Clarissa, who is an unlikely but very effective muse, has just begun a post-exchange on her blog about national and cultural stereotypes. She has listed twelve stereotypes about India popular in the Russian blogosphere, and would like me to respond to them, one at a time. In return, I will list stereotypes about Eastern Europe (and North America?) amongst Bengalis, and she will, perhaps, in her turn, respond to them.
This exchange fits in nicely with our current series on diversity and divisiveness in India, so we will proceed with the series as planned, and answer the question implicit in her ninth point: Are all Indians are very patriotic and proud of their country? The short answer: No.
In the introductory post to this series, which quoted a south Indian woman’s opinions of north Indian men, we asked how a post about cultural difference within the nation — on an otherwise unpopular personal blog — became national news. Why did it inspire both accolades and death threats? Why did no one laugh when news channels brought psychiatrists on their show to analyse a badly-written, vituperative post?
The answer is this: sloppy writing apart — clearly, passions overruled spellcheck — the post was rather an accurate picture of the state of the nation.
Most countries have directional divides — north versus south, east versus west, and so on. Indeed, it’s hard to find a big city that doesn’t. In India, however, given the traditional majority of specific ethnic groups in specific areas, these divides are further endowed with racial, ethnic, linguistic and religious characters. This makes being a girl from the south living in the north that much more difficult — those strange northies don’t just have a different accent and quaint local sayings, they have whole different languages, a different flavour to their English, different food, different clothes, very different music, different religions (or entirely different aspects of the same religion), and different ideas of what is right, polite, and desirable.
The northies don’t see why they should relent. When they go down south, they are harassed within an inch of their lives. Those blasted southies deliberately pretend they don’t understand Hindi, deliberately make one feel like an outsider, deliberately gibber in their mother tongues in mixed company, like they’re too good to learn the damned national language like everybody else. And what’s with that accent? As if being dark and ugly wasn’t enough, these southies have to be nerdy gurglers. At least the wimpy easterners just stay in their little eastern nooks and kill each other, and don’t make trouble for regular people.
The eastern folks, in the meanwhile, fulminate at the dismissive attitudes of the northies, and dismiss them in turn as boorish uncultured arrogant bastards. Southies, they concede, have Culture and Brains, although they eat strange vegetarian food and are too wily to be left to their own devices. And what’s with that ridiculous insistence on talking in their own language that no one else can understand? That’s deliberate exclusion, that is. And while earning their living in the east, too! One would do well to remember which side of one’s toast is buttered and by whom, or one could be reminded of it, and no mistake.
The people of the north-east barely notice all this, unless they move westwards for education or work. Subcontinental India pretends it’s seven north-eastern states are inherited troublemaking relatives one must tolerate under one’s roof, largely by pretending they don’t exist. The north-east would love to pretend India doesn’t exist either, except that rapes and murders scattered by the Indian armed forces in their territories makes ignoring a little hard to do.
The ‘fourth world’ in the Indian subcontinent — the Dalits and various tribal groups who live utterly marginalised lives — should form a large part of this narrative, but they don’t. This is because no one with enough social capital to be represented in the mainstream political media gives two hoots about them, and therefore neither does the mainstream media. Except, that is, to label them the support base of secessionist Maoist ‘domestic terrorism’ that is currently threatening to fracture the nation.
This is a simplified and admittedly reductive general picture of how sections of Indians feel about each other, and consequently about the idea of a cohesive nation. Future posts will delve deeper into the issue with anecdotes, current events, local histories, and popular opinions. This was drawing chalk-lines on the ground 🙂