Do the roots of racism lie in the stereotypes we create?

Shikaras and the Kashmiris. The sweet toothed Gujjus. The fish-eating Bengalis. The north easterners all tagged as chinkis. The stew-eating Mallus. And not to forget, the rest of the southern population which is referred to as madrasis. We create stereotypes and consequently, the stereotype creates us. I believe that such clichés go beyond conveying a certain kind of humour. Psychologically, these taglines venture on to divide people’s beliefs and indulge in prejudices against certain cultures. Therefore it is not unnatural for one to believe that the roots of racism lie in such stereotypes. A harmless practice that feeds on a person’s pride gives birth to discriminating thoughts.

Given its vast expanse, our country consists of a variety of traditions and social practices of different multitudes of people who perhaps, are united only in their nationality. One would argue that the existence of stereotypes that are born out of the prevailing cultural differences is only natural. However, I will provide enough evidence to counter such an opinion by highlighting the rampant practice of stereotypes that become a part of the Indian youth and soon refuse to leave their psyche.

Contemptuous

Many south Indian students who are a part of Delhi University colleges complain of facing contemptuous comments from their fellow north Indians who discriminate them as madrasis. It becomes a matter of integrity and identity as they are victimized for no fault of theirs. Hence, the innocence of a new and fresh mind is lost, and their minds are framed in circumstances that give rise to a certain kind of dislike for the ‘other’- North Indians. Many students express their sentiments on the ‘Confessions’ pages on Facebook that are slowly gaining momentum nowadays. They complain of being sidelined, treated badly for having a darker complexion, frequently being referred to as a ‘mallu’ or ‘madrasi’, and poking fun at their cuisine that consists of dosa, idli, and sambar that become synonymous with insulting words. So in this act of dismissing their culture, the perpetuators invite a similar dislike from the victims. However, one must not be biased to blame it entirely on the North Indians for their unnatural treatment. This is because there are instances (even though they are comparatively low in number) where students from the north who are studying in Manipal and Vellore have complained of being subjected to similar discrimination. However, Vishnu Verma, a second year student from Manipal University, insists that the institution is free from any kind of discrimination given the population of the students who come from all over the country.

The existing north–south divide does not simply mean that the all the states in the north are culturally similar or all the states in the south do not differ in terms of their traditional history.

Within the northern part of the nation, animosity exists between Punjabis and Biharis wherein the latter are considered uncultured and backward. Similarly, there exists bitterness between Biharis and Maharashtrians given the large number of ‘unwanted’ Bihari population who have migrated into Mumbai in search of employment opportunities. A student from Government Law College in Mumbai claims that even though this enmity started out amongst the workers, it has gradually extended into the realm of the middle class as well.

Sundar Ramanajum is a third year student from Shiv Nadar University which is near Delhi but has a majority of south Indian students.

According to him, “The divide exists, but in terms of cuisine and taste. It goes away as people get to know each other better. But it suddenly changes when it comes down to student union politics with the existence of vote banking. However, after the elections, everyone forgets about it after the results and the status quo resumes”.

This stereotyping is seen and practised in our country such that it seems absolutely natural. More importantly, the victims and the victimizers do not seem to feel the absurdity of such actions. Arushi Menon, a first year student from L.S.R says “I lived in Chennai but I never saw any kind of discrimination in my school which had a good number of North Indians. However, when I shifted to Delhi, I remember a particular instance where we all were discussing about movies and my opinions were dismissed and I was told that I only knew about Rajnikanth’s movies”.

People need to understand the value of tolerance and aim at hailing the variety of beliefs instead of making divisive strategies out of them. More importantly, the youth must understand the injustice that comes with such labeling.

By taking it as a casual exercise, we unintentionally or intentionally drill narrow-mindedness and bias in our minds. Hence, it is nothing but natural for all of us to hope for a greater accommodation of differences by being sensitive to matters which seem absolutely trivial.

The writer is a student at Lady Shriram College.