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The Redundant Identity

"Give up a member to save a family, a family to save a village, a village to save a country, and the country to save yourself."  - Koutilya in his "Arthasasthra"

What can we infer from the above statement? Every subsequent item in the list is bigger and more important than the previous item? The family greater than a member. The village greater than the family. Country greater than the Village. And more importantly, you are more important than the country. Deep inside most of us would concur with the last statement more than the first. But the obligation and desire to stay on the correct side of the moral fabric would make us bemoan that statement.

We have been repetitively "told" that the country is more than anything. The Father of the Nation fought for the Country's independence. The modern God, Sachin Tendulkar constantly tells us that nothing is greater than playing and performing for the country. Every year, in the middle of August, we have been "celebrating" Independence Day. Celebrating the identity of being an Indian.

Now the question is what is India? What are its attributes? For the larger part, we identify India by its political boundaries. A person born in Sri Lanka is called a Lankan. The one born in Myanmar, a Burmese. What if the "Political" India includes those regions? What if some thousand years ago, some "Indian" ruler had expanded his empire to include all these regions and managed to hold on those regions? They would have become part of the current India. That would have made them "Indians" as well. Should they (now Burmese or Lankan) be proud of being a "Possible" Indian? The argument sounds confusing, but you'd get the point. The geographic or political India as it is defined right now is more a result of conquests of emperors of the recent past.

My first and foremost argument against the "Indian" identity, is that it is primarily derived from geographical boundaries. If geographical boundaries can define my identity, I would like to hold on to an identity which is more specific and closer to me - in the form of a South Indian or Tamilian (of Tamil Nadu, rather than the language I speak), or Madrasi or Choolaimeduvaasi etc. As I reduce geographical space for defining my identity, it sounds incredible and borders on a joke. In that case, why shouldn't I consider the so called "National" Identity as a joke? At the end of the day, both are defined by the geographical area I live in? In any event of competitive nature, don't we all support the group which geographically is closer to us?

One can't deny the above assertion by saying that India is a concept or an idea. Concept of having multiple and diverse cultures, yet still living together in peace, believing in universal brotherhood and all the usual brouhaha. Asia is a far better example of a place with more diverse cultures and religions. The world as a whole is an even better example. In fact, the modern day towns are the finest examples of people from multiple cultures, diverse socio economic background, living in close proximity. Wouldn't such geographical boundaries be a better attribute for an identity.

The national identity is one of administrative in nature. It is more of an identity created for convenience of governance. And extrapolating such an idea of identity into something to be "proud of" sounds demented, to say the least. Building on this, the concept of patriotism is also often overhyped.

With the ever reducing distance between places, cross border investments and business operations, improved economic transactions between countries, ever increasing migration across countries and continents, ever increasing number of people embracing newer cultures and countries than the one they were born in, the idea of the nation being one big identity is losing its relevance. The person born today, as some has rightly said, is a citizen of the world. Why restrict his identity to the country of passport he holds?

The place we are born, or the community we are born in, does not define us. And in times that we live in, such "National" identity is redundant to say the least. And as the lead lady in the Batman Begins (2005) says to Bruce Wayne "Its not who you are underneath, its what you do that defines you." And that is the most apt definition of the most relevant identity.


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