“I am a citizen of the world.”
― Sylvia Beach
In a recent interview, I had put down ‘identity’ as an intrinsic part of me, an identity that is devoid of law and religion or other statuses that have the power to affect my identity. I was asked to explain how my identity is bound to law; I couldn’t come up with an impromptu response that would help with a fair defence. But I did give a very vague answer. The truth is, at any given moment, our identities are all bound to something; they’re not independent or separate from us.
In February, I had been in Delhi for over a week now, and I was frightened to go anywhere. I am not only a Muslim but a Kashmiri Muslim, and if something goes wrong, unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll make it out alive. There is no hope for me. The Article gave us a singular identity of a conflicted state. But after its revocation, our status has changed to that of a subject of Union Territory. Neither of which is optional for someone living in the state. Multiple identities create the possibility of being singled out, which is determined by the circumstances. For instance, it’s not a great time to be a Muslim in this time and age. Islam has been portrayed as a tool for war, alleged to be the most extremist religion because Islam embodies the concept of Jihad. Despite the true meaning of that word, people often single our religion out either they find our belief too remote or violent to be practised. Therefore people shun it before they can be illuminated with the truth.
There is a hierarchy to our identities that subconsciously leads us to evaluate people. It differs from society to others and usually, the factor lies at the core of a culture, of what it is most conscious. In India, people are more conscious about religion than anything else, closely followed by the identity of a person in his social and personal life. On the contrary, the West is more concerned about their own, their gender, their ethnic or religious’ group, even their continent’s identity like a “European identity”.
It is almost perverse how we can’t keep an identity that is a choice of our own, so many factors influence our identities that it is hard to manage the one that we want to keep. In a world where we’re trying to minimize various struggles, the struggle for identity is a crisis that is acknowledged in cases like gender at best. Identity as a word has become so diverse that its constitution is as false as a dual concept. In a paper titled “What is Identity?” which was published on November 3, 1999, and written by James D. Fearon, focused on the ordinary language analysis of the current meanings of identity:
“Identity” in its present incarnation has a double sense. It refers at the same time to social categories and to the sources of an individual’s self-respect or dignity. There is no necessary linkage between these things. In ordinary language, at least, one can use “identity” to refer to personal characteristics or attributes that cannot naturally be expressed in terms of a social category, and in some contexts certain categories can be described as “identities” even though no one sees them as central to their personal identity. Nonetheless, “identity” in its present incarnation reflects and evokes the idea that social categories are bound up with the bases of an individual’s self-respect. Arguably much of the force and 2 interest of the term derive its implicit linkage of these two things.”
The history of identity isn’t far-fetched. Since the beginning of time, man has sought identities in various forms or concepts to sustain his need to assert himself as different from the rest. It started on a good note I think, first came an individual’s idea of man as a human being who was different from the lot, and that difference came from his traits, his quirks. Of the same individual, his roles in a society or a particular culture become his social or cultural identity. We all have two basic identities per se; one is our identity, and the other is our social identity.
A recent hashtag titled “Mera Jism Meri Marzi” or “My Body, My Choice” was about the expression of women as individuals of identity who aren’t answerable to anyone about their bodies but themselves. It was about women coming out of their shells and quit feeling the rage of suppression quietly. The expression came from a 2018 artwork of Eliza Coulson, who is a 20-year-old Scot. She was a victim of sexual harassment at the age of 17. Her becoming was empowering to her and therefore chose to empower other survivors with her story. In her words; “It isn’t revenge. It’s not for him; it’s for the people that have been in similar situations.”
As of today, identities are based on gender, politics, ethnicity, religion etc. It’s hard to have identities that are limited in number. But the truth of the matter is that so many of our identities are created as extensions of us in society, while only a few of them may be of any purpose at all. Some of our identities aren’t up to us, we don’t control where we come from or the religion to which we belong, but even then we’re a part of a superficial distinction. In some places, it gets so out of hand that for minorities, ethnic or religious groups, facing religious or ethnic persecution seems almost inevitable. When I say that I want an identity that is devoid of law, or religion or other influential factors that exist, I guess it naturally transcends to a form of discrimination wherein I don’t want to be discriminated based on where I come from or what I am, but what I became as a product of so many identities. There can’t be identities more fitting than these.
(This Opinion was published in the September 2020 print issue of Mountain Ink.)
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Ubair Fayaz Fazili is the Staff Writer at The Mountain Ink. He is the author of the poetry collection, Pain(t).