– Zenia Zuraiq, II B.Sc. Physics
Image source: Huffington Post
On 12 July 2018, athlete Hima Das made history by becoming India’s first ever track and field gold medallist at the IAAF World Championships, when she aced the women’s 400 m event at the IAAF World U-20 Championships in Tampere, Finland.
The daughter of a farmer from Assam, Hima quickly became a social media darling. Days after the victory, Google recorded a spike in searches for Hima’s name, as expected.What was not expected (and deeply troubling) was how the number one prompted search keyword was (and remains to be) ‘Hima Das caste’. However hard we try, it seems that we simply cannot outrun our made-up hierarchies.This incident is indicative of so much that is wrong with desi identity today – how we constantly put up and re-establish barriers between ourselves.
Our society majorly functions on the ‘tribes’ and factions you define yourselves by. These can be your race, your religion, your gender identity, your sexual orientation, etc. These are personal milestones and markers of identity. There is a keen and urgent spirit of activists and change makers who are trying to regain some momentum for those factions and sections of the society which were previously shunned. But even as pride uplifts one group, we must always be wary of the other effects it has. Today, ‘pride’ is not just a feeling. It is a tool – carefully packaged and strategically deployed. You don’t have to look very far to see it in action. This ‘pride’ is complemented by complete ‘otherisation’ of anyone who isn’t in your tribe.
‘Pride’ today is being fed to you in many different, bite sized chunks like ‘patriotism’, ‘nationalism’, and so many more. “Why are you afraid of showing off who you are?”, they say. The arguments just seem so sound and logical that you cannot help but follow. A perfect paper trail, leading to more and more arbitrary divisions between you and your fellow humans. The ‘otherisation’ is exponential. Your tribe, your faction becomes who you are – and anyone outside it is seen as a threat, no matter what their intentions.
The end goal is simple – complete disillusionment between tribes. You and your very soul tied to this sort of misplaced identity. This attitude of ‘my tribe is better than yours’. We justify this state by calling it ‘pride’. The stakes become too personal. Your sense of belonging becomes directly tied to this ‘pride’. This sort of political hijacking of identity is exactly the fall that pride comes before. At a juncture like this, it’s worth taking a step back for self-examination. Is pride in your identity worth having at the expense of other people’s? Does your sense of belonging come from the invalidation of other people’s rights? Is it not possible for me to be proud of who I am without invalidating someone else?
It’s very easy to justify the loud, inflammatory rhetoric around us as simply ‘taking pride’ in one’s identity. But it’s worth remembering that an identity which serves no purpose other than isolating you from those around isn’t one worth having. That is why the question of Hima Das’ caste even being relevant is infuriating. In an age where we are trying to get rid of barriers between people, re-establishing old, troublesome ones isn’t a great sign. There is nothing wrong in being proud of who you are. In fact, that is something we must all strive for. We just have to be careful not to invalidate other people or their struggles along the way.
At the end of the day, pride must unite more than it divides.