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A Case Of Confused Identities

A Case Of Confused Identities

August 22, 2012

Who are you? Are you a christian, a football player, an Indian or a poet?



Who am I? This is a question that has baffled philosophers from times immemorial. It is highly unlikely that I would contribute anything meaningful to this eternal quest through my little post. What I want to focus on instead is our identity, not as an individual, but as a member of a group.

The ability to organize into effectively functioning groups has been one of mankind’s strengths. The overall effect is beneficial when individuals organize themselves into groups, groups into bigger groups and finally at the highest level, the whole of mankind acts together as a group of groups working in unison. But that is the ideal scenario. In practice, groups can become counterproductive when they work at cross purposes and struggle to gain supremacy over each other. For some individuals, groups can become an anathema when they are called upon to subordinate their individual interests for the larger interest of the group. Even when an individual is willing to sacrifice his own interests, there still can be a challenge as most individual are part of multiple groups and often one is called upon to make a choice of which group’s interests he chooses to uphold at the cost of which other groups.

When there is a hierarchical relationship between groups, theoretically at least one is supposed to keep the interest of the group highest in the hierarchy foremost. As they say for the good of a family, an individual can be sacrificed. For the good of a village, a family can be sacrificed. For the good of a nation, a village can be sacrificed. For the good of mankind, a nation can be sacrificed. It sounds good, but what is an individual to do when his and his family’s interests are sacrificed for the good of the village, but the village refuses to sacrifice its interests for the good of the nation? In that case, does it make sense for the individual to go against the interests of the village for the good of the nation? Most people will agree to this at least in principle. All of us are quick to condemn people taking about regional identifies and ask people to think as an Indian. But if the argument was extended and one was asked - what if an individual has to sacrifice the interest of his country for the greater good of humanity? If I show you convincing proof that India is a threat to the world, how many of you would honestly say that you would betray India for the greater good of mankind? Wouldn’t you rather like to say you would stick by the nation and fight the entire world for the sake of your motherland?

While there are challenges even when there is a clear hierarchy between groups, complexity would increase manifold if there is no hierarchical relationship between the different groups an individual owes allegiance to. I belong to a religion, a country, an ideology, a profession and to a corporate entity. I chose to belong to some of these entities while some were chosen for me. Is there a natural superiority of one of these identities over the others? It apparently seems so. One is expected to hold one’s national identity supreme, even though the country to which one belongs is a mere accident of birth and something very difficult to change. I am hailed as a patriot if I put my country on the highest pedestal. On the other hand if I chose to give priority to an ideology or religion, which I have accepted by choice, I will be reviled as a fundamentalist. Is that really fair?

This might seem like a theoretical discussion but the practical impact of this has serious implications on our day to day life. What if I tell you that group identity is the root cause of many of the ills plaguing the world – terrorism, war, racism, protectionism, corruption and reservations to name a few. The list is endless. Let me illustrate the point by taking the example of the Indian political system. A simple minded person would believe democracy brings to power the most competent person who can bring the greatest welfare for everyone. But the sad reality is that democracy brings to power the one who can cobble together a winning majority of groups by promising to elevate them at the cost of the others. So if one group is well organized and controls 20-30% of the people, they can easily promote their interest at the cost of remaining 70-80% of the people who are splintered into smaller groups.

Maybe a middle class educated professional has developed indifference to the bigger issues of national politics and feels it is out of his locus of influence. In that case let me give an example closer home to show how the group identities still continues to influence your day to day life. Say you are working for a multinational company. With whom would you relate more – your foreign colleague from the same company or your Indian counterparts in client, vendor or rival companies? Or say as a blogger, would I relate more to a fellow blogger in the same niche from USA or to a landlord in some remote village in India?

Let me conclude by posing an interesting question where confusion in the definition of a group and the members to be included in the group carried to its logical end can lead to a tricky solution. Recently there was news that Hindus in Pakistan are requesting Indian citizenship. Many people have supported the idea but let us see what it implies. India is a secular country. This means Hindus and Muslims have equal rights. So if Hindus of Pakistan are allowed to become Indian citizens, shouldn’t logically the same rights be extended to Muslims of Pakistan as well? Which in effect means all citizens of Pakistan can get Indian citizenship on request? And Pakistan is India’s arch enemy? If citizens of our arch enemy can be given citizenship on request, why not the citizens from the rest of the countries in the world too? So does that mean India should be an open land where anyone who choses can come and settle at will? 

21 Comments

  • The Fool
    By
    The Fool
    24.08.12 02:15 PM
    @Rickie - Often things that we have taken as granted all our life does not stand the test of rigorous reasoning.
  • Rickie Khosla
    By
    Rickie Khosla
    24.08.12 12:13 PM
    Sadly (I think), the interests of a large group always seem to devour those of a smaller one. For example, the cause of the Muslim Ummah trumps that of its constituent nation states, that of the Western world trumps that of the Muslim Ummah or, say, the erstwhile Soviet block, and the interests of the economic superclass supercedes that of everyone else in the world!
    When I was growing up, I naively thought the nation was supreme! Silly me.
  • The Fool
    By
    The Fool
    24.08.12 10:24 AM
    Thanks, Indu. Glad you and Mohini finally got to see the real face behind the fool mask. Regarding your point, doesn't conscience depend on which group's point of view and your affinity to respective group?
  • The Fool
    By
    The Fool
    24.08.12 10:20 AM
    Thanks Mohini. I agree with you view point. But when you betray your country, aren't you essentially betraying the leadership only? If you are not strong enough to depose your evil leaders, is it ok to seek external help to do the same?

    And regarding helping Hindus in Pakistan, I don't see logic of Indian helping anyone. We have so many people below poverty line here itself. When you are not even able to help yourself, how can you help yourself unless you want to take the Hindus from Pakistan as below poverty line people or they bring wealth with them from Pakistan.
  • indu chhibber
    By
    indu chhibber
    24.08.12 08:25 AM
    Well Karthik you are finally out of your 'purdah',i am happy to know this extra bit about you.....i was mighty impressed by the lucidity of your whole analysis....,yes we do belong to multifarious groups & it could some day pose a problem if we were asked to choose one group over the other....in such a situation i would go by the dictates of my conscience because i have to live with it to the end of my last breath.
    Even though far removed from the partition in terms of time & place it was a very astute observation that the Hindus living in Pakistan were torn between leaving their own -once familiar & loyal friends, neighbors,lands ,houses & valuable properties-;& choosing safety of their families.....my own father-in-law became almost a pauper in this transition.
  • tys
    By
    tys
    23.08.12 05:34 PM
    mohini, what about the individual? what about humanity? rip off all the trappings of culture, language, race , country and all other muck that goes into making you you, and you will discover that underneath all that garbage , you , i and every tom , dick and harry are the same. Governed by the same needs.

    having had several members of the family in the army, i have had many talks with them about patriotism and the most beautiful way one put it is that each soldier fights because its a job. The feeling of patriotism give that job a purpose, a meaning....at the end of the day, its about life and death...both are fighting for the same things...and our soldiers are not brain washed dummies to believe anything else...a soldier is a realist, he knows exactly what he or she is about...its the ones who are not, who gives it these colorful meaningless terms so that it will ease the guilt of having people kill each other for our safety...

    sorry...i guess i rambled on ... somewhere in there, i had a point, i think
  • Mohini
    By
    Mohini
    23.08.12 04:10 PM
    Namaste The Fool,

    Nice to know your original name. The confusion about identity is very well explained here. I think applying only logic to see the situations and analyze them may lead more and more confusion.

    About the question, 'if a country goes against humanity, then should the citizen go against country?'

    I would say, it's duty of citizens to stay loyal to their country. In some cases the cultural heritage, the people of the country and history may good but current leader or his/her decisions may be wrong which are going against the humanity. In that case citizens should not do such acts which are against their fellow countrymen but should oppose the leader. Of course it depends on the strength, power and influence.

    But if a whole country becomes the heaven for terrorists, if there is a history of dictators which are killing the humanity then, even the country itself can't be the one who prevail humanity in their own state. At this stage, if individual is strong enough to
    bring the justice in the country, they should change ruler, but if individual is a common man who should not support injustice and can't even tolerate have to stay silent.

    The people who are brought up reading false history of their country, should know the truth and then the loyalty will be decided. But finally everything depends on the capability of individual to influence the situation.

    Now, about the last case, about citizenship of Pakistani Hindus. We can't plainly take any decision in Yes or NO, on this because it includes, defense ministry, diplomacy and strategic affairs, home ministry, demographic changes. In defense and diplomatic aspect it's a weak decision to give citizenship to threatened Hindus,but ideal is India should raise the voice in UN about the religious freedom in Pakistan. India should warn Pakistan as Indian defense is stronger enough to deal these situation.

    But if political leadership is not strong enough such things are not possible which we are facing right now. Then least possible thing is at least we should give shelter to Hindus in our land and it becomes most important when we have tolerated illegal Bangladeshis who are Muslims who came here as a threat to the country. But this is an encouragement to Pakistan to threaten and force Hindus to leave the country.

    My intention to give long thought process on this issue is not to share my opinion but I think, every individual can't be free enough to take every decision and even can not be capable to think about every aspect. So it's not easy to find a complete solution about identity and that's why we follow the limitations by country, region. About religion I feel it should be individual's wish, we can't force anybody about faith.
  • The Fool
    By
    The Fool
    23.08.12 02:51 PM
    Fully agree with you, tys. Nice to see lot of people agreeing that national boundaries should eventually dissolve. I expected people to be staunchly defending nation states.

    Selfishness - yes. The fundamental markets concept. But selfishness is actually not as simple a concept as it seems as it is not just about money. Maybe a whole post or even a whole book can be devoted to the topic of selfishness.
  • tys
    By
    tys
    23.08.12 01:34 PM
    fool, i was waiting for you to bring that up...the concept of patriotism, which in my opinion is a disguised excepted form of racism.. a separation, a division created to establish an us and them...it will go...just like religion is slowly being seen for what it has become, so will these artificial boundaries that separate people, resources and ideas...

    but at the same time, it will be the fear of being an isolated voice in a world that doesnt or cannot adopt to a unified world due to the many existing mental and physical obstacles, that prevents a large majority from doing the 'right' thing. I put that word in quote because right is limited within a time frame of a situation and is susceptible to change, revision and even reversal.

    but ideology fails when it is faced with the way things are now...you cannot have an inflow when there is no out flow...it leads to stagnation and flooding...

    you could be right, when stating that people chose where they decided to stay due to their hesitance to leave behind things and compromised rather than about any love for any ideology.

    its my observation that, all motivation has its foundation in selfishness.
  • The Fool
    By
    The Fool
    23.08.12 12:44 PM
    @Sibi - I do hope these nation states disappear, though not sure if at all they will or how long it will take. Whereas lot of people view religion with suspicion as something fostering divisiveness and hatred, people are still besotted with concept of patriotism and nation states.
  • The Fool
    By
    The Fool
    23.08.12 12:41 PM
    Thanks a lot, Diwakar Narayanan
  • sibichen
    By
    sibichen
    23.08.12 08:03 AM
    I am sure, the nation-states are bound to vanish within a century, if the rights of individuals are threatened in the name of primordial identities in an environment of fanaticism coupled with political and economic instability!
  • Diwakar Narayan
    By
    Diwakar Narayan
    23.08.12 07:34 AM
    All the wise words said above does not leave anything for me to say.

    btw, I liked the post :-)
  • The Fool
    By
    The Fool
    23.08.12 07:11 AM
    Thanks India Violet - That is how it would be in my ideal world - People with similar ideologies coming together. But reality is people with different ideologies are forced to live together due to historic accidents and geographic constraints like the Muslims and Jews of Israel for instance.
  • The Fool
    By
    The Fool
    23.08.12 07:06 AM
    Thanks Harry. Many of us assume Hindus who stayed in Pakistan and Muslims who stayed in India stayed because they bought into the concept of the Pakistani state or the Indian state. But frankly it was a question of leaving behind your home, properties and familiar surroundings and going to a distant land and uncertain future. Wouldn't it be better to compromise and stay put even if your heart is not in the nation you have chosen to belong to? And leaders would want only land. I am sure Pakistan would be happy to leave the Kashmiris behind in India and just get an empty Kashmir if that were possible.

    Regarding you second question, that is what I am pondering. Whether the the concept of India has a logical and ideological basis or was it just an accident of history? True with most other nations as well. Hinduism seems to be the most logical link. But that will exclude a major chunk of the people who occupy the lands that constitute this country. And I don't know if what you say about the name is correct. It is rather the other way round. India and Hindustan were just corruption by British and Persian of the word for people living on other side of river Sindhu or Indus. And the people got the name Hindu as people living near Sindhu and not from the religion. I don't think any of our religious tests use the term Hindu.

    My personal opinion is that people should be able to freely form groups based on ideologies that are core to the existence and not forced something based on the land they occupy at the threat of losing the land and property if they don't subscribe. Hope technology enables that one day. So basically I am open to anyone who believe in a country's ideology to be given citizenship. But how can one determine whether people want to come just for a better life of because of staunch belief in the ideology. People from India for instance don't migrate to US and UK due to staunch belief in the concept of American or British nation. Given that can we accommodate people (who might be just opportunistic) from other nations when we are unable to provide for everyone who are already currently here. When so many people here are leaving below poverty line, how can we accommodate people from Pakistan and Bangladesh.

    Btw, I have nothing against individual citizens of Pakistan. In fact I have had close friends from Pakistan. I am just stating about arch enemy for argument. If you had a choice, wouldn't it be safer to give citizenship in India to someone from say New Zealand rather than Pakistan or China.
  • The Fool
    By
    The Fool
    23.08.12 06:37 AM
    @matheikal - It would indeed be interesting if individuals could easily change his/her country like his/her job and religion. I can not think why any sane Indian Muslim would want to become citizen of Paksistan the state that country is in.
  • The Fool
    By
    The Fool
    23.08.12 06:31 AM
    Thanks Fabia.
  • India Violet
    By
    India Violet
    23.08.12 12:55 AM
    lol, your final part is a great quizzie! If the logic holds, citizens in America who believe in India should be given Indian citizenship!

    So good of you to bring this up. Keep writing!


  • HARRY
    By
    HARRY
    22.08.12 11:41 PM
    @ Karthik

    That's a brilliant question. It would be very interesting to know what would the Indian muslims would choose if given this choice.

    You have raised issues that questions the very fundamental inner core of an individual.

    But my question to you is this, why now? when they had an option in 1947, like the rest of them. Are they being persecuted for their faith, or is this a stepup for better life.

    If they are being persecuted for their belief then they should be given this as right of passage not because they are hindu's but because it's the right thing to do in modern day, same as with all the other immigrants.

    At this point you may say it's not our problem but then where do you draw line, like you said in your argument.

    The one other point is before pre colonial era our nation was called HINDUSTHAN not India. This was a name given to us by others. Hindusthan, The very word means a place for hindus. Which gives a person from a hindu back ground a right of passage to this land undisputed. This is same as an Individual born with different citizenship but with Indian back ground getting the OCI.

    If you take the point above as an important issue, then they should be given the citizenship of India.

    Finally Pakistan is Indias arch enemy as you stated and I agree but not all it's people are our enemy and for this reason alone we can't have this grudge against it's people. Every case should be considered on it's own merrit.

    My question to you is this, where do you stand on this issue knowing all the facts on all the sides? And yes I do want to know regardless of how biased your opinion is.

    HARRY
  • matheikal
    By
    matheikal
    22.08.12 05:28 PM
    It would be interesting if every individual is given the liberty to choose his country. It would be interesting even more, if we could conduct a study on how many Indian Muslims would opt for Pakistani citizenship.
  • Fabia Postel
    By
    Fabia Postel
    22.08.12 03:03 PM
    Great post Karthik, really enjoyed reading this, thank you for posting such an interesting and valid article.

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