The Oxford dictionary defines stereotypes as a ‘ widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing. ‘
We are very well aware of the fact that a man is not an island and for existential purposes, he needs to socialize. When people interact in a social environment they tend to pass information about a certain group of individuals to their peers which intentionally or unintentionally from prejudices.
There are positive and negative effects when prejudices are formed and acted upon. Some result in discrimination but no matter what the effect, they reduce people to a certain category of pre held stereotypes.
They are mostly based on real and sometimes, imaginary characteristics. People believe that ‘ Mexicans are lazy ‘ which makes it a problem of them to employ, ‘ women are bad at math ‘ which is far from the truth as history has seen many popular female mathematicians such as Ada Lovelace, Hypatia, Sofia Kovalevskaya, etc, ‘ Irish are red-headed ‘ ( only 10% of them are ) and the list is endless.
Similarly, India is also caught up in this web of misconceptions which has been woven strongly through many decades.
As Sir Shashi Tharoor believes, the stereotypes about India can be conveniently divided into 3 spheres.
The old one that India is mired in poverty and degradation. India once topped the list of harboring millions who were living in abject poverty but through the years as the governments changed, new steps were taken towards the welfare, so did the state of people. India is no longer a third world country and has progressed remarkably.
The popular stereotype that Indians are uneducated and illiterate holds no stock in the 21st century. It is almost ironic that we are considered a land of computer geeks and IT experts at one hand and illiterate on the other. Another irony is when Britishers started ruling India, they were under the impression that it is their responsibility to educate Indians. Despite the fact that many steps were taken such as Woods Despatch of 1854, Hunters commission and Sadler Commission changed the face of how education was to be imparted in the country, still the literacy rates of India were lower than ever.
Since independence, the rates have increased more than 6 times. From Just 12% to 74%, no sane person can call India a land of uneducated people after knowing the real numbers.
The other image is of exotic and culturally rich India.
People believe that all Indians know their way around ‘ Yoga ‘ but thatʼs hardly the truth. It has been highly promoted in recent years by the present Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi and India has seen around 30% increase in Yoga practice. June 21 is known to be International Yoga Day but before that only very few % of people devoted their time to such practice.
India is also often chosen as the destination of spiritual retreats. People find India to be one of the topmost destinations to make a spiritual connection between their mind and soul.
It attracted a certain amount of people after the advent of The Beatles coming to India in search of inner peace. They resided in Rishikesh, in an ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi learning Transcendental Meditation. From here on, many other celebrities paved their path for a spiritual journey in the footsteps of the famous British band. Richard Gere came to Bihar, India for spiritual cleansing. Followed by many more artists like Madonna, Goldie Hawn, etc.
The most influential model which draws and persuades people to form opinions about a certain group of people in media. The basic human nature calls for believing just about everything that is shown through these portals.
The way India is portrayed on these channels is far from what the truth really is. However, there are still many contradictions that play there part.
The Academy Award-winning Movie of 2009, Slumdog Millionaire sparked a rage of controversies amidst its well deserved praise.
From being called a movie that brought freshness and changing India with great realism to the screens, it also somewhere displayed India as a third world country that is dirty and underdeveloped.
Foreigners came to India expecting to witness nothing but dirt, slums, cows roaming in the road, and other such images.
The celebrated Coldplay song, ‘ Hymn for the weekendʼ shot in India also attracted it’s not so-called for criticism as to how it branded India as a land of snake charmers, sadhus, and nagins. India has been caught these cliches since forever.
And the reality is that there has actually been an economic boom in recent decades that has changed the face of cities and towns.
Apart from these, Indian cuisine has also attracted its fair share of stereotypes. People tend to believe that Indian households always smell of ‘ curry ‘. The roadways are filled with cows roaming without check. Indians donʼt like following the traffic lights. The dialect of Indians is ‘ Hinduʼ not Hindu. Every Indian knows how to operate computers and can fix any issue with it. Indian females are always considered inferior to that of males.
Some of these stereotypes are based on misconceptions but others not. Itʼs not
entirely justified to generalize the whole population to such limited and narrow opinions.
There is a part of a well-known stereotype which is always true but when people reduce others to their pre-formed opinions or prejudices, thatʼs when it starts a certain negative effect or what is commonly called in psychological terms as ‘ stereotype threatsʼ.
A part of these misconceptions is true but thatʼs most certainly not the entire story. India was a land of snake charmers, cows did roam around and they still do, many Indians still fail to receive a proper education, there are around 25.7% people in rural areas living and 13.7% in urban areas who continue to live in abject poverty and poor conditions.
But, like every other country, India has also grown at its own pace. The progress in the last 20 years has been phenomenal.