Culture and Identity in India

Often I think about the kind of cultural identity that my children will have. They belong to two distinct cultural heritages (Kerala and Gujarat) and there is almost no middle path. The only natural identity they can have is either the global identity or the secular Indian identity. Global identity dominates society today and this probably gave my wife and I courage to experiment starting a family without worrying too much about it.

The other possible option is the fading Indian secular identity, which was crafted by the early nationalists, Gandhi and Nehru and established via state propaganda. This identity has been under threat in recent years due to the collapse of socialism, rise of globalisation and the resurgence of religious and regional identities. In this post, I try to explore the interplay between all these identities and see where we are going as a society.

Global Cultural Identity

Most of the youth cultural icons in India rarely sport their religious or cultural identities. They are fully secular in that sense, but not really culturally rooted in Indianness other than the colour of their skin. The biggest problem with this identity is that capitalism, while shiny outside, is essentially hollow at the core. This lack of rootedness or spiritualism is its biggest problem that drives even the most culturally advanced to seek a more rooted identity.

India’s #1 Celebrity Couple — Remarkably clean and secular

Hindu Rashtra

The people who are attracted to this are those who have been left out of the slick and urban global identity. In their hearts they still probably aspire to become global citizens but they are the ones left behind by global capitalism. Global capitalism has left these people irrelevant. These people also see the Hindu identity as a tool of regaining power and relevance in society. This threatens to engulf the growth of the global identity but also will make the society more violent and conservative.

Prime Minister Modi is very comfortable to show his Hindu identity

Muslim Conservatism

Specially since the 1990s and the rise of the BJP and Hindu nationalism, there has been growing marginalisation of the Muslim community in India. Before Muslims, Sikhs have also been victims due to their distinct and visible religious identities. Rather than risking an all out war against the Indian state, the Sikhs have made peace and have also embraced more global identities. So there is still hope for the Muslims to embrace a more secular identity.

Veiled women are very visible expression of Islamic identity in every part of India

Indian National Cultural Identity

Nothing signified this more than khadi. I distinctly remember my grandparents only wore this kind of cloth.

Sadly this cultural identity (which is the only true national identity) is dying. The reason for this is also the onslaught of globalisation and the association of this identity with socialism. People have found global identities more attractive and aspirational while doing away with the dogmas of religion.

Conclusion

Unfortunately I don’t see any option other than embracing the global identity, which is sad. Religious identities are doomed because they are divisive. As long as the religious elements remain in the fringe, they should be fine. Unfortunately religion is getting more and more mainstream and both Hindus and Muslims should learn to keep their identities in the background to create a truly secular society.

The only way Indianness can remain relevant is by embracing and influencing the global identity with our values and culture that is rooted in modesty and simplicity.

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