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  • Writer's picturePallavi Nair

Is India Really A Land of Snake Charmers? Let's Clear All The Myths About India

What are misconceptions? They are majorly preconceived notions that people hear through word of mouth or social media. Most of us see the world through a single lens. We learn from our own experiences and beliefs in life, which impacts our actions and behavior unconsciously. Our beliefs also stem from socializing with friends or family, peers, culture, subcultures, and the media. Many people form their opinions, and many generalize without fact-checking. They will start judging anything using their limited knowledge, which may sometimes help and protect us in this complex world.


But we all know that nobody is perfect. Everything has its pros and cons. However, when something is portrayed wrongly in the first place, then many people will believe the incorrect information. So stereotyping things can be dangerous. Stereotypes act as a way to justify placements in society.


In short, stereotypes are oversimplified, fixed assumptions that are often justified within social systems, especially those myths which are widely believed.


Why are we talking about misconceptions? Because there are various misconceptions about many countries and India is one of the misunderstood countries. People who do not live in India have their presumptions about India which they might have heard, read, or watched and most of the beliefs are incorrect India has always been portrayed as this mystic and magical world, where people from the West find peace and solace, expertise in yoga, and find the meaning of life. But there is so much more to India in terms of places, person, and things.


So let's talk about those common misconceptions that people from other countries have:

  • INDIA IS A POOR COUNTRY

When someone mentions India in their conversation or read the news or plan to travel to India, the first thing that comes to their mind is poverty. The streets are full of beggars, wearing rags, and beg for money every time. But people forget that there are beggars, and homeless people in First World countries, and some have more than India.


India is a developing nation, and there is no denying that there are poor people who live in huts, walk barefoot, dress in rags, and beg for money. But there are around 200 billionaires, and it ranks 5th in the 2020 Global wealth report. So that does not make the entire country poor. It has about 1.3 billion people. Therefore, it cannot be generalized rich or poor based on few photos seen in books or the media. Poverty is a part of the country, but it does not exist in the whole country.

This is a picture of three boys squatting near a rusty pipe. One boy has his hands cupped near the opening, as if to catch water.
Poverty is found everywhere, not just India.

  • INDIA SMELLS FUNNY

When foreigners land in India, the first things they notice are the weather, swarms of people, and the variety of smells. Those who are sensitive to smell often complain about the stench. For them, it has become another perception that India smells bad or funny. Yes, when people defecate or urinate out in the open, throw garbage on roads, or when there is too much air pollution, such elements can leave a putrid stench in the environment. But this happens in particular areas only and not in the entire country.


India has a wide range of aromas, and a lot of them are lovely. During the evenings in most cities of India, one can smell the heavy, rich aromas of spices and incense of street foods and various other pleasant scents.


A bowl of freshly-ground spices
India has both good and bad smells, just like any other country.
  • INDIA IS A DIRTY PLACE

Many travelers who have traveled to India remember it as a dirty and chaotic place. This perception is still maintained by the many international media houses and is also shown in various movies, television series, and cartoons. Therefore, people from other countries traveling to India expect to see the frugal life of local people and unclean places. But this is a half-truth. Yes, some are dirty and chaotic, but a few places are vibrant and posh. People forget about vibrant cities like Indore (in Madhya Pradesh state) and Chandigarh (in Punjab state), which are the cleanest cities of India. While many other cities are doing their bit to keep their surroundings clean, offer high-end accommodation, fine dining, nightlife, and great shopping experiences. Even the Indian government is running various “Clean India” campaigns to make India clean and healthy.

  • INDIA IS A DANGEROUS PLACE FOR TRAVELLING

Many foreigners might have had few bad experiences while traveling in India, but that does not mean that the whole country is dangerous for traveling. There are many places in the United States, like Detroit and Compton, which have high crime rates. But that does not mean that the entire country is dangerous. There are many good, safe places like Goa, Coorg, Ladakh, Alleppey (in Kerala state often called Venice of the east), Tawang (in Arunachal Pradesh state), and many more other places which have beautiful landscapes as well as safe for tourists.


This is a picture of a woman standing in front of an ancient Indian building. Her back is towards the camera, she's wearing a backpack, and her hair is in a ponytail.
Every country has safe and dangerous areas, not just India.


This is a picture of a houseboat on a body of water.
Every country has safe and dangerous areas, not just India.
  • INDIANS ARE UNEDUCATED OR ILLITERATE

This perception is incorrect. Most immigrants working in the United States, the United Kingdom, and other First World nations are from India. Most of the IT professionals working in the big tech companies are Indians. Yes, there is no denying that there is still a largely illiterate population, but this is because it is the second-most populous country. The larger a country is, the more likely it is that there will be illiterate people. Now, this stereotype has changed. There are many Indians who are in the top management or CEOs of big companies such as Sundar Pichai. They are becoming an inspiration for many young Indians, which makes them take their studies more seriously. That’s why stereotypes do not reflect reality. Most Indian households value education, and even the government emphasizes educating every child of the country.


Even poverty-stricken families try very hard to let their kids attend the best school possible as they understand a better education is essential to a better future. Therefore half of the population speaks or understands English very well.

A group of young children sitting on the ground, surrounded by books and backpacks.
Less privileged children studying at a government school.

The most popular profession among Indian households is doctors and engineers, and many choose to obtain MBAs and PhDs. Apart from these professions, Indians are also building start-ups and various business industries.


  • INDIAN IS A LANGUAGE/HINDI IS THE NATIONAL LANGUAGE

Indians living abroad often receive two questions: “Do you speak Indian?” and “All Indians speak Hindi, right?” Wrong! First of all, there is no such language as Indian; just like how in America there is no such language as American. Indian is a demonym that describes the people of the country.


India is a diverse country and has around 23 major languages, and more than 1000 dialects. This means that India has the fourth-highest number of languages spoken after Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, and Nigeria. So Hindi is one of the most common languages spoken by about 40% of the population, mostly in northern and central India. But it is not the only language spoken. The other popular languages spoken are English, Urdu, Bengali, Tamil, Marathi, etc. There is no national language in India according to the Constitution of India. Hindi and English are the two languages used by the government.


A picture with a bunch of Hindi characters in different colors.
Hindi is one of many languages spoken in India.

  • INDIANS EAT SPICY FOOD ALL THE TIME

Spices in India are an integral part of India and in every Indian household. Even Europeans came to India to trade spices. Spices such as cumin, cardamom, mustard seeds, cinnamon, ginger, garlic, and turmeric are regular additions in almost every Indian dish. But that does not mean that all ingredients, including chili, are used in every single recipe. Many Indian dishes comprise mild spices or less chili. The flavors and the spice level change, depending on the location. Each region has its unique food; some are spicy, while some are not at all.


Many foreigners also think that Indian food is all about curry, but Indian cuisine is more than that, as most cuisines are not curry-based. Due to extreme diversification in the country, the food cooked in every region is different. The food cooked in the North, like Chola Bhatura, is not commonly eaten in the South.


Even chilies are not essential in making most Indian dishes. So this has turned into a running joke that when a foreigner lands in India and eats Indian food, he/she will have to run to the loo with a fiery butthole.


This is a picture of an Indian dish.
India has a wide variety of foods, and not all of them are spicy.

  • ALL INDIAN ARE VEGETARIANS

Just like not all Indian food is spicy, not every Indian is vegetarian. There are a variety of non-vegetarian cuisines which are famous outside of India. These include biryani, chicken vindaloo, butter chicken and chicken tikka masala. In India, it is easier to find vegetarian joints compared to the Western world. However, there are delicious cuisines that involve fish, chicken, and lamb. So this is a common misconception by non-Indians that Indians and most Hindus do not eat meat. Around 60-70 percent of the Indian population eats meat, and the numbers are still rising. Though meat-eating and vegetarianism is a choice, not eating meat is a choice that people make due to religious beliefs and beliefs in non-violence.


  • ALL INDIANS ARE HINDU

Untrue. India is known for its diverse culture, which includes different religions as well. Therefore Hinduism is not the only religion in India. Other religions include Islam, Christianity, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Judaism. Though there is no denying that 80% of the population in India is Hindu and is the dominant religion, other religions are equally critical for the country’s diversity.


This is a picture of a variety of simple illustrations of cows, women, foods, elephants, and famous buildings. Most of the illustrations are green, but two are burnt orange.
Hinduism is the dominant religion, but it's not the only religion

To say all Indians are Hindu is to say all Indians speak Hindi. The term Hindustan or Hindu was given by the Mughals. The word Industan means the land beyond the Indus river.


So not everyone you meet in India will be a Hindu. They can even be atheists.

  • INDIANS ARE NOT ALLOWED TO DATE - EVERYONE HAS AN ARRANGED MARRIAGE

Yes, Indian parents are traditional, and most do not approve of the dating culture. But the new generation is changing the stereotypical norm and becoming more progressive. People date freely and get married to the person they want to. Arranged marriages are still common in rural or traditional mindsets of India, but now people choose their life partner. So contrary to popular belief, dating is not taboo. But there are also those young Indians who still prefer to marry someone their parents chose for them.


This is a picture of a newly-married Indian man and woman.
Young people can choose their spouses

  • WOMEN HAVE TO GIVE DOWRY TO GET MARRIED

The concept of dowry was brought by Europeans and the British when they invaded India.


But gone are the days where it used to be a big task for parents to get their daughter married. Dowry was a common practice where the bride’s parents gave money to the groom's family. The custom was for parents to provide their daughter with good wealth for financial independence, but the groom and his family would use the money to suppress the woman. But now, accepting or giving dowry is a crime in India. The bride’s family still gives gifts to their daughter and groom’s family, but it's not a requirement like earlier.


There are places like Meghalaya where mothers pass on all the property and wealth to their daughters when they marry.


  • ALL INDIAN DO YOGA AND ARE EXPERT IN KAMA SUTRA

(Kama Sutra is an ancient Indian Sanskrit text on sexuality, eroticism and emotional fulfillment in life)


Contrary to this belief, Indians are very lazy. Yes, India is the birthplace of yoga, but not everyone can touch their heads with their toes. Many Indians do not follow yoga regularly. Many Indians do not prefer exercising compared to the people of the United States. In the United States, getting a gym membership is more popular than joining a yoga class in India. So thinking that every Indian is a yoga guru is a wrong thought. But still, the government is trying to regain its popularity in India and around the world by introducing International Yoga Day, which is celebrated on June 21.


This is a picture of a person sitting cross-legged with their hands on their knees, as if doing yoga.
Exercising is often more popular in the U.S. than in India.

Another misconception about Indians is that they are experts in Kama sutra. Now come on, just like not all Indians are not yoga experts, the same goes with Kama sutra. In fact, most of the population is too shy to talk openly about sex, compared to the Western world. Many parents still consider it taboo to discuss or educate their children about sex. Talks about sex openly are considered uncultured and should be talked about behind closed doors.


  • INDIA IS A LAND OF SNAKE CHARMERS AND KEEP ELEPHANTS AS PETS


In most international magazines, movies, or television series, the representation of India is exotic by showing a man playing flute in front of a snake (controlling the behavior of some of the most dangerous animals on earth), or a maharaja entering his castle on an elephant. To burst everyone's bubble, this is not the truth. India is a developing nation and now trying to cut its stereotypical image of the land of snake charmers that Hollywood perpetuates. This was widely seen in the state of Rajasthan, home of the Kalbeliya tribe that keeps snakes.


This is an illustration of an Indian man wearing a turban and playing a flute to charm a snake.
Contrary to popular belief, India is not a land of snake charmers.

So India is not flooded with snake charmers everywhere. In fact, keeping snakes in a box is animal abuse, and doing so can result in being arrested. It is now an age-old folk art shown in markets and festivals. But now, the Indian government’s wildlife protection regulation has formed stricter rules to protect the endangered species of snakes.


Also, the sight of elephants on the roads is very rare, and it's more of a tourist scene in some places. But they are not kept as a pet. So India is not that exotic land of mystic and magic shown in the movies; rather, the country is more developed and advanced. There is far more to explore in India than just snake charmers.


This is a picture of three men riding elephants. The elephants have ornate drawings on their faces.
Elephants are not kept as pets

  • INDIA IS LOCATED IN THE MIDDLE EAST

Those who think that India is a part of the Middle East need to get their geography correct. India is in Asia or, to be precise, more towards the southern part of Asia. The Middle East is in the western end of Asia and the top right of Africa.

  • INDIA HAS A HOT AND HUMID CLIMATE

Being a diverse country, India has a gifted climatic consciousness that varies from place to place. Yes, India is a tropical country with many locations that are hot and humid. But India is also blessed with mountains and beaches. Areas like Himachal Pradesh, Jammu, and Kashmir, and Uttranchal have beautiful Himalayan mountains, which keep the weather very pleasant and sometimes freezing.


This is a picture of a snow-covered mountain range with a partly cloudy sky.
India's mountains keep parts of the country cold, instead of hot and humid.


  • INDIANS LOVE COW

Cows are beautiful animals and are considered a holy part of the Hindu religion. But that does not mean that if a person sees a cow, he/she stops and starts praying. Cows are an integral part of many cattle farmers. Many livelihoods revolve around these animals. So it's in the culture to respect cows as they provide milk to people (just like a human mother), help in plowing fields, provide manure and give birth to more cattle. Therefore, the cattle farmers also let their cattle roam freely on roads to let them wander and bring them to the farm before dark. This attitude is also one reason that slaughtering cows for beef is banned in many states because it becomes a very emotional subject for Indian citizens, especially for Hindus.



An Indian man walking with an ornately-decorated cow.
Cows are an important part of Indian culture.


  • INDIANS HAVE WEIRD SEWAGE SYSTEM

Indian toilet system can be a bit weird for foreigners, but it is proven to be the most hygienic and scientific system compared to western toilet habits. In bigger towns and cities, one can find both Indian and western-style toilets with faucets and toilet paper for cleaning. But in the rural areas and small towns, people use Indian toilets only, wherein the person has to squat and poop. And instead of using toilet paper, people use their bare hands and water and use their left hand to clean. Rural people always in India carry a jug filled with water for cleaning purposes. This practice does sound gross, especially for westerners who are not familiar with this system. But this method is proven to be more hygienic and cleaner than the western habit of using toilet paper.



This is a picture of an Indian-style toilet.
Using a toilet in India can become second nature with some practice.

  • WOMEN IN INDIA ARE NOT SAFE

Many rape cases get reported in India, including some extremely brutal sexual assaults, but one cannot generalize and tag the whole country as “Rape capital’’. The population of India is around 1.3 billion, so the percentage of rape incidents in-country is less than in other countries like South Africa, Sweden. The number of rape incidents in India per 100,00 citizens is 22,172 as of 2020, with a 1.80 rape rate. The number in the United States is 27.3, 132.4 in South Africa, 67.30 in Sweden, and 24.1 in the UK.


Though some people argue that numerous cases go unreported, the same thing occurs in other countries. In every country, some get reported, and some do not. So it is not likely that every Indian is a potential rapist.


 

If you like to learn more about Indian culture and facts, keep following the ReDefiners World Language blog. ReDefiners World Language is an online and in-person platform for kids and adults to learn languages like English, Spanish, Arabic, and Mandarin. One can either take individual classes or group classes. Students get the opportunity to not only study the language but also learn about its culture and influences. For more information, please visit www.redefinerswl.com and email us at info@redefinerswl.org.



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