Category Archives: Identity
We have come to a point where the accident of our birth is become a sign of virtue/merit or sin/shame. It seems to me to be a rolling back of everything the 20th century fought for – that it was possible to overcome the drawbacks of our birth if we so wished. Everything was supposed to be about free will, choice, freedom, rewards for effort and the virtue of self-education. It has now become about being the ‘right’ type, learning to think in the right apocalyptic way, and to learn the right forms of political interaction and groupthink.
So folks are now going to justify bullying, shaming and silencing by saying that people ‘like’ you (with markers of nationality, ethnicity, race, and religion) have been known to do this and this so you are at fault, no matter what you have done as an individual. You deserve it. History puts you at fault, and someone else writes history now. Your turn to be oppressed. We must first reverse the balance of power before we’ll talk about equal and uniform rights for all. And we are exceptional; and while some of us may be at fault, you cannot accuse people ‘like’ me. Take it. Apologize now, and always.
I find this strange, no matter which side it comes from.
[Thus I anticipate my derisive critics: allow me to parade my ignorance. You may have your say later and in more public fora, I am sure, than this obscure page. And yes, I know you will take from my ill-informed arguments what you need to build your own powerful ones. ]
Within the context of the ‘Intolerance’ debates in India, some rejoice because it has been declared: ‘It is constitutional not to stand for the national anthem of India.’
Since it is so, therefore one may use any excuse or rationale to refuse to stand. The law is not broken, therefore all is well. And so ethics falls to belief.
What was the precipitating incident? This Indian Muslim family refused and was asked to leave the theatre.
An insistence on respect for the nation is seen by some as an intolerant imposition of majority (Hindu) norms on one of India’s minority communities. Just like before. Those Hindus, even multiple imperialisms haven’t taught them how to tolerate.
Some other members of non-Hindu communities do not see a conflict between faith and nation, religion and respect. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RHLd1VjRfzk. But these are the people on the street. Aam aadmi. The bourgeoisie. Philistines. #Modimorons. Bhakts. What do they know?
The nation, after all, according to enlightened postcolonial intellectuals, is dead! Never again should we stand…etc. Hinduism was a construct of the British. The Indian nation was a construct of the British. Postcolonial enlightenment demands that both be cast out. Along with things such as patriotism, but do bring in Harvard whenever possible please, especially at places such as the Kumbh Mela. ‘We’ like being pre-national and post-national at once. Our own cohort of intellectuals have crafted a logic and rhetoric to make it possible, of course the ordinary Indian cannot understand or accept the vision of the subcontinent we are trying to fund and craft.
If my tone has been a touch acid so far, the next bit is straightforward.
My point is utilitarian and democratic: if you wish to avail of the benefits of citizenship in India as a member of a minority community (Special Personal Law above the law of the land, affirmative action, paid pilgrimages, money for every girl child born into specific religions, etc.; India has over 80% constitutional reservations for people of various communities and caste groups and sects, even ‘Hindu’ minorities) then you owe something to the nation. You cannot expect the country at large to submit to your demands for wellness in this life while you invest everything you get in your personal concept of the hereafter as enshrined in this or that faith. Your faith may tell you that the opinions of those who do not support your faithful behavior do not matter, but the rest of India does not need to voluntarily submit to one-sided transactional citizenship, not even when their elites tell them to, especially if your actions and loyalties support the dismantling of said nation.
You are not permitted to forego your debts or your duties if you have enjoyed your rights until now. And these apply to every state, to every disgruntled person who claims discrimination and economic backwardness as an excuse for destructive public acts, to every apologist for a libertarian, existentialist agenda in militant activity against bad faith. Take what you can give, and take and give as much as is mutually agreed upon.
If you do not wish to stand for the symbols of the nation, show your respect to the nation by some other means, and do not enter the theatre (of film or nation) until the anthem is over. If all such symbols offend you, do not ask for any special benefits from the nation by virtue of the same belief-system (religion, non-religion) that makes you a minority. Or a majority, for that matter.
We are all, supposedly, talking and fighting over a nation we want the current hapless ‘India’ to be. Make it equitable. Make it democratic.
And please make the constructed (nation, act)and the critiqued (act, law, custom) unique to the locale (the Indian subcontinent). The version of secular democracy that should be allowed to evolve in India — through the daily negotiations of the ordinary public en route to individual life goals — may not coincide with Enlightenment-inherited or foreign-foundation-funded values of what experts think it should be. And that’s as it should be.
Three links. Yours to read, juxtapose, ponder.
My view: the pie (India’s distributable resources) is not endless, people. Let’s also talk about how to grow it in size while we decide how to fight over how to divide it up.
A South Asia without borders is also a region without a single entity to provide subsidized healthcare, aid to victims of natural disasters, incentive to industry and technology, and the privileges of reservations.
A call to divide India up still further. (Other bits of supposedly “impeccable logic” from Pakistan and JNU. ) Please set these against this call for 100 % caste-based reservations in India.
Who gets what land? What industry? How is the reservation system to be enforced if regional majorities impose their own rule in each state? Will we resettle minorities to areas where they are majorities? I wish these learned people who write such articles and propose such policy changes would consider the massive upheaval, conflict and resentment they are instigating.
Above all, how is the logic of more power to regions compatible with centrally decided logics of affirmative actions? Should India convert to a loose semi-autonomous coalition? As before the British Raj? Shall we wait for another ‘settler colonial’?
We had imagined that everyone had wanted bright lights and running water, music halls and conveniences. But ultimately, the nature of the pressure generated from being crammed into smaller spaces than humans had ever been in before was different from the ecological and infrastructural pressures we had predicted.
They became pressures of preserving an identity, of keeping privacy and separateness, of keeping apart. They became problems of assimilation, of integration, of a pressing need to say ‘who am I? And who are you?’
Ultimately, it became a distinction by identification of ‘what are you?’
Questions of worth, keeping up, matching what one has to the rest of the pack one desires to be in, deliberately differentiating oneself from the larger group, a proud distinction in the crowd. The pressure of strangers was perceived as pressure to move away from what one was, what one had brought with or saved of oneself when one came to the new place and the crowd. So we pushed back. Strangers not welcome. They intruded on our dreams of what we had thought our future would be.
Trouble was, those dreams had been based on the characteristics of a past that was already changing under our feet. You cannot enlarge and project the past into a realistic future; the past is the known, the smaller and more contained world, and the future is by definition the threshold of the unknown.
Some say we don’t have our backs to the past and our faces to the future. Rather, we have our backs to the future and faces to the past, so that all of time and experience is an unrolling ribbon of inclusive history. We look over our shoulders at the unknown. But that inclusive vision must still use the combat tools of modern historiography in order to secure change in every new moment of the present (or the past).
And even in that, the strange past intrudes like a morphing virus. What we dislike about the intrusion of the strange into our consciousness — the stranger, the new odd neighbor, the strange dresses and customs, the disaster, the irritating actions of others that force us to change our route to heaven or hell — is the way they spoil our dreams.
And the new ones who enter old spaces, the migrants wanted by one group and not another, at one time and not another? Their lives are also attempts at historiography. They also come into new spaces and hope to keep some parts of the old they left behind, and they try to re-create from the seeds in their memories, in a petri-dish as it were, a new entity: the reborn old world that they fled from or that they watched sicken and change or simply abandoned for better prospects.
All these worlds and their thought-bubble Edens, jostling in the same space. And not enough earth to let all be full-grown entities.
There cannot ever be those old worlds again. Nor even nouveau ones. Each group of people has grown far beyond what their past was, what their past had once made possible. But the earth has not grown. We are tree-tops choking each other in the slow fight to air or death. Look to our roots.
Now I take the part of madness and rage, of all malcontents, of Lavinia’s mother and Macbeth’s wife, of Malvolio and all poor tormented fools, and I shall tell you where it begins.
In unconsoled loss—till it becomes an obsession and hunger, feeding on itself, and the very world’s laughter is mockery of pain. And the ravaged heart shows itself in bitterness and distributed guilt.
‘Twould be better if I became the Fool, and not Malvolio, for sourness is unwelcome. What does despair transgress?
The ground slopes away from several places here and all ways are open. One could go into quiet calm grief, ‘patience on a monument’ and be beloved.
Or one could change and become terrible and dark. One would be feared, Antigone and Medusa, but one would not be loved.
One could diminish and remain oneself, sweeter and calmer, and go into forgiveness.
One could always become the mad peddlar, flying insects on whirling strings, hurling a rain of abuses at everyone who dares the weather of thy mind.
Do you remember _Rudaali_?
In the echo, I say again: I rein myself in because these passions are mine alone. Mine to cherish, mine to burn, mine to parch and revive like the eternal seasons. I have made of these an airy cage, in whose soft light live the images of my obsession, cocooned in dreams. This is mine. In my few unfettered moments I am this. This boundary of freedom I draw with the reach of my stride, this ambit and wall of my heart, this momentary and forgotten gladness. And outside it the vast, sharp shapes of the world.
Having lived a little, learned a little, worn and lost those red dancing shoes, lost and made my silver hands, shed a few skins, starved a little,
if it is true that soul claps its hands and sings, and louder sings, “for every tatter in its mortal dress,”
then perhaps I may learn to speak now.