Putting Together or Pulling Apart- identity, ethnicity and nationhood

The advent of the Aryans, the Tibeto-Burman speaking Mongoloid groups, the Kushans, the Sakas, the Greeks, the Huns, the Arabs, the Persians, the Turks and the Mongols at different points of time testifies to the pervasiveness of the migration process during the successive periods of Indian history. The migrant groups and communities brought their respective traditions and behaviour patterns from their native lands wherein due course of time they lost contact with their places of origin and underwent an extensive process of indigenization. The process of adaptation and interaction among the various groups brought about, on the one hand, India’s characteristic diversity and, on the other, a composite cultural tradition. The interaction between Hindus and Muslims also gave rise to what may be termed the Indo-Islamic tradition. This amalgamation of the societies manifested itself in traditions of music, art, literature and architecture along with finding expression in folklore, dress patterns, food habits, names and surnames. The Sufis played a crucial role in the syncretism of this tradition like the Bhakti Movement, which had a far-reaching impact on Indian society during the medieval period, was significantly influenced by the ideals and precepts of Sufism.

However when the British imposed upon us, the Western education and literature to boost their own self-esteem by having a superior hold over India’s economy, society, religion and culture. This imposition and not inter mingling of the cultures led to the first revolt wherein the identity of India, the nationhood that Indians felt was being threatened and thus it led to the freedom struggle with a successful end result.

But, it is saddening to note that today’s India is bound to think otherwise and focus on petty issues like disparity between saffron and green due to its ambiguous awareness of what made India so great. We tend to overlook the efforts of those who are trying to gather this country to curb secessionist tendencies in all regions to maintain a peace-loving, united India.

“When we think of the 99 names of Allah, none stands for force and violence, at a time when the dark shadows of violence are becoming longer, you are the ‘noor’ or the light of hope. When young laughter is silenced by guns on the streets, you are the voice that heals.” 

In the words of PM Narendra Modi as he revisits this glorification of Indian history for the importance of the syncretic influence of Sufism on our Bhakti movement to bring to the nation’s notice that we as a nation should rise above these differences.

The issue of national identity in India is reflected in the secular-democratic framework. The ideal of national unity is reinforced by cultural pluralism and the composite heritage of the country. It is foolhardy to suppose that there is perfect harmony between national identity as it is enshrined in the Constitution and the whole corpus of Indian tradition. Indian tradition has its blind spots as well, the adversity of caste and untouchability, degradation of women, child marriage and restrictions on widow remarriage, to mention a few which may have been enhanced due to the suppression we faced. However, the need of the hour is a critical re-interpretation of tradition in the light of cherished national goals, therefore, the concept of national identity should be seen as essentially an ideal-critical concept, which is embedded in a broad humanistic framework.

Moving away from India, the 30 years of turmoil in Europe was brought to an end by the Peace of Westphalia (1648) where nation states agreed upon their territorial sovereignty and a treatise was drawn on the different nations having different identities. This treaty meant that a Greek is different from a German from a Serbian and so on thus deriving legitimacy of a nation based on being ethnically different. This was what set standards for the world citizens to identify themselves as a part of one nation or another based on what they chose to believe in. The formation of Israel and their nationalist spirit is a good example to give as a nation that identifies with the sense of nation hood. Another example which not be apt but highlights the identity as a nation is of Germany from the 1933 to 1939 under the regime of Adolf Hitler followed the “extreme nationalist” ideology in order to attain a ‘lebensraum’.

This proof of history is what needs to be re enforced in status quo where it is clear that in order to stick to our own paths of development in all spheres, we need to stick together in this globalized world. The world has come to a point where nations get exploited without realizing that they are being exploited like Baluchistan, in Pakistan, which is a mineral rich and resourceful asset. Over time, the region has faced Human rights violations and pressure from the Pakistani authorities to give in to its demands. Till today, the Baloch are fighting for their freedom, as they are descendants of the Iranian culture and tribal traditions and this identity that they possess is the main factor driving them to unite against exploitation.

Today, the Indian society being fragmented within itself that for an external force it could be easy to divide us and rule. It is imperative that the nation has an identity the sense of pride of calling oneself Indian we seem to lacking in this aspect. The day we stop believing that all our Babus are only corrupt, government is radical, caste is paramount, Jammu and Kashmir deserves its own nationhood, secession ism supersedes nationhood and so on, we will believe in what India stands for. The brotherhood, sacrifice, peace and progress enshrined in a Tiranga are the identity of India, which has been carried through history. The day the national anthem is sung not because the Cricket team is singing it but with a sense of pride, this country will see the change.

It is the true power of our 1.2 billion population who will look at Bharat as one and not 1.2 billion different perspectives to satisfy their separate wants. Let us be one, let us unite, let us identify ourselves with the spirit of India as a nation. The power of identity has made differences in all nations that have developed like USA, Brunei, Saudi Arabia, Iran, France, UK, Italy, Russia, China, Germany etc are a few to look into what they have become primarily based on identity. This is India’s time to glorify its past and believe in what we stood for years before we were driven by chaos.

The Nationalist ideology of the NDA government has nothing to do with my opinion, expressed through this article. However, only logic that may be similar to the ideology of the former is totally coincidental and I do believe that it is the nation’s need to come under one channelizing source of wisdom and identity.




6 Comments Add yours

  1. Ranjith Menon says:

    A very well written article…. What I like the most is the faith in the author’s belief, the very thought of rising above the mundane giving many a ray of hope for the future of this rich country.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. kartik says:

    Great Ananya. Points well made. I hope as a country we find an identity soon in our people!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ananya Nanda says:

      Thank you so much. Hope so too.


  3. Soumya says:

    I enjoyed reading the article and I largely agree with most of the points made here. Not very like-minded when it comes to nationhood of J&K but that is just one of the subsidiary personal opinions. Thanks for writing this. Looking forward to reading your future thoughts!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Arun says:

    1. Living with a cultural diversity is a strength of the community and civilization.
    2. Ashoka is not necessarily Great, a tag given by western historians. When adopted Buddhism, he forgot that he was a king and forgot Raj-Dharma of protecting borders and population.
    3. During Babur period, Urdu was still a developing language without much literature. Urdu is a mix of Persian-Arabic-Sanskrit. Urdu and Hindi developed together.

    Liked by 1 person

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