Thursday, December 3, 2009

Who is an Indian?

Secularism was not always the ideal of the Indian Independence project, the Hindu nationalists bitterly contested the idea. The death of the Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel marked the end of the last of veritable voices against the separation of religion from politics. Anyway, secularism was only inserted in the Indian Constitution in 1976, against the backdrop of emergency. Whether planned or accidental, ‘secularism’ was never defined.

Indian identity is an amorphous, ill-defined, floating identity. It was an imposition over the caste and religious identity that defined the individual before British colonization of India, as much it does today. In most third world nations, nationalism emanated from the demand for democratic rights boiled down to freedom from colonization.

With the advent of the ‘Indian’ identity, the religious and caste-based identities were deemed aberrations. Whenever communities united under other identities such as the linguistic have yearned for a nation, the state has swooped down on those communities.

BJP or Bhartiya Janata Party equates the Hindu identity with national identity. It is a form of cultural nationalism, where the national is defined in terms of a person’s primordial identity – caste, religion, language, race, etc. Territorial nationalism is the antithesis of cultural nationalism.

Territorial nationalism recognizes every individual born within the borders of the state as a national citizen. Therefore it does not see any reason in the demand for self-determination made by minorities. The State does not realize that in the world of realpolitik, it is these primordial identities that lead to discrimination against the minorities.

John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham, the founders of classical liberalism, interpreted self-determination as an inalienable right that every individual enjoys over his life.

The concept of cultural nationalism stems from the communitarian theory. This theory holds that national identity should draw upon the common values of the community. Therefore, the community should define the ‘right’ lifestyle for every individual belonging to the community.

The individual is seen as constantly negotiating with the community to exercise his rights. The liberal is seen as culturally ignorant and anti-social.

In conclusion, communitarian nationalism is a relevant and formidable challenge to secularism.

Related article: Amartya Sen: Indian identity is absorptive


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