directing children to the medical and engineering fields in assurance of a sturdy future; the times have changed and hopefully the mentality too.
2. Indians are Extremists – 0% Truth, 100% False
From Bollywood films to watchdog filtered news reports, Indians are propagated as intense people with fanatical beliefs and extremist views. I believe this is untrue, and believe in fact that a lot of Indians are pacifists. Religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Islam (in its true sense) are all non-confrontational and peaceful beliefs in themselves; and I feel Indians are some of the most peaceful and pleasant people in the world. They stay true to their roots and beliefs, but do not enforce themselves or their customs/practices on others. This aids them in adapting to any cultural tapestry and aids them in being able to settle anywhere. Most Indians living outside are model citizens and rarely involve in violent or deviant behavior. I mean, take for example quiet and calm Raj from the Big Bang theory.
3. The Great Indian Gesture – 30% Truth, 70% False
Yes, Indians are and can be very expressive. It is said actions speak louder than words. Indians have mastered the art of body language and gestures in conversing. In fact, sometimes they can have entire conversations in gestures alone. But the gestures shown by the comedians and the stereotypical folk is of an exaggerated form. It may be hard for a new comer to decipher the art and form of gestures used in India, but when they go back and demonstrate to their other foreign friends the actions similar to an epileptic seizure, they are going overboard. I mean, who said using gestures and expressions is wrong? That’s one of the reasons it is sometimes possible to understand Bollywood films even for non-Hindi speakers. The only gesture/body language you may need to master if you are contemplating a trip to India, is to differentiate yes from no in the angular movement of the head side to side.
4. The Epic Hunt for Fairness – 101% Truth, 0% False
Indians are obsessed with skin color. A light-skinned Indian is considered superior and believed to be of noble origin. India’s fixation with light skin has been traced back to the colonial hangover but it is amazing that 65 years after the last colonial overlord’s departure Indians still aspire to achieve the seemingly superior white complexion. India’s cosmetic industry grows at an astounding rate of 15-20% annually and that fairness creams dominate this space at a whopping 45% (of total product volume). Companies offering skin lightening procedures, creams, bleaches, peels, laser and even cryosurgery are being mobbed by Indian men and women. They have realized that fairness products are like crack-cocaine to Indians and so have moved to exploit this vulnerability. A recent addition to this absurdity is the introduction of skin whitening products for men evidencing the gender neutral nature of the quest for the great white. In a country where, fair complexioned people have improved prospects, it is only natural for people to want to better their stake in life. The problem is systemic and it is not limited to a few people.
The message is loud and clear. Be white or go home. Matrimonial advertisements seek ‘white’ complexioned partners. The film industry (which is an accurate reflection of a nation’s perception of physical attractiveness) props up fair leading men and even fairer leading ladies, leaving the dark-skinned folks to fill out villainous roles (a subtle cue). Quite frankly, this is a stereotype I would like to see the end of. It is perfectly normal to want healthy skin or even blemish free skin, but color? Really? Leave it to DNA and let us get rid of the irrational and hilarious perception that white is better.
5. The Indian Accent – True but so what?!
The Indian accent has attained fame from exaggerations made by comedians or other people alike. I feel the world is a bit harsh on judging the Indian accent. English is not the native language in India. In fact, Hindi itself is not spoken by all Indians. Some people in South India do not even converse in Hindi. Yet, English has become the medium for instruction in most schools and the language used in many fronts. For many native Indians, thoughts are processed in their original language, then translated in their heads to English. This may affect fluency. Others of course are better versed and have grasped in better and as they say, in India, majority of Kerala speaks English during the day, and majority of Punjab does during the night. Anyway coming to accent, if Germans can speak English in a German accent, and the Russian can speak it in their way, and English itself can be spoken differently by Americans, Australians and the English, then why can’t Indians have their accent, with English being their second language? Why ridicule them for speaking differently? Unfair much?
These are some of the many stereotypes plaguing Indians in the recent centuries and whilst some prove true entirely or to some level, most are irrational and absurd and do not deserve a place in the minds of the intellectuals. As for the Indian society I say, holding on to who we are, where we come from and what we do is what shapes us into great men. Of course, there is always space to smoothen out rough edges but a person’s personality lies in their identity. Chak De INDIA!