Thursday, December 04, 2008

communalism revisited

Like thousands of Indians, i too have been witnessing and anguishing on the Mumbai carnage and the outrage and outpourings that is flowing non stop.

much as i like to think of myself as a open minded, liberal, rational human being, to whom, communalism is associated only with the likes of fundamentalists of all kinds, the inner voice told some other tale.

This came up during a discussion with a dear friend who confronted me with the issue that one can not be anchored on one's own heritage and convictions unless one explores, understands and accepts both the primal and the socialised parts of the heritage, in its particularised context.

This pushed me to look at the number of communities that i emotionally connect to; and i came up with the following in order of psychological priority:

1. Bengali

2. Hindu

3. woman

4. middle class

and this list can go on and on. however, it is during the process of this discussion that i was rediscovering the communalism that i harbour inside.

Being a Bengali is a strongest identity for me - my connect with the culture, the language, literature, the ethos, food, etc, etc. But this is not all, for me, what comes along with these are the inherent biases and stereotyping of the regional identities. e.g. rural Biharis, UPites and Rajasthan are believers in "might is right", violent and irrational, Sikhs from Pujab are brave, straight, trustworthy and honourable, non-sikh punjabis are show-offs, braggarts, fun loving; people from parts of Rajasthan and from Gujrat are money oriented and are not intellectually oriented, people from down south are more religious, soft, less violent, measured and prudent, etc, etc. Similar stereotypes about Bengalis are intellectual or pseudo ones, artistic, lazy, rubble rousers, cowardly, physically weak, rebels without a cause, etc, etc.

The second one is about being a Hindu - here i am more pan-Indian than a Bengali. there is a sense of pride held with a distinctiveness. However, i have noticed that i withhold myself from talking about my spirituality or religiosity with urban Indians even if they are Hindus. Is there a shame? I don't know - probably yes.

Secondly, do i trust non-Hindus generally? a straight and simple answer is - No. Interesting, considering that I married a non-Hindu. what breeds this mistrust is a deep sense of "us" and "them" which resides in the deepers recesses of the psyche.

However, there are distinctions here; the non Hindu friends from the same social class are held with this delusion that somehow they are outside the untrustworthy circle and then there are very little difference between "us" and "them". However,the paranoia raises its huge head at the moment of encounter with non-hindus of lower socio economic strate.

the rational mind of course desperately wants to believe that these are not true and that there are other view points through one can look at the "other" differently and with "equality"; but the emotional part of me (specially in times of stress), summarily dismisses it.

the third one is about being a woman - this is trans-national and is held with ambivalence. If i were to look at the negative communal parts of my psyche vis-a-vis this part, then the part that exists here is more subtle and hence more dangerous. one part is holding men as "guilty" unless proved "innocent" - this at the unconscious level is extended to all men, at the conscious level, extended to men who are overtly "manly", "macho", "chauvinist", "loud", etc, etc.

the more shameful part as I hold it, is the way this part looks at women - part of it holds women as generally "weak", "victims", "stupid", "inefficient", "attention seeking", "dependent", "scheming", "shallow", etc, etc, unless of course they prove themselves. the other part looks at women as "powerful", "nurturing","critical", etc, etc. Do I see other positive qualities in women as well? yes, i do, otherwise, i would not have survived, but i see them in very few women and i carry a shame around it. I know rationally that what i see in these few women, exist in other women as well either as a potential or as explicit, but my primitive emotional response is the first kind.

the fourth one is about being middle class - this too is held with ambivalence - but the important thing to note here is that neither the upper class nor the lower class are trusted or welcomed into our midst. this most times is irrespective of the religious identity of the other (remember in childhood, there was strong indoctrination about mixing with the "chhoto lok" or "lower class" or not being too close the "rich" or the "baro lok".

what i guess i am trying to work out here is that there are many many communal fencing that i have and it is not confined only to being a Hindu or a Muslim, and what i am hoping to do for myself is that unless i articulate and acknowledge them without guilt or shame, i don't have any space to take the next step that can lead me/us to building a proud and aware community/India and ultimately a world citizen.