Word of the Year: Identity

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Yoshika Sangal | December 28, 2015



In the year 2015, world witnessed many occasions that made us question our ‘being’. The thing that defines us into who we are, what we believe in and what we think is worth pursuing.


Dictionary.com this year, on account of all events that made headlines in the world, chose the word of the year as ‘identity’.
Etymologically this word comes from the Latin term ‘idem’ which means ‘the same’.

As an extension to this, Oxford dictionary gives two meanings to identity. One of them is ‘a close similarity or affinity’, a kind of understanding and oneness that many enjoy being born in a community.

In India, this was first seen by the iconic win of Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi assembly elections held in February. His ruling symbol or ‘identity’ mark was that of the ‘aam aadmi’ or the common man. Targeting lakhs of working class in the city, the party aimed to serve the common man’s needs and ‘broom away’ the corrupt. This, coupled with the ideology of a ‘youth-centric party’, led for its smoothened victory.
The foremost meaning of identity is, ‘the fact of being who or what a person or thing is’.

An article by the New York Times titled ‘The Year We Obsessed Over Identity’ said “Gender roles are merging. Races are being shed. In the last six years or so, but especially in 2015, we’ve been made to see how trans and bi and poly-ambi-omni- we are.” In light of India, this remains eternally true as people struggling to find themselves, end up acting in ways that contradict their very beliefs.    

In the many instances of communal unrest this year in India, each member of the respective groups strived to hold on to their identities. The race we are born into maybe ‘accidents of birth’ as John Rawls puts it, but intolerance of being separated or supressed in lieu of being a part of that community is something we are ready to fight our entire life.
 
As proved by the Patidars of Gujarat, their agitation seeking Other Backward Class (OBC) status, held public demonstrations starting in the month of July. Their OBC status would ensure their reservation in government jobs and educational institutes.

The two-month protest stirred thousands of people across the state. Riots, arrests, a state curfew and subsequent deaths later, the mass movement resumed the national debate on reservation.

As one minority protested in masses for equal identification, another faced immolation.

Dalits of the country witnessed a tragedy in the month of October when a family of four were set ablaze in their house, which killed two children and critically injured their parents. Reportedly attacked by the Rajput community, in grief, the villagers sort justice by walking hand in hand, shouting slogans, and carrying the bodies of the two children.
 
Henri Tajfel's social identity theory can be of utmost relevance here. When ethnic minorities feel their identity threatened, they emphasize their other social identities to maintain a positive self-concept. This brings out both similarities within a group and differences between groups.

India since decades has witnessed religious identities being threatened.

This year’s most talked about incident was that of the Dadri lynching case of September. A Muslim family in Dadri village of Uttar Pradesh was attacked based on rumours that the family had consumed beef. A 52-year old Akhlaq was killed and his 22-year old son seriously injured.
 
The whole country roared in despair the level of intolerance that the people had and the lengths they would go to preserve their identity with their religion.

So much so, that they blur the differences of right or wrong, just or unjust, moral and immoral. Bollywood stars Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan, on their comments about intolerance, were charged by politicians and social media for being intruders of nationalism and that they should be sent to Pakistan. The debate as much was that of identity crisis.

For the perpetrator, an attempt to show their loyalty to their panentheistic symbols of their religion. For the victim; to live in a state where he is continuously scanned by people of majority groups and his struggle to understand where he belongs. For the nation, an open debate as to where their integrity lies, in humanity.
 
Identity is a homonym to all who chose to define themselves in different ways. The year ended with Delhi’s protest over release of the juvenile convict of Nirbhaya’s gang rape on December 16, 2012. A 23-year old girl was raped by six men in a bus and she succumbed to her injuries a few days later. This incident had created a worldwide protest against safety of women and justice given to rape victims.

To pay homage to her daughter, three years later, her mother took her daughter’s real name in public as Jyoti Singh. She claimed she was not ashamed to take her name and that those who commit such heinous crimes should be ashamed and not their families.
 

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