By Abhinita Mohanty
The very idea of identity is rooted in collectiveness. Identity has always represented itself a particular mass of people who have always been traditionally neglected (actual or imaginary) within the larger nation. Individuals who identify themselves into the connotation of an identity do it on the basis of religion, ethnicity, and gender etc. But the common fact that gives rise to the formation of such an identity lies with long term oppression faced by a particular segment and general stereotyping of a group based on any other criteria different from their nationality. The individuals affiliating themselves to an identity also do it to dispel negative stereotypes about them. So, identity is both individual and collective but its collectivity that I believe has a greater impact on the socio-politico scenario. They also get a collective voice to be heard and demand to be included in the nations development agenda. But here, we need to understand that the second aspect which deals with negligence may either actually exist or can also be popularly perceived by the initiators of such an identity. Many also believe that, the emergence of multiple identities in the post modern era is a consequence of bifurcated identities of individuals at a personal level and identity consciousness. Positive affirmation and welfare measures also sustain identity. The other factor is; the idea of post modernism celebrates heterogeneity and encourages free ideologues. So, many seek to locate themselves within a broader framework of ethnicity, gender, religion or region. The various movements in the sixties also further led to the construction of identities that voiced for rights and incentives for a better life. Social movements, owing to demand for or against an act also played a part.
Now, coming to the shift with regard to construction of identities (from the modern to the post modern era) there a change in the whole process of ideology with regard to construction of identity. The earlier identity politics mostly aimed towards improving the status-quo of the group and facilitate their increasing participation in the larger issues. Identity groups were symbolic for their struggle against the oppression and relative marginalization of their community. But today identity politics is merely targeting those who appear to be their polar opposite. In this process they not only try to alienate the other but also remain alienated from the mainstream. Rather than focusing on the upliftment of their own people the focus is more on their rivalries. Like, the hindutva identity politics which rather than concentrating on the problems within the community is now more focused on the so called other alien communities and ways to suppress/repress them. Frantz Fanon argued that black people need to redirect their gaze from the white man and instead towards each other in seeking recognition. This rarely occurs in todays identity politics. This can be stated about most of the other identity based group in the country today. The whole concept of identity is primarily directed towards such an action and the reaction it provokes from the other group is what chiefly makes it political. Issues are carved out of such situations and get embedded into electoral politics in many instances. Currently, most of the major political parties of India assert identities based on religion, class and caste. The problem with this is the focus is more on groups; rather than on the nation.
Commenting on the impact of identity construction on the individual, it can be said that collectivity engulfs individuality in the era of identity politics. According to Andre Betteille, the greatest threat to civil society in India comes from the intrusion of collective identities into domains that ought to be governed by rights and obligations of individuals. Individual deviations and ideas different from the party/group are rarely tolerated. Â It limits the choices of individuals and the pressure to conform is always high. The individuals ideas always revolves around that particular identity. It let him/her many a times to wrongly assume that the world out there is forever trying to harm the very essence of his identity; rational objectivity is at a loss. This is what Denise Kimber Buell called ethnic reasoning. The identity groups are also mostly close to any sort of criticism coupled with a belief that any definition of them by an external agency is considered to be an imaginary fallacy.
Even though identity politics has its limitations; if we look at the role of identity groups anywhere they have also acted as interest groups. Those sections of a society who have always been consciously excluded from rights, dignity and political power have found a collective platform to realize them. In India the groups traditionally considered as low castes have now been able to gain political mileage in certain parts of the country. Identity groups have also been to extent successful is dispelling the myths and stereotypes about them. The LGBTs who were vastly misunderstood and were considered as anomalies, are now accepted within many circles. This ultimately led to the decriminalization of IPC 377. Certain identity groups have also actively worked in the empowerment and upliftment of their community.
It can be said that the construction of identity may not be problematic but perhaps it is the nature of identity vote bank politics which is problematical. It leads to self imposed conformity and insular tendencies towards the other, thus weakening the nation state. Identity construction is always a product of long term exploitation but it can also grow on, to become an ideology of discrimination.
Â The author is currently doing her masters in Sociology from the University of Hyderabad. She is passionate about writing particularly about gender issues, corruption, current debates and anything that would capture the attention of readers. She writes just because she loves it. As a Sociologist, she likes to give her opinion on various social issues. Other than writing, she is passionate about traveling, cars, food and sauntering in hill stations.
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