Considering that the world is more connected and people are better informed than at any time in history, it is somewhat amazing that certain areas of the world are still surrounded by an air of mystery, myth, and misunderstanding.
This is particularly true with regards to India.
This is especially surprising considering India’s long cultural heritage, its place as one of the emerging economic and technology hubs of the world, and its place as the world’s largest democracy and the world’s second largest population.
In many ways it appears that most Westerners’ impression of the sub-continent are formed from viewings of The Jungle Book, Slumdog Millionaire, or snippets of Bollywood films viewed on YouTube.
It is with the same eye toward understanding this amazingly diverse country; we would like to debunk some of the other myths as well.
Many would-be visitors avoid experiencing the wonders of India because it is “dangerous”. If one believes the rumours; the medical conditions are horrendous, there are poisonous snakes everywhere, crime is rampant, and you are likely to be attacked by a tiger.
With the exception of the tiger myth, the same things can be said with some degree of accuracy about America, Australia, and many parts of Europe, at least in isolated areas.
In general India is no more dangerous than any other modern country in the world, and in some cases, it is considerably safer.
With regards to the tiger myth, that one is pretty much not true anywhere in the world.
To call India a country is technically correct, but fails to take into account the immense scope of the county’s population, geography (India is the 7th largest country by size), and history.
Due in large part to its history, India is far more like the EU than an individual country. Until relatively recently, India was a collection of princely states with powerful rulers, which contributed to the country’s vast differences from area to area.
There are 14 different official languages spoken in India, and India has one of the world’s richest mixes of religious beliefs. Four of the world’s oldest religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism, were born in India. You’ll also find sizeable Muslim and Christian populations.
In addition to regional differences in language, beliefs and customs, the food differs greatly from one section of the county to another.
There is no question that India is a developing third-world country. That means that a large number of people are “poor”, especially by Western standards.
What many people fail to consider is the technological and economic growth of the country, which is quickly transforming India into one of the world’s largest economies. (It currently ranks number 7.) The result of this growth is a rapidly growing middle-class with access to the latest in fashion, amenities, technology, and services.
The sad fact is that poverty exists in every country of the world; India is no exception.
While over 80% of the Indian population are Hindus, it is inaccurate to call the country a Hindu state. Hinduism is the world’s oldest religion, but differs dramatically from the Western concept of religion. Hinduism has no core doctrine, there is not central authority, followers are not expected to follow any one basic concept, and the religion has no one founder.
The 19th century mystic, Sri Ramakrishna, once said that for Hindus “there can be as many spiritual paths as there are spiritual aspirants and similarly there can be as many gods as there are moods, feelings and emotions within the individual believer,” which remains one of the best descriptions of the religion.
- The Environment and Cleanliness
India has one of the densest populations on the planet, and the slums that are so vividly depicted in movies do exist. Dealing with the amount of trash and waste generated by 1.2 billion people and a growing economy can present a challenge. Additionally like many emerging economies, including China, environmental concerns have often lagged behind growth in other sectors.
However, to say that India is unclean as a whole is simply not true. Many areas of the country are incredibly clean and environmental improvements are continuing.
India does have the lowest consumption of meat of any country in the world, which has resulted in some of the most flavourful vegetarian dishes on the planet. However, fish, chicken and even beef dishes are widely available.
This is possibly another of the myths perpetuated by movies. India’s climate covers almost every extreme from very hot and humid to dry and cold and those in between. The temperature range in India ranges from 50°C to -50°C.
- Cricket is the National Game
Cricket is the most popular game in the country and thanks to astute promoters and talented players is well on its way to being as close the national sport as any. However, the population is also very fond of football, boxing, wrestling, tennis, and badminton, which is said to have originated in the subcontinent.
- Indian women do not work or study
Early Indian tradition held that women would become homemakers after marriage. Now that is not the case. Female literacy is at an all-time high and the scores of female students are generally higher than their male counterparts. Indian women are found working as lawyers, journalists, doctors, and engineers. It should also be noted that several cultures and regions in India are matriarchs.
- The Taj Mahal is the only tourist attraction
The Taj Mahal is without a doubt the most recognisable landmark in India. However to state that a country with thousands of years of history which is responsible for wonderful temples, forts, and palaces, along with wonderful beaches and mountainous regions can be summed up with one structure is similar to saying Big Ben defines London.