Is bias towards the “other” inherent in a community, or is it something which is built from the outside in? This is something we were discussing this Sunday. While our Sunday random jaunt did take us to some places across Singapore, not many w ecould share. Suffice it to say that we ended the jaunt at Bishan (how we got there is a different story, for another day), and then for dinner at Little India.
We did have this somewhat lively, and definitely animated discussion, over cups of Teh and Kopi about whether a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic society has biases against specific communities. The discussion, like any such discussion, meandered down roads, turned down alleys (some of them blind), took minor and major detours, and basically got nowhere. So, it would be impossible to give a blow by blow account (which is also attributed to the fact that when a number of people are all talking simultaneously, no one would be able to take notes, nor would, like in this scenario, anyone be interested to).
The basic argument was that in India, communities have certain biases which are fundamentally against the Muslim community. While the discussion went all over the place, we did agree that there is truth in that assertion. For instance, a lot of people are hesitant to give their house on rent to a Muslim young man. However, there are two aspects which came out of here. One is that this kind of bias isnt specifically based on religional differences, but that people face these biases based on regional, and caste dimensions too, among others. For instance, in some instances, some Bengali folks we know find it difficult to get a house on rent because they eat meat. Or, not many folks would give their house on rent to people from specific castes, because of caste prejudices. In other words, there are many dimensions to biases.
The next question is where these biases emerge from. Essentially, these are created in the public imagination through the imagery we get through different means. This imagery, due to its very nature thrives on generalizing specifics, in order to try to create caricatures. In Bollywood movies, for instance, the Sardars are usually shown consuming copious quantities of tandoori chicken, or Tamils are usually shown with Dosa, Vada, or Idlis. Truth, on the other hand, is that Tamil cooking is far more varied than what is usually portrayed, and the usual Punjabi meal is vegetarian, with meat making an appearance once in a while, and is not a common occurence.
Its usually easier to identify differences than to understand similarities. Lets understand this with an example. Its quite easy to look at a number of colours and say that these colours are each different from each other, but it is infinitely more difficult (requires more effort, and there is much less tried by the average person) to ponder the fact that after all, all the colours we see emerge from a basic set of seven colours. This requires thinking, and an investment of time and energy which a large number of people are not willing to do with hectic lifestyles.