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Twisted notions and strange biases

Twisted notions and strange biases
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Why is this ongoing bias against students from the Northeast and also those from the Kashmir valley? Why do we treat them as the ‘other’? Why are these misconceptions and twisted notions in vogue? Do these tactics help the politician in a divide and rule strategy? Why this ongoing apathy?

There can be only two reasons for this, for one, the political representatives, are weak and not getting vocal enough to halt these obvious discriminations. If they were concerned they’d be sitting on aan shan, fasting and protesting at the Jantar Mantar or on those sprawling lawns of their respective State Bhavans. However symbolic these day long or long drawn fasts are, they can help relay some sort of concern.

And the other reason could be strange notions fitted in our psyches, these lopsided perceptions vis-a-vis those hailing from these locales. Several young students studying in this capital city have recounted nerve wrecking situations they face. Not getting rooms on rent. Difficulty in getting even a PG accommodation. Strange looks thrown their way, not just the cops but even their neighbours, as though each one of them is a suspect or a suspicious stranger or else he or she out to strike terror.

There has to be a halt to this. Twisted perceptions have to be settled before the gaps continue widening, getting uglier by the day. In fact, I’m reminded of a particular research undertaken by Parvez Dewan, a senior bureaucrat of the J&K cadre. It was undertaken some years back but since we have only moved backwards, and with that these perceptions cum projections have only worsened in these recent years, so it wouldn’t be amiss if I write about these projections.

Perhaps, so intrigued was Parvez Dewan, by these projections that he had been collecting data vis-a-vis the media’s portrayal of the various caste and religious groups of the country. His study was based on 786 Hindi films, 300 television episodes and another 300 commercials. And the groups that emerged were – Sikhs, Christians, Muslims. Tamilians, Scheduled Castes and Tribes, Sindhis, Marwaris, Parsis, Hyderabadis, Chinese settled in India and Maharashtrians.

His findings showed that Sikhs are generally portrayed as well-meaning dullards. In a great majority of Hindi films, the Christian men are unattractive and invariably clutching a bottle of alcohol. They are also portrayed as petty criminals as against the gang leaders who are almost always Hindi-speaking Aryan caste Hindus. That presumably signifies power. A Christian man will rarely marry a caste Hindu woman and when he does, the marriage will end in a disaster. On the other hand, Christian women are projected as fair skinned and generally with loose morals – the smoking, drinking types.

Muslim men are shown in typically a ‘Muslim’ attire. They are either old, handicapped, subordinate, sterile, impotent or homosexual. If they are not any of these, then they are producing too many children. Less than 20 per cent of the Muslim men are portrayed as young but even in this category they are depicted not only as backward but as fundamentalists mazhab ke pakke, so much so that many of the opening shots start with a Muslim offering namaaz. A new trend being noticed increasingly – since a particular film – Tezaab – is the portrayal of Muslim men as terrorising the local population.

Also in all romantic affairs between a Muslim/SC/ST/Christian girl and a caste Hindu boy, it is she who is chasing the boy and not the other way round. On the other hand, some Muslim film producers/directors have portrayed prostitutes and 'fast' women as chaste Hindu women in the films directed and produced by them. Some of the Muslim producers/directors like Nadiadwala, Mehboob and K A Abbas have also portrayed upper caste Hindus as oppressing the lower castes. Parsis are invariably shown and portrayed as silly and old. The Chinese settled in India are usually evil and shown as gangsters.

Dewan’s findings have also focussed on the biased projection that wasn’t limited to religious minority groups, but included the non-Hindi belt. By and large except for the Hindi-speaking Aryan caste Hindu, nobody seemed to have been spared. And even in this category, the Kayasthas and Kshatriyas seem the safest. On the other hand, the depiction of Tamilians in the media was perhaps the worst, for they were not only referred to as idli dosa but lately they been to be shown as dons. Though Dewan argued that this is factually incorrect, that his survey established that the great majority of dons and bootleggers were not Tamilian Hindus nor Tamilian Christians and Muslims. Sindhis and Marwaris were again projected along stereotypical lines. Scheduled Tribe women are depicted as desperate to get the caste Hindu hero. But whilst the ST women are portrayed as clean and forever bathing near river banks, the men were shown as unattractive and dark. Hyderabadis were invariably portrayed as clowns and made the butt of many a joke. Maharashtrians were shown either as domestics or police inspectors.

Isn’t it time that the concerned ministries or those commissions try and halt these dangerously twisted portrayals. For, these portrayals do leave a long lasting impression on psyches. And coupled with the ongoing communal propaganda, the combination gets lethal. Without really dragging in the personal, I have to offload this bit: so very often have I heard this half-query, half exclamation thrown at my face, ‘You really [are] a Muslim? But you don’t look like one!’ And what am I supposed to look like? Perhaps hidden away in some corner, or perhaps clutching at the arm of a bearded, chikan kurta clad man with a brood of squabbling children hovering around.

Humra Quraishi is a writer and columnist.
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