The Urge to Melt – Question of Identity
Youth from minorities in most regions are faced with a choice as the age bestows a host of freedoms. While identity pride is something that remains alive in their hearts, it does not quite manifest physically. As I look around, I find many Sikh friends in my friend’s circle listing their religious preference as a Sikh but shunning off all those symbols which lie at the heart of Sikh identity. I have been grappling with questions of identity for long – what is an identity after all, why do I need to be different, who am I, what do people mean when they say ‘I am what I am’ etc.
So, why is it that people in my community and in the minorities in general have an intrinsic desire to melt their identity into that of the crowd and get camouflaged? After reading this rare piece of fiction ‘Beyond Identity’ by P.S. Sandhawalia, I now feel in a better position to address questions of identity. I identify 6 reasons for such behaviour.
1. One reason can be low self esteem. An individual who is pining for attention among peer group and the society usually stoops to the level of a turn coat. He/she tries to prove her worth by revealing the texture of his/her skin thus expecting adoration through some channel.
2. Second reason can be the hollowness of the individual in the sense that when a person is talentless and usually a fiasco academically or in a field that society tags value to, he/she in order to gain acceptance tries to do what the majority does.
3. Yet this does not quite explain why sometimes successful people may also adopt the majority identity. The possible explanation can be lack of inner courage. It requires a lion's strength to be distinct and unique and to swim against the tide. When the world talks of fashion, style and haircuts, it requires determination and grit to debate the motion. That is how the majority’s dormant power works. It is an attempt to impose one's culture, one’s viewpoint, one's way of doing things on others in a way that the imposed one gullibly accepts. As I learnt at school, it is a manufacturers consent - yes it manufactures indeed by an overtly mechanical process.
4. One thing that people oftern overlook is the dignity of differences. The most beautiful thing about differences is diversity which facilitates mutual enrichment and knowledge.
5. Another factor for assimilation is disrespect. When an individual becomes illusioned with the core of his faith and the beliefs that hitherto carved his identity, he casually jettisons all the symbols associated with the belief as an act of freedom and detaches himself from that belief. For instance, a girl deciding to take off her burqa, remember, I am not making a judgment about a faith by this example and this also does not mean that removing burqa is assimilation in the crowd and that not removing is somehow an act of courage (it may actually be the other way round, as per context)
6. Lastly, I feel majority in this world are driven by a herd mentality. It's a herd of sheep. A few roaring lions who have kept their identity intact, rest have shaven and joined the herd of sheep.
So what is exactly an 'identity'? It is an amalgam of religion, language, heridity, culture, customs, symbols, traditions - something into which all of us are born - it is real, visible, palpable and stable.
If we have respect for it and pride in it, we will retain it. Otherwise we will abandon it and assimilate.
Sikhism is the panacea to turn cowards, turncoats and ordinary mortals into superhuman, nay, gods. A superman invariably shines in any situation and does not remain undistinguished part of the common mass. A fortunate few realise it by God’s grace; for others, our Gurus give a clarion call, turning idlers and small minded ordinary beings to attain leadership qualities. ‘Jin manas te devte kie, kart n lagi bar (p. 462)
The primary inspiration for a child is its parents whom he cherishes as role models, but are they so? A child imbibes ill-traits and ill-culture in which it is brought up. Its choice of colleagues and friends depends on the values imparted by its parents and thereafter the teachers whose aptitude paves its future course of action. The cowards prefer to get lost in the crowd; it is the courageous who aspire to become supermen/superwomen. – Editor
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2011, All