On community identities: sundry thoughts

Rohit Dhankar

The very idea of a community is premised on relatively greater affinity and acceptance among a set of people. It necessarily requires another set of people with whom the affinity and acceptance is seen to be relatively of a lesser degree. That much is a conceptual requirement of the very idea of community, and one can do nothing about that unless is ready to completely junk this very idea.

So far this idea cannot support universal democracy at the national level. To be a democrat one has to recognise the rights and ways of living of people not belonging to one’s own community. On the basis of just being human. This requires recognition of areas of social and political behaviour where affinity and community based acceptance are not only invalid criteria for decision making; but are positively harmful and morally wrong. That means going beyond the bounds of one’s community, and creating an identity which is not circumscribed or limited by one’s own community ethics.

Human affairs are not neat and clean, ideas are not accepted and understood uniformly by all members of a nation or a community. Even when an idea or principle is understood and accepted acting according to it may not be equally possible for all and in all circumstances. Therefore, the principles of justice, equality and public space for every one and for all communities may not always operate in an ideal manner. Because of the sheer numerical weight of majority community minorities and less privileged communities may actually face discrimination or develop a perception of discrimination. It may or may not involve any active effort and conspiracy from the majority and more privileged communities; still the discrimination remains equally real and perception remains equally distressing.

In any case this is something undesirable and a way has to be found out to do away with discrimination as well as the perception of discrimination. When an aggressive identity politics is used to fight against this real and perceived discrimination the fundamental principle of democracy “operating without one’s community identity” is violated. Then in reality there is a demand on the majority to weaken their community identity while at the same time there is a process of strengthening community identities of the minority and less privileged sections. In other words it is demanded from the majority to ‘de-comminitize’ itself; while simultaneously support aggressive ‘communitization’ (deliberately not using the term “communalize” in both cases 🙂 ) of the minorities and less privileged communities.

To deal with this democratisation process the majority community has to grow mentally in order to understand the demands of democracy. This is the job of the ‘intellectuals’ in the society to help the majority understand this process. The minorities and less privileged also have to understand the mental and moral limits of their communitarian demands. This moderation is also the job of the intellectuals in the society.

When the very same intellectuals start weaving theories where all community-based thinking and action of the majority is derided, discarded and attacked without intellectual engagement at the level of the masses it’s logic escapes the massage in majority. At the same time if spacious theories are spun to obfuscate and support each thought and action of the less privileged and minority by the voluble cacophony through various captured means of communication the majority starts feeling marginalised, right or wrong. This brings about an anxiety in the majority and a backlash starts.

When these concerns are not addressed the political and thought leadership in the society leaves the ground open for the rogue elements to capitalise on the slow festering unaddressed discontent of the majority. That is what is happening in India for a long time by now. An is the main strength of BJP, it is a ‘negative strength’ curtsy thought leaders of our country.

If you see yourself as a thought leader in the political arena you have the responsibility to deal with the unsophisticated crudely expressed bigoted and self-centred concerns of the people who did not have the opportunity to learn your obfuscating language. If your theories did not prepare you to engage with that person without quoting ten irrelevant books and without using rarefied terminology which you yourself do not understand, you are spewing crammed junk and the people at the ground level engaged in menial tasks know intuitively when you are talking nonsense.

Those who are interested in democracy in the country have to engage with those crudely expressed ideas and concerns at the level of the people who are effected by them. Deriding them as fools and misguided by some army of the devil is not going to help.

More evolved and sophisticated your understanding is better equipped it should become to communicate with the genuine and simply expressed fears and anxieties. If it does not happen you are mistaken in seeing yourself as a sophisticated thinker and an intellectual; you are only re-producer of crammed junk.


2 Responses to On community identities: sundry thoughts

  1. vishnuagni says:

    Very nicely expressed Rohit ji. I agree that genuine engagement with the ‘other’ is crucial. Just dismissing their views indicates arrogance as well as some stupidity. Trump may be a lousy person, but it is important to understand why he’s got support… and then work on those issues in a spirit of ‘inclusion’.


  2. Anonymous says:

    Could not agree more with the ‘why’ of engaging with the other, wondering on what the ‘hows’ are in the current scenario in India.


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