Whither Indian identity? Civil society initiatives hold out promise

| July 26, 2015 | 0 Comments

Pushpa M. Bhargava

India is a country of minorities with virtually everyone belonging to a number of minority groups. There are a large number of variants or sub-divisions of Hindi, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity – all in minority. So a Hindi-speaking person from Varanasi would have difficulty in understanding Chattisgarhi; a Catholic will not marry a Protestant; and Sufis would not be considered as true Muslims. A rich educated Bengali, Hindu male Brahmin coming from Bhatapara would have at least seven identities distinguishing him from other Indians – each identity generally leading him, consciously or subconsciously, to discriminatory practices against other Indians.

Those who would seek kinship with every other Indian through a shared Indian identity are rare. In fact, the importance we attach to the myriad minority groups based on circumstances of birth and opportunities after birth is the core reason for most conflicts and for making cities such as Delhi so unsafe for women.

It is, therefore, important to understand why doesn’t every Indian identify himself/herself first as an Indian, all other identities being incidental? Why doesn’t every Indian have equal respect for every other Indian unless the other person gives evidence through action or belief, of not being worthy of such respect. It is so because of too many mistakes and too much interference by the government, the political setup, the bureaucracy, the police and the clergy.

The first mistake was India’s linguistic division which led to linguistic chauvinism that gave linguistic identity precedence over the Indian identity. Our second mistake was to allow commercialization of school (and higher) education and the inevitable consequent decline of State-run schools with the exception of Central Schools in which largely children of government employees go. This situation led to the most important and undesirable division in the country: between, say, 20 per cent who could send their children to expensive private and/or commercial schools and pay for private tuition, and the remaining 80 per cent who remained virtually uneducated even if they did enroll in a government school.

The third divider of people has been the government’s emphasis on growth rate to the exclusion of parity and equity. If the high growth rate has led to ‘x’ per cent increase in the income of the top 1 per cent, it has led to an increase of only ‘x’/100 per cent in the income of the bottom 80 per cent and, that too, only as an unintended trickle-down effect, leading to further consolidation of the 80:20 divide.

Fourthly, our political and electoral processes have ensured a government of the corrupt, by the corrupt, and for the corrupt, with exceptions being ineffective. The all-pervading corruption — financial and intellectual — has been a divider of people in our country into three groups: those who are forced to pay bribe or are exploited (like the millions displaced from where they have lived for decades; those who take the bribe and are the exploiters; and those who give bribes to be able to exploit. The second and the third categories are hand-in-glove with each other and represent a minority of say, 5 per cent, while the exploited in the first category represent the remaining majority of our people.

Consider the police. Which Indian will go to the police for protection? Recently, on my way to the Hyderabad airport a policeman stopped the car and asked the driver to show his license, registration, insurance and pollution control certificates which were all in order. He then asked me why was the driver not wearing his dress! He let us go only when I called up the Director-General of Police.

The fifth reason is our not codifying religions other than Hinduism. Why can a Muslim who is not a government servant, have four wives, or be governed even in important matters of basic human rights to which the country is committed, by Sharia rather than by common law? We allow all this in spite of the hypocrisy of all religions. Thus, no clergy raises an eyebrow when anyone amongst the rich or the powerful marries outside of one’s caste, community or religion. But the same clergy raise hell for someone doing the same in a village.

Doing little about such hypocrisy of religion has been one of our greatest failures. This has divided the people. Instead of confining religion to one’s private space, it has been used as a political tool to divide people.

The same would be true of reservations for the Scheduled Castes and Tribes or Other Backward Classes. After Independence, we had instituted reservations for only ten years with the promise to create equal opportunities for all and consequently end reservations. But that did not happen because we designed our policies on education to ensure that.

Sixthly, as we have not de facto separated religion from the state, our top politicians and bureaucrats holding public office fall prostrate in front of dubious godmen, seek the blessings of celestial deities in our places of worship to ensure the safety of a satellite launch and have no hesitation in bribing the gods to have their unethical and immoral wishes fulfilled. In fact, all religions provide their practitioners widely used recipes to wash off their sins.

Seventhly, money and position have acquired the power to derail justice which, if delivered within a framework of honesty and integrity, can be a great equaliser. Lastly, governance and objectivity have become so anachronistic that politics and subterfuge have become synonymous.

And it is not that all of India cannot come together relegating all distinctions based on religious or political creed, caste or class, and language or educational status, to the background. We did that when we successfully fought the battle against genetically modified brinjal. We did that recently in the battle against corruption led by Anna Hazare. They were all spontaneous, civil society’s initiatives. We just have to ensure that interference by politicians, bureaucrats and clergy does not come in the way of similar efforts in the future.

Whither Indian identity? Civil society initiatives hold out promise P.M. Bhargava, The Tribune, 8th May 2011.

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