By Sakshi Jain:
Stereotypes are not arbitrary ideas propagated by legendary authors. Instead, they are anonymously created, deep- rooted ideas and beliefs that encompass us. Building up on these constructed hackneyed ideas is easier than having to know each individual. Stereotyping has become a way of categorizing the many people on some basis in our attempts to know them. The world of academic institutions is not an exception when it comes to labelling its embodiments on the basis of preconceived notions about the institution. As much as we question the authenticity and the existence of these stereotypes, we tend to use them for creating an image of the people in those institutions. More than building on those set notions, we tend to be a part of the stereotypical identities ourselves which causes us to lose or compromise our personal identity much like we do to others.
The common stereotypical identity of any student in Lady Shri Ram College (LSR) is that of a hard core feminist, equal to being a ‘man-hater’. Navneet Arora from LSR negates this notion by saying, “We have women with different shades of characteristics, loving yet fierce and vulnerable yet strong, to paint them all in the same colour will be erroneous.”
Recounting my personal experience as a part of this college, I would confess that LSR channelled my first close acquaintance with the feminist ideology and the implications of the term itself. However, I was oblivious to my ‘labelled identity’ of man-hater by the virtue of being an embodiment of a feminist space. I might identify myself as a feminist but that does not imply my abhorrence towards men. The fierce, rebellious and revolutionary image of women in LSR is an inevitable stereotype that gets attached to my personality even though I do not conform to these. In cases where I intend to resort to negotiation, it is conceived as forceful domination. The pre-established image of women in LSR forces people to construe all their actions or words through the lens of women empowerment initiative.
People interacting with me have a common perception that my familiarity with feminist ideology has had an overpowering effect on my rationality. However, I feel that the stereotypical image back in their minds has overpowered their rationale so much so that they can’t distinguish between the stereotypical and personal identities. I was once beginning to have a normal conversation with my acquaintance when I was alarmingly stopped in the middle of my first sentence by an infuriated reaction of the person. The person presumed that the purpose of my conversation would be gender driven, even though it was meant to be a light-hearted conversation.
Recently, as I was going to visit JNU, I had my mind set to see students in “kurta and jeans” marching to some protest or the other. Because in my mind, there is a constructed image of Jawaharlal Nehru University as a highly political space with its students politically motivated and revolutionary. Even though the ambience within the campus seemed politically intimidating to me but the campus has more to say than the hyped political activism. According to Apoorva Sinha, a student of JNU, “The University is beyond politics and civil services where people also express themselves through different means like Music, Art and Dance etc.” She also delineated a major impact that these stereotypical identities have on students who tend to groom themselves into that stereotypical environment because of pride and survival issues or other unexplained reasons.
This isn’t just restricted to JNU and LSR. I have heard that students of St. Stephens college are indifferent snobs. And I have also heard that SRCC students are vulnerable to a reaction like “Oh SRCC! Of course you’re going to get placed with a brilliant package! You wouldn’t waste your time on further studies now, right? Why would you?”
Some other stereotypes I have come across – girls at Jesus and Mary College (JMC) are stereotyped as fashion queens, interested in shopping from only particular brand shops. Students of IIT Delhi are categorized as frustrated nerds with no social life. I have also come across the stereotype of Hindu College, where the students distinguish themselves from other colleges by a distinct, stereotyped attire of a “black kurta” and being active in drama and debate.
But what about the students in St. Stephen’s who aren’t as affluent as much as it is puffed up, what about students in SRCC who want to pursue jobs after attaining higher degrees after graduation and what about girls in JMC who love buying clothes from the Delhi street markets? Unfortunately, their identity is submerged within the stereotypes that we hold against each other and this cycle of stereotyping is everlasting, trickling down for generations. On one occasion, when my friend and I were watching a Nukkad Natak on our campus, we conjectured the participants’ college by their attire- ‘black kurta’ but we were mistaken. The stereotypical identity has gripped us all into an unreasonable reliance on those pre-set notions of recognizing people. It has become so deeply entrenched in our lives that we fail to question its roots and legitimacy.
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