I have a prejudice. We all do.
April 25, 2018. Indore, Madhya Pradesh.
This blog was written as assignment 2 for my Psychology 3 course at IPM, IIM Indore. The writing prompt was "tell us about a prejudice that you hold".
Prejudices are not something that come out of the blues. More often than not, it is our childhood and upbringing that shapes us. Our upbringing shapes our thinking and in many ways rigs it inadvertently. As Daniel Kahneman says, people are risk averse and thinking fast requires some preconceived notions about the subject matter. In my case, this is about nationality.
For me, people of Pakistan were rude, violence lovers, misogynists, and many were even terrorists. They hated girl children, didn’t believe in modern education, treated men and women differently and what not.
This might be partly because of my childhood. I was born in 1998. Before even I could complete a year, a war with Pakistan started – Kargil. Well, media then highlighted too many negative aspects of Pakistan and this not only made me, but most of the world, wary of Pakistan’s ways. India always had a special relationship with Pakistan, and if you don’t know about it – seriously? Are you kidding me?
Once upon a time, the two pieces of land were together. They loved each other and supported each other. But before the independence, partition happened, and now people were officially divided by a border that was never meant to be. In fact, the stories are too horrific to stop writers to narrate the story. However, Kargil was not the first time when an actual war between the countries occurred. In the years 1965 and 1971, the nations were at war. Various proxy wars never stopped. Kashmir Conflict and Junagadh Conflict further add the case. Even today, the armies of both countries give examples of Indo-Pak war for motivational lessons.
So yeah, both countries have enough reasons to hate and fight each other.
India and Pakistan never leave a chance for a brawl – duel or even a public performance – the rivalry is manifold. They are occasionally involved in a war of words with each other in global forums like United Nations and have polar opposite views on nearly all issues. Any competition in which they compete against each other, the countries are super excited, e.g. Cricket. Many people don’t even know what Cricket is but give them a chance, and they won’t miss a minute of the match. When a group “puts down” the other, against which it has prejudice, it further reinstates its comparative value. This competition bolsters in cases of threats, and these matches are perfect examples of the same.
My childhood was filled with such thoughts by media and my environment. My parents took considerable care that I don’t develop a prejudice on the Pakistanis – they kept me away from such media, they even made me watch leftist media channels just so that I remain neutral until I’m sensible enough to judge a country’s decision. But regrettably, they weren’t very successful. They were successful enough to make me question the media and how they portrayed the news articles, but I always was supportive of my nation and had even-if-it-is-wrong-it-is-my-nation attitude, and thus a strong nationalist.
In a few years, when I was in class fifth, I was selected for Sainik School Tilaiya – a military institution under Government of India. Another blow of anti-Pakistan ideas. I’d be lying if I say that I wasn’t getting such ideas on a daily basis. People at my school could never get bored of discussing wars and their strategies. Military men who had previously fought in wars would jump to tell us stories of the same. In fact, for many drill sessions, we requested them to share their border stories which were not only excellent and enthralling experiences but more importantly a fantastic time killer from the excruciating drills.
Moreover, our hallways, galleries, museums, “Hall of Fame”, “Immortal Tilaiyans” (a tribute to martyrs) further reinforced this idea of having an adverse image of Pakistan. The movies which were aired on various occasions like – Tiranga, Lakshya, LoC Kargil, Tango Charlie – all further told me why Pakistan was wrong in its methods.
So, this way, my prejudice manifested. I was repeatedly told that Pakistan was napak (dirty).
Perpetrators often perceive these prejudices as legitimate and justified. In this case, several other parties who had almost no relations with those involved had an opinion. Psychologists say that a perceived threat is the most important reason why we form a prejudice. The constant fear of attack coupled with horrific tales of partition was sufficient to instil the same in us. Indians are attached to their identity as Indians. Pakistan is a nation that is sufficiently related but distantly similar. Speaking for Pakistan hurts our self-esteem as Indians. Researchers have also shown that the more critical loyalty to one’s ingroup, the greater prejudice one has for the outgroups.
However, some of my prejudice faded away mainly due to the video by AIB (All India Backchod) about three years ago titled “When India spoke to Pakistan”. In this video, they got about eight to ten people from India to talk to another eight to ten people from Pakistan. The talks turned out to be very friendly, and love transpired both ways.
It was then that I actually tried to find evidence of the other side. To find evidence that Pakistan, although not substantially like a western state, but valued women. It was difficult for sure, but there were some evidences. Not substantial to reject my previous hypothesis, but surely enough to question the accuracy. Searching further, I realized media shows what sells. They will never show the good qualities or the qualities that Pakistan’s citizens are trying to improve on. They have to make enough profits ultimately to run for another day.
Do I still have this prejudice? I hate to say this, but the answer is yes. I still would like to avoid their effect as much as I could. I have got no grudge against people of any religion, caste, creed or colour. But this is something that I don’t think I can save myself from. I never had significant examples of another side – when people of Pakistan cared for the girl child, that could break my prejudice.
But the more important question is what did I do anything that could decrease it? Well, until the time of writing this, I didn’t do anything significant. I was mostly unaware of this. I don’t hate them – except their fringe elements, which isn’t limited to Pakistan but anyone who does such acts. The most effective method in this context would increase contacts. I’ve talked to people of various nationalities – but didn’t even try to contact a Pakistani. This would perhaps be a good start. Moreover, I’m also improving myself to learn to say “No” to my prejudices, as Kawakami et al. (2000) report. The last method – the social influence that people of their group like people from the prejudiced group – isn’t something that can work in my context. Most people have usually accepted that they hate Pakistan and are in no plan to change it, unlike me. I want to change my prejudice, but unfortunately, the stakes are too high to support otherwise.
Another prejudice I once possessed but now have sufficiently got rid of is about Bengalis. I always thought that Bengali people are misers in their expenses. They don’t understand the importance of money is in spending it at the right time in the right fashion. They tend to value the money they earn so highly that they prefer saving for the future rather than paying for better living conditions today.
The stereotype perhaps originated in my childhood when I hadn’t developed my senses fully to understand the complexities of the world. My family, fortunately, is from a well to do family. My grandfather owned a Mica factory in Koderma, world’s largest producer of Mica. Right amount of wealth had transferred subsequently – not enough to call us rich, but enough to call us well to do. This, however, didn’t discourage any ties that my grandfather or my father or my uncles had with their friends, some of who happened to be Bengalis.
So, in my case, one of my father’s friend was a Bengali, and I always saw him doing an extra bit to save amounts as small as ₹5. This always amazed me. Thanks to my stable upbringing, I never questioned or thought to judge them on their behaviour but I nevertheless never understood why they did that. I almost always got ₹5 to eat chocolate whenever I wanted and so hadn’t realised its importance.
Fast forward another two years. I’m in class two, aged five. I was now old enough to understand people’s economic conditions. And it was this time that I realised that people who earn money are always conservative about it. It’s people who got that for free who spend it thrifty. Moreover, uncle’s (my father’s friend) economic conditions were not as strong as that of my father. But my father was a childhood friend to him and could not not help him. He was a perfect example that he did everything that he could to make him feel at home and support him in whatsoever manner.
I realised that it’s not about the community but instead about conditions that define misery.
The most important step that led me to change this prejudice was the feeling of guilt that knowingly or unknowingly, I was judging them. The sense of guilt is the most important and useful technique that one can use in prejudices of such kind. I always had contact with him – I played with him from I-don’t-remember-how-long. I never hated him – I loved his presence. I was still joyful when around or with him. In fact, on many days, I would spend hours with Aunty. (She was a Government School Headmaster and had a lot of books at her home that kept me amused. Books at my home were too severe for a five-year-old kid.)
While I was writing this blog, I also learnt that people have several other pre-conceived notions about Bengalis. Most of them are, of course, wrong. But its too difficult for people to change their mindset. Most people try to find and recall examples that support their previously established notions — called Availablity Bias in Psychology. Here are some hilarious ones.
Today, I’m entirely free of that bias and prejudice. I understand that people are doing something peculiar not because they are part of any group but instead because they have no other better choice with them.