They exist in all facets of life, in different situations, cultures and continents. Is there a doing away with these pre-conceived notions? Or do they only show signs of getting stronger?
There are these common stereotypes that we have heard. For example, popular perception is that Asians are a very intelligent race, or how fat people are jolly people who don’t care much about anything in particular, or how people who dress in a certain way have a certain mindset. These stereotypes have been reiterated and imposed for years, that they get ingrained into the minds of people, who unfortunately judge a person’s attitude much before they actually get to know him/her. We spoke to some people to understand the kind of experiences they had on being stereotyped—some funny, some far from it!
We start with Juhi Babbar, an active theatre personality who has a lot to share when it comes to stereotypes. She says, “I have seen people do certain things or dress in a certain way, because they want to be stereotyped! Like artists, more often than not they dress up in khadis and wear oxidised jewellery. I don’t understand why it has to be the case really.” Juhi also recollects her experiences abroad and says, “I was in Iran for a shoot and the lady at the airport security began to chide me for not wearing the traditional veil, thinking I was Iranian. When I told her I was Indian, she couldn’t believe that being an Indian I could be so fair. That was ridiculous!”
Owais Hussain, MF Hussain’s son, is a contemporary artist and cartographer. Owais shares his thoughts on stereotyping. “When I was in USA, a lot of people asked me if we went on elephants and camels to work. I used to tell them that the elephants and camels usually come to our doorstep to escort us to our offices. I just made fun of the whole situation, not knowing how to answer their questions,” he adds, “We are all looking for labels—it is, I believe part of the human psyche to categorise people into certain pockets. We cannot see them in isolation. But at the end of it, just because you are stereotyped, you do not benefit out of belonging to a particular category — you got to earn your name, and your daily bread,” he adds philosophically.
Vineeta Mishra is an employee with a multi-national company in Hyderabad. She recollects the time when she was asked to meet a man for a marriage alliance. “It was really funny. The guy came and met me in my college where I was pursuing a journalism course. I had worn a khadi kurta that day, and he started to make his own assumptions on how I must be the Ghulam Ali ghazal-loving person, and how I mostly would prefer art movies over the commercial ones. I was baffled at his presumptions based just on my way of dressing. Of course I rejected the proposal,” she says.
Rakshanda Khan, television actress reveals stereotyping in her acting profession. “There is a lot of it in cinema. The good girls have dark and long hair, and dark eyes too, and the bad girls have light and short hair, and light eyes. And we reiterate these stereotypes in our movies all the time.”
Actress Tanishtha Chatterjee, says, “I spent ample time both in India and abroad, and I do notice a lot of stereotyping happening around. People assume that if you talk in a certain way, you must be gay. In the movie industry, we are all victims of stereotypes. It’s high time we break away from these characterisations,” she says emphatically.
Darshan Zariwala, a television actor has his own view on stereotyping. He muses, “I entered the film industry at the right time I believe. Although there was stereotyping even then, I got to play many different characters. Today, it’s a lot more rigid than it was. People have set impressions on how they want the characters to be. In that sense, once you play a role, you are married to similar ones for a long time to come.”
Manisha Tripati, a Hyderabad based counsellor says, “Stereotyping to an extent is harmless. We need to pre-judge people who we meet for the first time, or don’t know much about, as it is an act of prudence. But to go beyond a certain level, and to be rigid in the ideas and mindset makes it a problem that not only affects him or her, but also the relationships.”
Point taken. Stereotypes have always existed, and will continue to exist. However, it is up to the level which one wants to take these beliefs to — moderate or extreme, that seems to make all the difference.