My quest to demystify identity has been quite persistent, with personal upheavals. I have been going through soul-stirring turmoil of who am I? Where do I belong to? Who all are my people? Where is my home? Where do I find solace? The more I ponder; all these apparently innocent and pretty straight forward questions leave a crushing pain behind.
Growing up in suburbs, being an average Indian girl, I happened to believe that, identity can be captured through my educational qualification, my religious values and obviously through my 'surname', things we usually come across while filling up any form. Little did I know that identity can be broken, shuddered, manipulated and used as weapon against me only?
Shifting to a metro city, my identity of belonging to a small town girl, with 'behenji' type appearance was the beginning of me questioning my identity, I tried my best to fit into 'their' archetype of a modern, outrageous girl, but I failed miserably. I wasn't happy; rather I was exasperated and tired. While, I felt I was under the lens of scrutiny, seeing the third gender revolting against the dichotomy of gender specificity, women shouting against misogyny, boys trying too hard to grapple ‘girlish’ emotions, people being battered owing to their skin colour shattered my narrow notion of identity.
The struggle seemed so deep rooted and volatile. The problem does not lie in having a firm individual identity but lies in the motive of asphyxiation of other’s identity. Identity, the word, so loosely connotated in every field started brimming with so many existential questions to me. Throughout these years I have tried gripping the nuanced nitty gritties of the construct. It seems that identity is having the right to feel comfortable in own skin, it is what one ascribes to, what one discourages and what one approves without harming others. It should not be something which is entirely imposed socio-culturally and swept off beneath political agenda rather it should be something which evolves organically, in sync with humanitarian harmony as a whole. I realized it's something beyond, labelling our mothers only as housewives, and snatching away every possible avenue of other identity. We perfectly ignore any remote chance of their desires to be something more than just being a mother setting a perfect example of misogyny begins at home. I also realized that our fathers are much more than a rock solid pillar of our family, but humans who also plight for emotional support subtly. See, how wonderfully we as a society reduce others to bits and pieces to our own convenience and cocoon it as socially sanctioned gender roles. Not surprisingly, it gets back on us too.
The situation is dire for individuals who do not fit into our binary division of gender, i.e., male and female. There is definite difference between sex and gender and it should be spread to every nook and corner of our mind. Anatomical characteristics at the time of birth bestow us with either male or female sex. On the other hand, gender identity or expression is what we intrinsically, emotionally seek from the world. But, ironically, once a male child is born, he is showered with expected societal roles of being a male. Same goes for a female newborn too. If, gender is a social construct, it should be conceived as, a continuum and anyone at any point of time can oscillate or swirl in that. What stops us from accepting various gender identities? Why do we hold so much of ignorance towards gender non-conforming individuals? Because we, the people whose gender identity is aligned with assigned sex at birth, we pathologize any transgression of the same. We stigmatize, ridicule those gender-non conforming individuals. We cultivate transphobia within us, which results in microaggression, a subtler form of prejudice filled with indirect and indistinct verbal and non verbal gestures towards the marginalized LGBTQ+ community. The one very obvious example of microaggression is that mostly we have gendered washrooms; breathing in such a toxic environment invites, degradation in mental health of the entire cornered community. An adolescent experiencing gender non belongingness does not require, treatment or therapy, but needs to be protected from the wrath of gender belonging insensitive mindset. So, what can be our responsibility? Let’s not impose gender affirmation rather let them unfold through their journey what they deem to be suitable. They are not gay, lesbian or bisexual but individuals just like us. Similarly, we often call individuals with psychiatric illness by their diagnosis. How pensive it is to reduce a person’s identity with a lifetime hallmark of their suffering; the depressed boy, the anxious teenager, the schizophrenic wife. Their identities are shattered and minimized to symptoms, amplifying the already existing agony. Whatever is out of the box, the so called majority of self proclaimed normal individuals dismiss and devalue its entire existence with intrusion of mockery and ruthless inhumanity.
Apart from the individualistic identity, gender roles all we have is the social identity. Belonging to a specific ‘in-group’ espouses a sense of entitlement which automatically leads on to ill-treatment to the ‘out-group’. But sense of belongingness is eternal and social identity should govern a collective thread of humanity instead of, penetrating shame, doubt and guilt. Having an identity can partly be biological, and imposed but what we identify with is what we seek, we look for, we consciously take control of. I identify with, underprivileged slum dwellers, vendors roaming on the street, migrant labourers working relentlessly, even if I don’t represent any of them.
In this context I am reminded of the distress of some of the other minority groups. Often we see, one group is domineering and another group is being exploited and manipulated. Take the example of Dalits and upper caste Brahmins in our Indian context. We have moved beyond the era of ostracising Shudras, i.e., untouchability, but still the descendants have an awful experience of staying in their own motherland. Social caste is still very much relevant in our society with its toned down transformed expression and effects. The long oppressed, minority groups constantly, combat to secure an identity to fit into the mainstream modern India. But we still end up getting news headline of ‘ Dalit woman being strangled to death; villagers claim she was a witch.’ All the enforcement of law, to highlight equality in identities, hardly safeguards the greater section of the minority groups. Similarly, Asian ‘Brown’ people face detrimental hazards of racism due to their accent, complexion and what not in White countries. One ray of hope etches, as through hyperglobalization and varying job demands a fusion or amalgamations of various communities have started taking place. We can only look for a more collaborated and peaceful co-existence of miscellaneous identities without positing threat to each other.
Thinking through this, I felt I also have been the source of hatred towards the so-called ‘other groups’ knowingly or unknowingly in my immediate surroundings. My identity of belonging to a middle class family had forbidden me to befriend my upper-class and lower middle class batch mates. The rival sort of feeling was evident without even getting to know each other. My identity of relatively fair complexion girl in a country like India, where beauty is equivalent to have a light skin tone, had silently segregated my dusky cousin. On the contrary, while, I tried so hard to meet up to the demands of metro city, ‘their’ identity had constantly pushed me back in the dark. That was the juncture, the pause I took to reflect and refresh, to look within to find me, which was lost somewhere. I did not choose my identity of being financially superior or inferior. I absolutely had no control over my complexion which invariably had ruined every family gathering for my cousin. I felt miserable, I felt losing away my control. I understood how fragile my identity was only until it caused me pain.
I realized identity is not exactly a label, but a constant journey through pain and suffering. It’s not what I am asked to do, or born with rather what I choose to engage in and refrain from. It’s a process of negotiation with the context. It’s growing up as an individual with a unification of acceptance and tolerance. Moreover, it’s being respectful to multiple identities apart from our own. The more we envision identity as boundary, the more abomination we inflict. Rather, if we see it as fluid and dynamic, it helps us being grounded. I am not superior or inferior to any one, any group. If we really want to see a change at global-social-political macro level, we have to begin it at home. Change has to start from within, at the micro and personal level.
We all are on the same boat, whoever is lagging behind, let’s wait for them or pull them up. Increasing social contact can help us in dealing with our own prejudices. I know, eradicating discrimination, covert aggression is not easy, because, we all are so much blindfolded with own values and principles which make us disabled to put things into perspective. There is nothing as one single reality in social science; it’s always multiple realities, with diverse identities.
Amidst, my mother tongue, my city, my family, my neighbourhood, my institution, my country, there is something more, which is a sense of connectedness to all the beings in the world and that’s the identity of my identity. It can be captured neither in some given biological endowment nor through societal nomenclature. It’s beyond the purview of the pointers given in application forms. It’s the culmination of experiences, the people I have met, the bonds I have made, the unheard stories of brutal reality, the things I don’t want to become and the things I am yet to explore. I will mould, replenish and cautiously look for internal biases I have for others because; I am in a process of refinement of keeping stereotypes, prejudice at bay. It will take some time because we are wired of oozing out hatred since ages. That’s the way we have socially learned to keep our identities ahead of others, masked in the illusion of superiority. I am in the process of ‘unlearning’.
I hope fervently that, someday our collective identity ushers a safe space beyond our personal identity; till then,
“ Bulla ki Jaana Main Kaun...”