By Ananya S Guha
There is a cry for Eelam in Jallikattu. For years we have been debating ethnicity, separatism, and militancy. The point of separatism to extremism has done the rounds of conferences and seminars. Ethnic identity, the ‘other’, and conflict zones have been a part of literature and creative writing. That is fine. The diversity of India, its varied range and multi-facetedness straddles across vivacious languages and lively cultures. This makes the country not only vibrant, but diverse, and this diversity is a source of bond, not bondage. We look up to the ‘mainstream’ to acknowledge this, and, mainstream magazines, journals, festivals rope in this ‘other’ to harvest a tribute poetry, literature, dances, and films.
In this clamour for recognition, a deep-seated separate urge manifests. And there is a wedge. This also borders on separate homeland, which can be interpreted variously: separate state, separate country, etc. This leads to further division of states in the north and the south, and district autonomous councils in North East India. The cry matches with vocal calls of indigenous identities.
Native identity is also subject to the process of change. How does tradition and modernity co-exist? Can one not be bi-lingual, as people are in Assam, or other parts of the country? Have not the Bangladeshi immigrants naturalised into an existing culture? Have not the Pangals of Manipur assimilated into a broad culture?
The diversity also produces oneness. True, politicians play their cards. But we the literate, (supposedly) intellectual masses also play tenuous and clever roles. Look at the Rajbongshi tribes. They are on two sides of two states – Assam and West Bengal. So apart from speaking their tribal language, they also speak Assamese and Bengali. Look at the Nagas, and the tribals of Arunachal Pradesh, having more than twenty tribes, but steadfastly held together as one. The same is true of the country, notwithstanding intriguing happenings like the creation of Telengana and Andhra Pradesh, two states carved out of one, though speaking the same language. So, feeling of deprivation, alienation has geography as a concern. The North Eastern states of India are a good example. Geo-politics is the assumed term. International borders are vulnerable. But mainstreaming comes when people assimilate, not subsumed, but assimilate, go out for studies and work. This is happening and will continue to happen.
Suddenly, however, out of the blue, a cry for Eelam emerges, which is disconcerting and an alarming one. Of course, we may blame it on the politician. But, educated people striking alarmist bells are a cause for concern. Certainly, we need to fight for Dalits, tribals, and the downtrodden. Binayak Sen was and is an example, a brave humanist. But if my admiration for Sen is only because he is a Bengali, then the hidden truth emerges. We cannot afford this to happen in this diverse country.
Making religion and culture synonymous is as dangerous as speaking incessantly of the ‘other’. The ‘other’ has fullness, which is part of the whole. Similarly, of course, there is a danger in seeing established cultures as monolithic, or monolingual, be it Hindi or English. The zeal to ban cow-slaughter in the name of culture appears as another manifestation of separatism.
We have an edifice, diverse yet rounded. We must neither bring nasty politics into it, nor religiosity, nor cultural chauvinism, nor racial jingoism. Let culture not trump the economic well-being of communities. The diversity of the country mustn’t be turned into war cries of separatism, especially on social media, which tend to fuel such tendencies.
That the internet has revolutionised communication is undeniable. Let it revolutionise cultures. Strict homogeneity may bring, if not doom, a rabid attitude, which finally only the politician or the wily businessman will take advantage of. Have not we learnt from the past events in Gujarat, North East India, the West and the South? Shall we remain pawns, and not be reinvigorated by future? Shall we take piecemeal cases of isolated history, and wade in fragments?
Exploring the cultural assets of India is beautiful, a never ending vision, a mosaic. Let us not use this to pit one against the other.
Ananya S Guha is Regional Director, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), Shillong.
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