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#03: Liberals, stop falling in the Identity trap
Identity politics is a trap, but somehow people keep mistaking the cause as the solution.
I am an ardent fan of The Seen and The Unseen but there's one recent theme of the show that I deeply disagree with and that's Amit's prognosis of illiberalism in India. Specifically some of his statements about him being baffled at why muslims discomfort to policies is not bursting out violently.
To paraphrase him broadly from my memory, while commenting about viral (fake) news of stone pelting or riots in some cases he said something to the effect that - I am amazed that given the bigoted policies that they have pursued there hasn’t been a violent backlash and most of the oppostition from muslims has actually been peaceful.
For the unintiated Amit has, with several guests, especially the ones who have been vocal during the current regime, discussed and come to the conclusion that India is a society that is deeply illiberal and Muslims/Dalits etc. have always been opressed but the latent hatred has come to surface under current regime.
Now I agree with Amit that Indian society is fundamentally illiberal but rather than attributing it to mal intents towards some group, I'd say that Indian society has been a society and a civilization under attack since several centuries, from invaders as well as internal rulers with different religion/culture etc. resulting in a society that has all groups feeling insecure.
For example, Kashmir is in a unique position to demonstrate the concentric circles of oppression. Almost every community, has been oppressed by others at one point or the other and thus hold legitimate grudges if we zoom out and look at the broader timeline.
What this essentially means is that there is mistrust and historical reasons for every group to hate others. But this explains only the motivation for hating other. In face, till this point I'm inclined to agree with Amit that Indians were secular publicly and bigoted internally. Fair enough.
But once we look at the manifestation of hatred there is no distinct pattern except the fact that whichever group is in majority or holds power tries to dominate the others.
Hindus are perceived to be dominating in some areas and oppressed in others. Muslims similarly are perceived to dominate some areas, giving rise to the pejorative “Chota Pakistan" in different parts of the country, while also being victims in most of the areas in the country. Gujjars are categoriesed as backward community in J&K but Gujjar and Jats of Western UP dominate other groups. The list goes on.
My aim in this is not to condone actions of any one group or equalise everything. Obviously Hindus being the majority religion will appear dominating in most areas and dominated in few.
There is also an unacknowledged paradox in such arguments as in either Hindus are a majoritarian monolith oppressing others, or a fractured soceity with one section oppressing the other.
Either way, this or any other statistical aggregation can not negate the individual experience.
And it is these individual experiences that have started travelling far and wide thanks to the rise of social media, feuling sympathy with fellow community member despite geographical differences and hatred towards other communities despite other similarities.
Sure at times individuals might succumb to the trauma of their experiences and breed hatred but you can't ask a victim of a riot or communal exodus to be rational in their feelings and not hate or hate proportionately, hence I have no gyaan to offer to them.
But the thinkers and public intellectuals can’t fall for the same bias. If we have to stomp out communal hatred, we have to take everyone together. I don't mean this as some pacifistic slogan, rather a practical and dispassionate frame of reference.
Borrowing from Amit himself, elsewhere where he says a bigot could also expect good schools and hospitals, and hence you need to work on service delivery to take the edge off RW politics, I agree but add that the counter to bigotry from Right Wingers is not to breed counter bigotry praising some groups for not being violent enough in face of adversity.
If we start justifying violence, then every group in India has suffered enough to justify it. I am from Kashmir and no one would deny the Kashmiri Pandit experience, so should KPs have picked up arms? Biharis form the most oppressed and ridiculed of people in India, despite perhaps being the hardest working people and yet facing oppression from Kashmir to Maharashtra and beyond, when do they get eligible to inflict destruction?
The problem, with such a line of thinking is to ignore the larger picture, where due to poor rule of law, every community in India sufferes through its individuals and but retaliates as a group towards other individuals that it can suppress. There is hardly any group who can claim absolute innocense in India. Thus we need non-communal law and order and a non-communally-biased view of individual rights.
Nehruvian secularism might have prolonged the preference falsification (wherein some felt it was not okay to be a bigot publicly, while holding bigoted thoughts) but it also cemented the belief in politicians that it was okay to prioritise one community over the other for vote bank politics.
So to Amit, or other public liberals (Amit is more of a libertarian but that should tell you how I'm loosely defining the term liberal), to counter BJP you don't have to heal the wounds of just a few groups but start looking at Indians as Indians again even if out politicians and State doesn’t.
Some of the BJPs politics sure targets some communities specifically, but the liberal answer cannot be to accept BJP's categorisation of people’s idenities and respond on similar lines. Rather we need to look at afflicted people as Indians, reconstruct and strengthen the Indian identity and this is a point that most public liberals just refuse to understand.
This is the reason why perhaps despite being morally correct they are never able to gather support on the ground.
Blog Post: Identity. - Also inspired from one of Amit’s episodes, read this to know more about my views on Identity and my revulsion to it.
Blog Post: A Story from Home: Curfewed Nights - Read this to know more about Kashmir’s concentric circles of pain and mistrust I talked about.