The chimera of a self-conscious identity 

Identities are deceptive. The fusion of motley sub-groups coming together gives both the sense of oneness and a sense of purity at one and the same time. This fusion is at best tenuous as the claim for a merger is mired in a deeply fragmented notion of the past. The past is unequivocally seen as a monolith. A period way back in the antiquity that can and should be embraced by no less a feeling than deification. Past is religious. Rest all is secondary. It is this veneration of the primordial that one sees today in the invocation of a self-conscious identity among the Hindus. The recent episodes of lynching makes one worried about the rickety path an innocuous Hindu is following that is turning him and the larger community into an ossified and dare I say, a senile group.

In our present atmosphere soaked in violence, the insistence on our own religion and the eulogising of its unblemished civilizational glory, gives that sense of a more sharpened self-conscious identity. Violence accentuates this feeling of being together. This invariably leads us to the past, a time and memory that is perceived as a seamless continuum Vis a Vis the outsiders. These aliens are central  to the discourse of  nurturing our self-consciousness. The self, being inebriated with values, culture and faith is taught from childhood the poisonous art of self-segregation. As the psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar would say, our identity as a child comes to the fore by situating the self in the larger familial relationships of uncle, aunt, niece, nephew etcetera. The art of difference within the family tree is what gets intensified outside the confines of our  safe, cultural cocoons.

A self conscious identity that gets cloaked by tradition, makes no distinction between the past and the present. The idea that past has not evolved and the present continuing to imitate traditions verbatim preoccupies our anxious minds. This glorification and subsequently a blissful contentment in the traditions stifles modern imaginations which were supposed to be plural, dynamic and profoundly engaging. The ethics of a modern day logic of engagement falls prey to a feeling of  vacuous pride of the bygone era. This of course presuming that there has indeed been a realisation of a self-conscious identity.

This reminds me of David Lorenzen’s path breaking article called “Who invented Hinduism”? wherein he talks of a self-conscious identity even before the 19th century. By refuting the thesis of how Hinduism was not a colonialist construction, he goes on to show the instances of self-consciousness among Hindus, especially from 1200-1500. Even if this claim is taken to be true at face value ( by leaving aside the sundry provocative suggestions he makes), the central question for our purpose of what exactly is the nature of this self-conscious identity still remains unanswered.

Marx’s insight of ‘the traditions of the past weigh like a nightmare on the brains of the living’ need to be pondered upon for deciphering our troubled times. At the same time, for the modern 21st century person, the foundational principles of modernity remains only a top dressing for a body that is seeped in abstract cultural ideals. The invocation of these ambiguous traits is needless to say informed by a passionate religious zeal on the exterior and a hopelessly misplaced fear of the ‘other’ in the interior. This has to be continued as it supposedly fights the libidinous bearded men and automatically brings ‘our’ people together.

The victimisation card gets played to the hilt. The philosophy that underpinned U.N.Mukherjee’s ‘Hindus – A dying race’ looms large in the broader Hindu psyche even today. The Hindu Mahasabhas, especially the one’s proliferating since the late 19th century, starting from Punjab, has strived for this indomitable, virile unity. In case where there were differences, for instance between the revivalists and the reformists, there have been religious glues like the Gita Press who have acted as the ball bearings to make the uniformed Hindu cycle functional again. The damage it has done is not only to create an irreparable wedge between the saints and the monsters but has surreptitiously managed to blur the victimisation from outside and the victimisation  within. The marginalised, who bore the brunt of the majority of heinous barbarities, were swooped in the larger pantheon of Us vs Them without making any mention of the inherent contradictions in this quest for an identity of togetherness.

In our present vitiated atmosphere, the emphasis lies more on harking back to a pristine culture of unity than to try and understand the fissures along the progress of history. For instance, communal conflagrations have been mostly bracketed within the colonial discourse. Sectarian conflict and the State before 18th century, as has been talked about by Sanjay Subrahmanyam and others, is barely given traction as one of the fears with it remains the unearthing of  social cracks within a particular community. The central stumbling block is the divinity attached to our self-conscious identity. Past identities are seen from the prism of the past and not of the present, in the here and the now.  They invariably have to be divine as it comes with the added advantage of mysticism. With that, ambiguity no longer is seen as problematic but as a tool of power that can be moulded in any way to retain the hierarchical social order of our past. True, the devil lies in the details. But that requires time, patience and most importantly an open mind to acknowledge what one dishes out as a proposal of a unifying self-conscious identity is nothing but a game played by the entitled masters of the ossified social order.

We say for citizenship to see ultimate fruition,  there should be a vehement insistence on the study of comparative  religions for communities to coexist. More than that, there is a desperate need for a religion as diverse and plural as Hinduism to critically reflect within itself to deal with the idea of a self-conscious identity objectively. The phantasmogoria of Hinduism, more so of the Hindutva forces today, should be held to scrutiny by the very people who believe in this much celebrated past. It is the ordinariness of the lives of these emaciated groups lower down the hierarchy which coerces it to pale down in front of a concocted evil. Unless the ideas of one –  pitting an identity against the alien force to find meaning and second – a necessity to question the self for truly realising the power of plural creativity within the community is not done, it would remain to be a false consciousness masquerading as something that belongs to one unified commune.


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Suraj Kumar Thube Written by:

Recently completed his Masters in Political Science from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi

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