The case of Paatal Lok once again suggests the persistence of racism and how Mongolian featured North-easterners have been both dramatically underrepresented and excessively stereotyped in India. Stereotypes are positive and negative generalizations attributed to the members of a group consciously and sometimes unconsciously. They have a significant impact because stereotypes convey information and perception to an individual about the social group’s primary attributes and their identity. 

The nature of information in the web series Paatal Lok is conveying about the Nepali speaking community has become problematic and is inviting backlash equally from civil society, academia and political establishments from across the globe. The rebound cannot be simply brushed aside by claiming it as ethnocentric and hyper-reactive. The counter-argument of creative freedom and that it is simply the refection of social reality looks ambiguous and does not hold ground when the lady constable calls a Khasi titled girl, a Nepali whore. This is the height of misunderstanding of reality the producers have. 

Bollywood has most often represented and to an extent have become successful in conventionalizing Nepali as chowkidars and people in the past have protested against such portrayals as evident in the case of Prashant Tamang and anti-Flipkart campaign. However, this time the word “whore” assigned to the adjective “Nepali” is enraging.

Prostitution is a profession practised across communities but tagging the same with a particular community sends a negative message and perception about the community particularly to those who hardly know or have lived with a Nepali. Numerous studies have suggested that media are powerful in developing, reinforcing, and validating stereotypical beliefs and expectations concerning certain groups, particularly when the audience’s personal experience with those groups is limited. Given the popularity and huge penetration of OOT platforms and the extent these platforms have become a new normal and socialization tool for young adults, any negative stereotyping, misinformation and disinformation may come at heavy price. 

Paatal Lok is doing the same by employing stereotypes as a convenient tool of categorization of Nepalis. When someone with a typical identifiable facial feature is referred as a “Nepali whore” as said in the web series, prostitution can be assumed to be one stereotypic characteristic associated with Nepalis against which other social groups can differentiate themselves, then these images and identity may gradually be symbolic as well like it happened with the word chowkidar. As a result of this process of categorization of Nepalis as whores and chowkidars, stereotyping is likely.

When stereotyping occurs, persons are perceived in terms of their shared group characteristic rather than their attributes, thereby reducing the impact of their impression. Such state of affairs is dangerous and everyone associated at one point has to pay the price for it. And given that stereotypes are associated with a variety of groups and once formed are not easily dismissed, it is no wrong as a concerned member of the said social group, people make greater efforts to disseminate accurate and diversified depictions of groups in the media and other discursive spaces. 

More than social reality, Paatal Lok reflects existing hegemony in India of certain race, class and ideologies over the subordinate groups. It reflects how dominant group disenfranchises the subdominant through the creation and perpetuation of stereotypes in media to maintain their status quo. In the case of the people of North-East, their stereotyping as whores, chowkidars, chinkis, momos, Chinese, exotic clowns and others mark them as symbols of ethnic exclusion.

The writer is an Asst. Professor at Salesian College Sonada and Research Scholar at Sikkim University. He can be contacted at privatgiri89@gmail.com

Views/Opinions expressed in the article or write up is purely of the author or writer and not of the Sikkim Chronicle. For any queries or contradictions, the author can be contacted in his/her email id.

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