One Billion People and One Stereotype

by Krishna on October 19, 2010

There are a few maps like this floating around of how large Africa is when compared to the rest of the world. There is a reason why people underestimate the vastness of Africa — 2D maps distort the real shapes of land masses (globes do it better). See how big Greenland (2 million looks when compared to South America (18 million even though the latter is way larger.

Anyway, it got me thinking of the way how people tend to talk about “Indians”, especially when it comes to talking about “Indian software engineers”. It is amazing how almost 1.2 billion people (17% of the world population) gets clubbed together. This is more than the entire population of both Americas and Australia with lots of change left over and yet…

To give an example of the diversity in India, consider this. I come from a state in southern India called Kerala. I cannot carry on a conversation with people from neighboring states (Karnataka and Tamil Nadu) because they speak different languages, unless we both speak English or Hindi. The culture in the other states are also different — clothes, festivals, food, etc. even while there are some similarities.

Within Kerala (which is one of the smaller states in India), there are different dialects that allow you to place a person from different parts of Kerala (north, central or southern). There are different religions including Islam at 25% and Christianity at 19% and different communities practicing a variety of traditions. Other states have their own mix of communities, languages and cultures, not counting the increasing Western influence over the new generation of Indians. There are over 1500 languages/dialects spoken in India. People of all religions. People of different ethnic groups.

So when I read, “Indians are good at this or bad or that”, I wonder who they are referring to? Is it based on the 0.00000001% of Indians that they have met, or do they really know what they are talking about?

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