10 Misconceptions About India

India is a very misunderstood country. Heck, I spent four months there and I left feeling more confused about the place than before I went. With outsiders’ eyes, I put together this list of common misconceptions about India.

  1. Everyone is Hindu. Nope. Far from it. According to Wikipedia, “The 2001 census reported that Hinduism, with over 800 million adherents (80.5% of the population), was the largest religion in India; it is followed by Islam (13.4%), Christianity (2.3%), Sikhism (1.9%), Buddhism (0.8%), Jainism (0.4%), Judaism, Zoroastrianism, and the Bahá’í Faith. India has the world’s largest Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Zoroastrian, and Bahá’í populations, and has the third-largest Muslim population and the largest Muslim population for a non-Muslim majority country.”
  2. Everyone is vegetarian. Nope. I met many Hindus who were not vegetarian. I met very few who eat beef, but sheep, chicken, and fish are common. Of course you do find strict vegetarians and vegans, but I think nowadays they are becoming fewer and fewer in number.
  3. Everyone is spiritual. Nope. First, the younger generation is drifting further and further from India’s spiritual heritage. Many in the older generation know yoga and how to meditate, but it seems like many young people are not learning these things, let alone the deeper aspects of spirituality.
  4. India is the birthplace of Buddha. No, he was born in Nepal. His birthplace is just a few kilometers from the Indian border though, and he spent much of his life in modern-day India, gaining enlightenment and dying there.
  5. Everyone speaks Hindi and/or English. Though these two languages are the official languages of India, hundreds of millions of people speak neither. In the 20+ Indian states where Hindi is not the language people use in the street, it must be learned in school. Even then, in the south Indian states, particularly Kerala, it’s common to find people who speak English but not Hindi. Well-educated and middle class Indians speak English well without exception. Although this group of people encompasses millions, the reality is that hundreds of millions of people are not in this class.
  6. Everyone is poor and hungry. India is home to some of the most opulent displays of wealth, actually. Go to a wedding and you’ll probably find the average woman wearing more gold than you can imagine. I don’t know if Indians flaunt their wealth more than people from other places, but in a place with extreme financial poverty everywhere to be found the contrast is far more striking. There is financial poverty in India, no doubt, but it’s not as bad as you may think. That said, there are still huge problems with nutrition, especially among children.
  7. India got independence in 1947. This is true, but the India of 1947 would be unrecognizable to us today. There were many small kingdoms that had to be convinced (or finally given no other option) to join the republic in the coming years. France still had its colony in Pondicherry until 1954. Portugal still had its colony of Goa until 1961. The last place to join the Republic of India, the Kingdom of Sikkim, joined in 1975.
  8. Everyone wobbles their head. Though this is the stereotype, I can safely say that many people don’t do this. One’s propensity to head wobble seems more based on the one’s social circle’s propensity to head wobble. If your community doesn’t do it, you don’t either.
  9. The food is very spicy. India’s food is fantastically diverse, with each state often having a totally different cuisine. While much of India’s food can be spicy for those who are not used to eating spicy food, I ate nothing there that left me in tears and reaching for water. Nothing at all. And in the state of Gujrat, for example, they put raw sugarcane (called jaggery locally) into most of their dishes giving them a very sweet taste.
  10. Everyone drinks tea (chai). Though chai is very common there, in southern India coffee reigns supreme. The south of India even prepares coffee in a unique way.
2 replies
  1. Kamesh
    Kamesh says:

    hi Friend,

    I am from India. I read about your pursuits. Happiness will be available to anyone, if we know the goal of life. Having said this, we should channelize our energies to get Happiness. Indian shastras ( religious scriptures) have plenty of knowledge to find happiness.

    I request you to read the hindu scriptures published by “Iskcon” Following the books, Happiness is guaranteed.


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