How Basing Our Identities On Caste And Religion Is ‘Suffocating’ Us As Indians

Posted on February 1, 2016 in Society

By Majid Hassan Khan:

identityWe are Indians, we are one and we all are a nation. Irrespective of our caste and religious affiliation we generally like to be defined by the fact that we are Indian. Being an Indian and being united as an Indian suffixed by various identities are different things. Identity is the skin of human existence. One can’t deny identity and live a life free from affiliations or, in some cases, appropriations.

“We, the people of India” has never been practiced in its true spirit. Indian identity has always been fragmented along region, language, political affiliation, gender, sexuality, religion, and caste.

Regional identity, which comes with cultural trappings and gifts, is broadly tolerated. But even this identity has its issues as there lies a divide in terms of north, south and north-east Indians. Besides, it has an inheritance of a linguistic divide based on one’s ‘accidental’ birth in a family speaking a certain language. But what one cherishes is the diversity due to region and language. This cultural diversity, if nurtured in harmony, would ensure a poetic identity to Indianness, with different cultures like various flowers wreathed in a garland. Alas, so far this identity has been a cause of xenophobia, bickering and assertions of regional or linguistic supremacy!

Political rivalry is gradually becoming intolerant and opinions are quickly classified in ideological compartments. So one can’t have political opinions without the tag of being a bhakt, or leftist, or an ‘Aaptard’, or an Ambedkarite. Political identity often backfires when any non-conforming ideology against the incumbent is termed as ‘anti-national’ or labeled as divisive.

Gender and sexuality as markers of identity differences have always seen differing views, with recent moves in favour of overcoming the discrimination based on these. Gender has generated a bigger support base but sexuality has miles to go before it establishes itself free from hatred, biases and discrimination.

All this divisiveness is dwarfed when age-old identities thrust on the chest of humanity are invoked in the form of religion or caste. Religion in the subcontinent mostly comes in the form of an identity suffix for faiths with origins outside India, like Indian-Muslim, Indian-catholic etc. What has been a boiling issue for India is whether it is the present landmass with a population of 1.252 billion or the ancient fragmented India that had this caste issue. Caste as an identity transcends religion, region and even in politics caste plays a major role. Caste as an identity has been used as a mode of oppression and discrimination for centuries. This baggage of hatred has persisted through the ages and is still remains in the present. It was always challenged but it re-asserted itself on popular beliefs. Discrimination due to caste has seeped so deep in the social psyche that for a very simple, sober citizen a regularly practiced discriminatory act won’t be evident. Jokes come in the form of derogatory remarks and discriminatory words are unconsciously used. One would puke at the thought of racism or untoward behavior with fellow human beings, being at the same time unaware of the discrimination inherent in such gestures. Even the oppressed sections accept this social bias and unknowingly practice it among themselves. This is similar to the use of the word ‘denigration’ by a black American, who is unaware that the word has as its root the derogatory ethnic slur “nigger.”

The noose of all such identities always hung around us and unknowingly we all are victims of our birth and social conditioning for most of these identities and choose few of them.

India has of late witnessed this discriminatory and intolerant noose of identity when a nonagenarian Dalit man was hacked and burnt in Hamirpur district of UP; a Muslim was lynched on a rumor of possessing beef. Caste and religious identities did play their role in these provocations and crimes.

But the noose tightens even in normal times; media reports are abuzz with atrocities and discrimination due to caste. One such case led a research scholar to end his life. What caused him to end his life? Most of us attribute it to the tussle with the ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parished) and his suspension, but the cause dates much farther back. The cause could have been the regular hatred he might have experienced in his childhood. The cause could have been the stamping of a child as lower/upper caste at birth.

But one cause is certain and sure, the discriminatory society whose legacy we have inherited from ancient times has killed many, and it killed Rohith too. Won’t it be right to say that all those who believe that there is no caste issue in India and who feel there is no bias against the oppressed sections have killed one more? Won’t it be right to say that if the society doesn’t change its ways, it is going to collectively kill many Rohiths.

Hope for a society where the noose of identity is loose and it doesn’t kill in its name. Hope for a society where, “We, the people of India” is a reality and where justice, liberty, and equality are actually practiced.