Misconceptions about Indians
India is a huge country with a highly diverse population which is its strength and beauty. You could imagine India as the whole of the European Union, you are part of one big union but you are all different. But the differences are magnified further by class differences and language barriers, while functioning as one. It is very common for Indians to have misconceptions about Indians, have stereotypes about our counterparts from other states.
In fact I found quite a lot of new facts about India while researching for this article. I think asking about a country or having an idea is better than having a dull country which no one cares about. I have experienced most of the Misconceptions stated in this article, it’s not to portray an image that foreigners are ignorant about India, but just to help each other understand India a little better.
Let’s dive into some common misconceptions about Indians, then.
1) Person: ‘Where are you from again?’
Me: ’I was brought up in the Dubai, but my parents are from India.’
It is quite a luxury when someone asks you where you are from, especially when you are brown-skinned like me. Quite a lot of us from the Indian subcontinent can look similar, like the Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and the Srilankans. It can be quite daunting to explain where you were born, where you lived and what cultures moulded you, it’s just easier to say that you are 100 percent Indian. The last time I answered that I was Indian, the other guy went like ”Yeah, That was hard to guess, lol” I just said ”Nice joke buddy” and left the conversation. There are over 25 million Indians who live abroad and who might feel that calling them just Indian does not do enough justice to their Identity. We would really appreciate it, if you could ask us where we are from, with a lot more openness and sincerity.
2) Person: ‘What do you do?’
Me: ‘I do research work with artificial intelligence, Basically computer science’
Person: ‘I knew you were good with computers’
To be honest I am not really good with computer programming, I just started learning how to code and program properly. Yes, we have a lot of computer science graduates, but assuming that we are geeks who hack computers or asking us to fix your viruses and emails is a bit too far. Sure, Indians are the CEO’s of Google, Microsoft and Adobe, but we also can be Artists, Poets, Doctors, Sportsmen/Sportswomen or be good at any other normal profession like every other normal country.
3. I hear Cows walk the roads and block the traffic?
Yes, Many cows do roam around, sometimes even cross the roads as you wait in a car. But, usually they have a Cattle farmer who walks along with them, even otherwise, they realise when a car is coming and usually crosses when the cars stop. They usually take as much time as a normal human being takes to cross the road. It is also part of the culture to respect cows (Not really worship them) because they are givers, Many Indian lives have and is revolving a lot around cattle, they plough our fields, give us milk , provide manure and gives birth to more cattle, it is only respectful to let them do their thing. In-fact, Beef slaughter is banned in 24 out of 29 states in the country. Still, India ranks 5th in Beef consumption and is the biggest exporter of beef, The exported beef is usually water buffaloes, maybe the cows are given more importance as they can give birth to both oxen and bulls and usually the death of a cow is grieved as it could mean the loss of a farm as well.
4) I really like the indian accent. You sound a lot like Raj from BBT.
Not everyone in India speaks english (Only about 11 percent of the country can speak English), which is about 125 million speakers and consequently, also the second highest english speaking population after the USA. The majority of this population do not sound like Raj from BBT or Appu from Simpsons nor like Russel peter’s parents, thankfully. On the funnier side of things, you must check out this and this :D.
5) Do you speak Hindu or Indian?
Sorry, I speak neither of those. You can’t speak Hindu, but you can be called a Hindu if you follow Hinduism, like how Christian is to Christianity or if your name is Hindu, of course. India has 122 major languages and 1599 other languages all of which are spoken, While, Hindi is one of the more popular languages in India, it is not the National language or the only language of India, In-fact it’s very common to see Indians abroad speaking to each other in English because they do not understand each other’s native languages. There is no single ‘Indian’ language which one of the more common misconceptions about Indians. India does not only have Hindus, It has a large population of Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains among others.
6) Do you know how to cook curry?
Yes, I know how to cook curry. But many of us back in India have been brought up in environments where food is cooked at home or go to meal canteens where the food is not very expensive. But some do share houses with others and cook their own food. The word ”Curry” can be a bit misleading as curry (or kari) is generally used for the saucy thin soup like spiced dressing, it need not be as rich or saucy as Tikka masala or Rogan josh.
7) Can you teach me some Yoga?
Sorry folks, not all of us can touch your heads with our toes. It’s a shame that we forgot about Yoga, while the western world is taking it seriously. A lot of us don’t do Yoga, it’s something like going to the Gym for us and yes there are many centers and classes for Yoga. But it’s not really a cool thing in India, except for in expensive resorts where there is a majority of tourist populations as well. It is regaining popularity to some extent at the moment.
8) Every damn time ‘Punjabi MC – Mundian To Bach Ke’ is played! *All eyes on you*
Many of you foreigners must have heard it at clubs, without even knowing what it means. Yes, it’s cool, it sounds awesome, But, guess what, it makes only just about that much sense to me as well (I really don’t know what the song means). Please do not expect all Indians in a club to put his hand up in the air and dance Bhangra (It’s a dance from the Punjab region of India). Not all of us are from Punjab.
P.S I do love Punjab and Bhangra.
9) Are you allowed to eat Beef? I thought you were a vegetarian.
Yes i can eat Beef (Because it’s my choice) and i love steaks. Not all of us are vegetarians, But we do have a lot of vegetarians (40 percent of the population), I can understand why it’s easy to mistake us for a complete vegetarian country though, we have yummy, delicious vegetarian food 😀 . But, we also have the infamous Butter chicken and Chicken Tikka masala (I have not even started the list yet!), and we are also the 5th largest consumer of Beef (though there is a ban on beef in some states), it’s more dependant on places and groups of people, It’s not going to be easy to generalise a big country like India in any way.
10) Are you allowed to marry someone of your choice?
Of-course you are allowed, If you are not allowed by someone, then they can be prosecuted by law. I know people try to know more about the arranged marriage system with this question. Well, arranged marriages have evolved in India and It is not the scenario, where you have two strangers sleeping in one bed anymore. In modern arranged marriages, a potential bride/groom is shown pictures, chooses someone, the families meet, they talk over months, the couple go on a few dates and get engaged if everything goes well. There are arranged marriages where couples live together during the time between engagement and marriage and can call it off, if it doesn’t work out. It is not very different from Tinder or dating websites. A lot of people in India date and get married as well, it is changing at a high rate in cities. Even today about 90 percent of the marriages are arranged and the divorce rates are extremely low at about 1-2 percent.
11) Why do all the women wear the dot on their forehead?
It is a powder made out of turmeric or saffron. We call it kunkumam (In Tamil and sanskrit), and many other names in other languages. It’s used auspiciously by both married and unmarried women. In Hindu rituals, it’s used by both men and women, but many women wear it for cosmetic reasons also. You also get ‘Bindi’ (it’s not a permanent tattoo) which is also worn on the centre of the forehead, but is mainly used for decoration and is less traditional in that sense.
12) I watched Slumdog millionaire, Does India look like the slums shown in the movie?
This is a picture of New york, if New york looks like this to you, then Mumbai does looks like the slums shown in the movie. On a serious note, Yes, there are slums in India, especially in Big cities, But that does not even begin to tell the real story. Slums need not be all about hunger and poverty, it can be humane too, check this out.
13) Your dress is really cool 😀 Can I borrow it for a picture?
We have various kinds of traditional wear, it varies from the north to south and east to west. The most common ones you see in TV shows are called Sherwanis and it is not a dress. The long piece of cloth worn by men in the south is called by many names (We call it veshti), again not a dress. But you can borrow it.
14) It’s sad that women get raped in India all the time. What do you think?
It is not fair to generalise a huge population of 1.2 billion people. But just for the sake of numbers, For every 100,000 citizens there are 2.0 rape reported incidents in India. While the number is 28.6 in United states, 27.9 in Belgium, 24.1 in the UK and 66.5 in Sweden. Some might argue that India must have a huge amount of unreported incidents, this holds true for other countries as well. The report by the Ministry of Justice shows that only 15 percent of the rape incidents were reported in the UK and the number is increasingly high for USA as well. India has been extremely safe for me, my family and we never had to come across any of these incidents. There are solo women travellers in India, living for years now, they blog about their experience, you can read them here, here and here.
15) Why do women have to give dowry to get married in India?
To begin with, Dowry was an european custom, which was not practiced in India till the Europeans invaded India. The concept of private ownership was introduced to India by the British, But the British rule also introduced prohibition of property rights for women. The custom of dowry was to provide daughter with wealth for financial independence, but the prohibition meant that the property went to the husband anyway and the women were victimized and suppressed. But, today the situation is very different, the system is diminishing and is more of a status issue to give dowry (gifts for the daughter) rather than a compulsion because it is legally prohibited to offer or accept dowry, which is fading away as well(The concept of Big fat Indian weddings do not help). In places like Meghalaya, they follow a Matrilineal system, where the wealth passes from mother to daughter, rather than father to son. Women hold a very important place in the Indian society and hold importance places at all levels.
16) How do you eat such spicy food? Can you even taste it?
Personally i love spicy food, but that doesn’t mean Indian cuisine is all about spicy, hot food. We have a huge variety of stuff that would make your mouth water without sitting in the loo all day.
17) Can you teach me some Bollywood steps?
Firstly, Not all of us watch Bollywood, most of the major languages in India have a movie Industry within and which is watched by the local masses. Bollywood dancing has to do nothing with the way a next door Indian dances, it’s usually a mix of many styles of dance used in movies. I had to practice some Bollywood dancing last year for a University dance show and it was very difficult. We do have many types of classical dances in India, which are again typical to the region.
18) Is India is a Land of Snake Charmers?
No, Most definitely not. I have seen a snake charmer only once in India and you can’t find these guys anymore. We do have Cobras in India, but we are as scared of them as you are.
You are most welcome to visit India and see what it’s like for yourself.
Do you agree with this list of Misconceptions about Indians? Let me know 🙂
Check this to read more about India.