7 union territories.
7th largest economy in the world…
…there are plenty of facts and figures and stories that make our country, India, really special. This year, we celebrate the 72nd Independence Day of our proud nation – an occasion to feel the pride and joy of being Indians all over again. There are flurries of tricolours everywhere, men and women and kids have ditched western casual wear in favour of beautiful and ethnic dresses, and there is a general air of happiness everywhere. In schools and colleges across the country, flag-hoisting ceremonies and other feasts are being held amidst much fanfare. On this very special day, let us try to know our country just a bit more closely, by debunking a few common myths about India:
- India has ONE official language, and it is HINDI:
A very popular misconception. Sure, 80.5% of the country’s population are Hindus (Muslims make up for 13.4% of the population, while the percentage of Christians is ~2.3%) – but that does not, in any way, imply that Hindi is the ‘official’ or the ‘national’ language of our nation. In fact, Hindi (written in Devanagari script) is only one of the 24 recognised ‘official languages’ of India, as per the Indian constitution. The next time someone says ‘Hindi is the national language of India’, do not hesitate to correct him/her!
- India is a POOR country:
Last October, the rank of India on the Hunger Index fell from 94th to 100th, giving further fuel to this myth. Our country is a developing one, and is certainly not as ‘rich’ as some of the big Western countries. That said, the rapid growths in the economic and technological sectors of our nation in the recent years cannot be glossed over. Thanks to the robust performance of some of the Indian states (Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka), the multidimensional poverty levels (MDP) are dropping pretty sharply. The MDP of India in 2015-16 was around 20% – considerably lower than the 55% figure in 2005-06. Yes, India is a ‘developing’ nation with its fair share of poor people – but to refer to the country as such as a ‘poor’ one will be doing it an injustice.
- Strong economic growth = Condition of the poor getting better:
As much as we would like to believe in the goods of the ‘trickle-down effect’, there are definite question-marks over this. While there is every reason to celebrate the fact that India features among the G-20 countries, the per capita income figure (<$6500) of our country is a long way off the corresponding figures of countries like Belgium, France, Germany, and even Luxembourg. The correlation between economic growth and betterment of the poor is rather limited – and the growing income inequalities is an area the administrators need to focus on rectifying.
- The national sport of India is hockey:
This myth has probably spawned from the fact that our country has bagged as many as 8 Olympic gold medals for hockey. However, it is NOT the national sport of India (neither is Kabaddi, in case you were wondering!). Our nation does not have a single ‘national sport’ per se – although cricket is easily the sport on which maximum investments are made, and it also commands the highest viewership levels. Sportspersons like Sunil Chhetri, Viswanathan Anand, Sania Mirza and Abhinav Bindra, among others, have made India’s presence felt in various sporting disciplines. India is a country with a crazy love for sports – but we do not have a single ‘national sport’.
- India lacks cleanliness:
The average street in India might not look as picturesquely clean as a road in, say, Singapore – but to generalise the entire country as ‘unclean’ is just grossly wrong. The main issue here lies with the burgeoning population levels in the country, and the volume of waste they generate everyday. Getting rid of the waste on a day-to-day basis is a stiff challenge – as is changing the mindset of those who often wilfully get public places dirty. Concentrating only on the many slums of India – and ignoring the several beautifully maintained cities and districts is not the right way of looking at our country. The next time someone calls India ‘a country of slums’, stand up and contradict that person. Environmental awareness in India is rising, and our beloved country is ‘getting cleaner’.
- India is no longer dependent on agriculture:
Even when we take into account all the recent impressive progresses in the secondary and tertiary sectors of the Indian economy, the role of the agricultural and the informal sectors cannot be undermined. The total labour pool in India is well above 775 million – and from that, a measly ~3.6 million people are employed in the IT sector. More remarkably, the average rate of employment growth in the formal/organised sector of India grew at sub-1% rates over the previous decade. On the other hand, around 48% of the total number of jobs in the country is available in the farming sector (even though agriculture takes up only around 18% of the total GDP figure). Technology is playing a steadily increasing role in the Indian agricultural sector (with the arrival of advanced precision farming methods) – but India is still an agri-based country, and will remain so in the foreseeable future.
- FIFA denied India a chance to participate in the Football World Cup:
According to popular lore, the Indian team qualified for the Brazil World Cup in 1950, and wanted to play barefoot. Since this was a rather odd demand on the world stage, they were automatically disqualified by FIFA on this ground. Once again though, there is absolutely no concrete proof regarding this. In those days, a trip to Brazil was a pretty expensive affair – and with all due respect to the Indian footballers at the time, India’s chances of getting the better of the traditional football powerhouses were negligible. As a result, the fact might well be that the AIFF prompted the team to pull out of the event. Since then, India has never qualified for the football world cup again. The wait continues.
- The Indian climate is HOT and Indian food is mostly vegetarian:
Yes, India is ONE country – but we simply can’t leave it at that. There are diversities from one region to another, in terms of weather conditions and culture and behaviour and food habits and many other things. Contrary to what many foreigners think, Indian weather is not about scorching heats all the time – and temperatures, in fact, vary widely (in the +50°C to the -50°C range). When it comes to Indian cuisine, there are many unique, signature vegetarian dishes that our country has on offer. However, non-vegetarian tourists have no reason to despair – since delectable fish, chicken, mutton and ham dishes are all readily available throughout the country.
- Being a net exporter of food implies food security:
Once again, taking this myth to be true would be too naive. Recent studies have revealed a startling fact: nearly 61 million children in India are underweight, primarily due to malnutrition and related lack of food hygiene. ~28% of Indian kids under the age of 5 are underweight, as a direct result of under-nutrition. That, in turn, indicates that there is still a long way to go for our country to attain ‘food security’ in the truest sense of the word – even after several years of being net food exporters. A closer look would highlight that both the quality and the quantity of food intake for a vast chunk of the population is grossly substandard. This scenario needs to be changed fast by the authorities.
- Indian Railways is the biggest employment provider in the world:
A statement that we would love to believe, but is not quite true. A 2015 World Economic Forum confirmed that the US defense department actually takes top slot – when it comes to providing employment (>3.5 million employees). Indian Railways, with less than half of that employee count (1.4 million employees in 2015) occupies the eighth position, and is immediately followed by the Indian Armed Forces. Over the years, the Indian Railways has generated jobs to many, many people – but it is far from being the biggest employment provider. Not all the large-scale railway records can we claim as ours!
Note: And while we are at it, let’s just quickly clarify that Varanasi is NOT the oldest city in the world. There are more than 30 cities around the world, whose origins can be traced back to well before 1100 BC.
- India was a ‘secular’ country since Independence:
According to the preamble to the Indian constitution, our country is a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic, right? Well, the word ‘secular’ was not there to start with – and it was only added in 1976, in the 42nd constitutional amendment. Today, people of all religions can be found in India, right from Hindus, Muslims and Christians, to Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, and others. In terms of ethnicity, Indo-Aryans are the dominant group (taking up ~71% of the population), while Dravidians are also fairly common. Since the times of yore, India has accommodated everyone – and that holds true even now.
- India, the land of magicians and snake charmers:
Although film-making is changing, the average Hollywood flick is still likely to portray India as a land of strangely dressed people, snakes and other reptiles…a land of many mysteries, and not of the nice kind. In fact, many people even feel (undoubtedly influenced by such incorrect portrayals) that visiting India might be ‘risky’. Once again though, there is little truth behind this. The risks of facing a medical hazard or coming across a deadly reptile in India are pretty much the same as in many other countries (and, in fact, considerably lower than that in South American/African nations). There is also a tendency of showing India as a country where tigers roam about freely, which is also wrong. The number of tigers worldwide is declining rapidly – and just because someone is in India does not mean (s)he is likely to be attacked by a tiger anytime!
There are many weird myths surrounding prominent Indian personalities. For instance, Mahatma Gandhi probably did not say “An eye for an eye…” (in the film ‘Gandhi’, actor Ben Kingsley, essaying the titular role, had this dialogue), he definitely did not dance with a British lady (the frequently circulated picture is of an Australian actor dressed up as Gandhiji), and Milkha ‘The Flying Sikh’ Singh did not look behind – and lose the top spot – in the 1960 Olympics. These are all myths that have originated from different sources, and have stood the test of time.
India is a land of manifold charms – a country like few others. On this Independence Day, let us take a pledge to care for our nation a little more, give it a bit more love, and know more about the country.
Happy Independence Day!