American Images of India : Myth and Reality

American images of India: Myth and Reality

Dr. Babu Suseelan


Despite the best efforts of a multitude of Indian scholars, Indian American organizations, Hindu Temples, Swamis many Americans still woefully uninformed about India. Evidence of how poorly informed the American public on India abounds. Public opinion polls consistently portray either ignorance or deep- seated bias against Indians. American  attitudes appear to be based not on firm convictions but mere opinions that closely held but largely  unexamined . Making the picture even bleaker is the apparent reluctance of Americans to study foreign cultures. The World views most Americans appear to remain Eurocentric despite the growing importance of Asia in all aspects of American Life.

The problem of bias seems to be founded upon ignorance of even the most fundamental facts regarding India. Bias, prejudice and negative attitudes undoubtedly are based on limited information and distorted stories. What is known about India has been learned haphazardly from the mass media. (The world informational system is completely controlled by the west) film makers, cartoonists, politicians, missionaries or even from Indian films. Consequently dramatic events have the capacity to allow the basic attitude patterns. So it is fair to claim, then, that American attitudes towards India are dominated by distorted images by notions based more upon hearsay or vague impressions than on facts.

“India is spiritual”


An image commonly held by Americans is that India is spiritual and America is materialistic. By this they mean that the common motivation in life for Indians is ‘other worldly’. According to this facile imagery Indian seek not to better them materially in this temporary existence, but are always preparing them to escape this life and better in the next.

In contrast Americans seek to live the good life now, and only secondary to prepare for eternity. This also explains why Indians tend to be more “passive” and Americans are more active “doers”.

The image is built upon the misconception that the religion (Hinduism) is escapist, life negating, irrational and mystic… This misconception is based on misunderstanding of religious and philosophical aspects of Indian life.

Many Americans ignore the diversity of Indian Philosophical systems and traditions. They fail to comprehend the fact that various Indian social groups are rich mosaics made up of remarkable complex segments and belief systems .They are reluctant to understand  the simplicity and  purity of the Indian life style. They refuse to accept the fact that the ‘great’ and ‘little’ Indian traditions is a way of life and not a cluster of religious cults.

American youths are attracted to Indian religions not because of the purity and beauty of the insights they present to life, but   against the structured, normative, mechanistic, rigid American way of life and religions.  They also fail to appreciate how Indian religions are lived out in daily life by the average Indian believer and thus have an incomplete view of the religious practices of India. There is no attempt either by Indians or by organized religious groups to acquaint Americans with the reality of Indian religious belief as well as the central philosophies held by various Indian religions.



Another misconception is America is scientific, rational, technologically advanced and dynamic and India is unscientific, irrational, disadvantaged and static. Americans assume that Indians do not have scientific minds turned to scientific enquiry. They fail to comprehend that India is the third largest Industrial nation on earth and India produce more computer programmers, engineers and scientists than any other industrial nation. Most Americans also do not realize how much change has occurred in India over the past several years they frequently civilization is static and India is literally teeming with conditioned minds.  They have ingrained in their minds the assumption that upper-class Indians exploit and control lower class by force. Indians lack respect for individual life and masses of people are suffering and starving.  These false and distorted images suggest that Indian democracy is inferior to American form of government.  American people think that free society is capitalism and consumerism and they expect India to adopt it.

There is not a singular or easy way to project the positive images of India. At present the worldwide flow of information is controlled by the west. India should assert its right to develop its own independent information system and protect national interests.  Cultural identity and life style by regulating western news organizations. India should take the initiative to establish a new world information order and disseminate positive images of India across frontiers.

American educated Indians should not be deluded with the notion that American culture and civilization are directly exportable to India through rapid industrialization and urbanization.  We need to revive and affirm our cultural traditions and philosophies which have helped us to survive generations of foreign invasion and dominance. We should take positive steps to educate next generation about the little and great religious traditions of India.  This will guarantee cultural continuity and religious identity. Indian scholars, Journalists, Politicians, Social leaders, diplomats and students should join together and confront the distorted images of India and systematically correct misconceptions without any failure. This requires active participation in Indian society and in American society.

Source: Babu Shusheelan