Saturday, December 5, 2009

Identity and Violence

Just recently I've completed reading the book, 'Identity and Violence, The Illusion of Destiny', by Amartya Sen. Off course it's not a kind of thriller that you'd read in a few days. I did take quite a good amount of time to complete the book - not because it's boring, but because it's a little heavy. Nevertheless, it's a very enlightening experience at the end. This is the second book of Amartya Sen that I've read. I read Argumentative Indian much faster, because that was entirely about the culture and history of India that I could relate so well. It also had one chapter on Tagore and one on Satyajit Ray. Identity and Violence is a truly global book with examples and scenarios taken from across the world. Many of the incidents and references are not something that I could relate to that well. But at the end reading the book was quite an enriching experience. Not only is the topic very relevant in today's world, but his treatment is also very contemporary. Though he has taken enough examples from history but still he never deviates from the present. The history is used only at places where he aims to make a point of recent relevance.

Throughout the book he maintains the theme that any individual or nation or entity can't be represented through a single identity. Everyone has multiple identities each of which is relevant and important at a particular scenario or forum. For example I can be a Bengali by birth but staying in Bangalore for the past thirteen years, an Indian, a violinist, a non vegetarian, an IITian, a professional in the domain of semiconductors designs, a Hindu by religion, a member of an amateur music band, an avid reader of history and literature, a great fan of Hemant Kumar and so on. Each of my identities is so much a part of me that you take out one of them and I no longer remain myself. But at the same time not all the identities are relevant or important always. When I'm going through the emigration check at San Francisco airport my only identity is that of an Indian. It doesn't matter which language I speak or where I live. But when I'm buying an agricultural land in Karnataka my Indian identity is not sufficient. My domiciliary status as a resident of Karnataka for the past thirteen years is what is important. When I'm entering the Puri Jagannath temple my Hindu identity is important. When I'm booking a flight ticket I've to say that I'm non-vegetarian so that I get the right meal in the flight. When I'm buying 10 CDs of Hemant Kumar my only identity is that I'm a great fan of Hemant Kumar. So it's really baseless to deny the existence of multiple identities and cling to one particular. Whenever there' a tendency of giving undue stress to one particular identity all hell breaks loose. When the Talibans highlight their Muslim identity above all, all hell breaks loose in Afghanistan. Though it's not mentioned in the book, but we can very well appreciate this point through so many instances. When Raj Thackeray gives more importance to his Maratha identity than anything else we see the hooliganism in Bombay. The integrity of a nation is of the utmost importance and for that the only identity that's relevant is that of an Indian. The point when the Rajs of Bombay and the Annas of Madras understand that their regional identity is not above their Indian identity for their own prosperity all the regional clashes will stop.

There's also the reference of Multi Culturalism or Cultural Pluralism versus Plural Monoculturalism. Though the writer has given examples from Britain, but the scenario is well understood even with Indian context. For example we always say that Indian is a multi cultural nation and we take great pride of it. But in reality what we have in India is not Cultural Pluralism, but Plural Monoculturalism. It's true that there are so many languages and cultures. But in reality do we've the freedom to choose from all these cultures? No one is Tamil by choice. On the contrary he seldom has a choice even to marry someone who is not a Tamil. Our identities are more often than not predecided and we seldom have any chance to change them or choose them. We stay in ghettos through out our lives. Our country is full of such ghettos all around. A Tamil will stay in Calcutta for forty years but still he may not prefer to marry a Bengali or even take a Bengali identity. His Tamil identity is thrust upon him. A much better scenario would be when I've the right to choose my identity from all that I see in front of me. This freedom to choose my own identity can only create a truly multi cultural country. This point is so well made and is so relevant in India when everyone wants to thrust his own culture on others. In Karnataka you've to write all sign boards in Kannada. In Bombay you have to say Mumbai and so on. Why shouldn't I have the right to write the signboards in any language of my choice anywhere in India?

Apart from many things that have come up in his book, one very informative thing is about the myth that Western civilization has done all the advancements in Science and technology. This myth, or rather attitude of the Western people, may be the reason for the present tension between them and the Muslim world. The West has ignored the identity of the Arabs and the Asians in areas of science and technology. Amartya Sen has provided some very interesting facts. The most interesting is the history how the trigonometrical concept and term 'sine' comes directly from Indian mathematician Aryabhatta via Arab. There are lot of such striking things about the contribution of China, India and Arab in the field of science and technology. These identities were tried to be forgotten by the West and that's one of the major mistakes that they might have done in creating the mess that the world is in now!!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

nice post. thanks.