We are Indians. But who are we, and why?

Not long back we were the darlings of the Wall Street Journal, the flamboyant and magnificent soon-to-be global economic giant. Then we became the lusty, flesh thirsty animals waiting to pound on any female (age no bar) we find. We are said to have more malnourished children than the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. We have maximum number of billionaires with us, barring just 5 countries. We are untidy, intelligent, corrupt, unpunctual, religious, orthodox and full of cynicism.

But when we peep a bit deeper into the social fabric of the country, we wont be able to make such wide generalizations. We will find a whole new picture of a complex society constantly at war with itself, with identities as varied and confusing as can possibly be. We may be tribals today, fighting for our land which our fellow Indians are forcibly trying to snatch from us. We may be Saffron-clad, sword-bearing Hindus tomorrow, butchering our fellow Indians following Islam or Sikh faith. We may belong to X or Y community, hampering and delaying trains to demand our share of appeasements. We may then be speakers of Tamil language, fighting for the creation of separate state for Tamil speakers in Sri Lanka. We may further be a member of workers’ union fighting with our fellow Indians for more pay or better working conditions. We may be residents of one of the seven sister states, whom our fellow Indians mock as ‘Chinkies’. We may be Biharis forced out of Maharashtra for overpopulating the state. The list can go on, but the crux of these comparisons is that merely claiming to be Indian will not give us an exhaustive set of our identity. There are various lenses through which we see ourselves on different occasions (or one can say we are forced/nudged to see ourselves on different occasions).

Ugly face: clash of identities

Ugly face: clash of identities

How our religious and other identities are formed is a debate which historians have been involved in since quite some time now and dates back many years before independence. Not getting into that for now, I would like to focus on how these identities are used/misused for political and personal gains and how effective vote banks these identities have been proving to be for power hungry opportunists. 

Is it a coincidence that the two most backward states of India – U.P. and Bihar have the maximum number of seats in the Lok Sabha? (85 and 54 respectively before the creation of new states in 2000). Rath Yatra organized by BJP in 1990 was timed perfectly in resonance with elections. The political parties BSP and SP were formed (1984 and 1992 respectively) only a few years after the report on Mandal Commission was tabled (1980). Various schemes implemented by the government to push through their socialist agenda, which in fact are mobilizing lower class people and their votes, are passed just before the elections keeping in mind that the memory of people is short lived, so its better to strike the iron when its hot. One party asks us to give them vote as they share our religion claiming that the religion is in danger and needs instant vigor to save itself, other because they promise our caste greater benefits of power and representation, leftist parties want working-class votes even if they share the same economic ideology as that of centre or centre-right parties, some regional party comes to demand votes claiming they will gift us a separate state specifically to cater to our developmental needs, and the political juggernaut continues. Each time the perplexed voter is left frustrated whichever identity he succumbs to.

One school of thought believes that it is in the interest of the political parties to keep the electorate poor and uneducated, as it is easy to manipulate and evoke their identities when need be. Method used to dispense funds to different states from the union budget – Gadgil Formula – uses indicators like population, development etc to allocate funds, which in turn implies that more the population and less developed the state is, more fund will be allocated to it. This is like saying – take more money today, spend it in wrong way, keep the state underdeveloped, and take more money the next time!!

In the initial phase of independence when there was no definite identity as ‘Indian’, it was democratic politics that gave a sense of togetherness and a common identity to the fellow citizens by giving each citizen a vote to cast, one man-one vote, one vote-one value. The time has come when the same democratic politics has ensured the perpetual dissection of the population into different identities, plugging the one which provides immediate electoral benefit. 

Probably Nehru was right when he wrote that Indian history is like “an ancient palimpsest on which layer upon layer of thought and reverie had been inscribed, and yet no succeeding layer had completely hidden or erased what had been written previously”. But he never would have imagined that all these different layers will some day be exploited by political pundits to meet their ends. 

Indeed it is a race between different people to reach the podium of power and will chose any identity which guarantee them that position. No immediate solution is there in sight as of now.

"India is a state of mind" - Rabindranath Tagore

“India is a state of mind” – Rabindranath Tagore


Problem of Simplification – Societal calculations

We have this habit of making oversimplified conclusions. One starts believing what he has been spoon-fed with by different sources of information – be it textbooks, media, social networking sites or a well-established public opinion. Take for instance the following claims: –

Pakistan – terrorist dwellers

Child Labour – ban it right away

Narendra Modi – 1) Hero – Development  2) Villain – 2002 Godhra Riots

Rapists – Hang them, oh wait, even better – guillotine!

Police – goons

State officials – Corrupt

XYZ problem (education, say) – Govt. should spend more money – 5%, 6%, 7% of GDP blah blah

NREGA – resource sucker and unproductive

Naxals – Biggest Security threat

All these are the general perceptions we form and conclusions we draw, without giving adequate thought to why is it that we are thinking the way we are. My motive is not to claim that all the above are not true or complete misconceptions. My motive here is to put across the point that there is much more to all these issues than a simple and obvious one word answer.

Consider any problem which according to you has a simple solution. Look at it through prisms of history (how it evolved), society (why is it still prevalent), economics (who is it monetarily benefitting), politics (is it affecting vote bank or mobilization of resources at large-scale), culture (is there a religious or emotional sentiment attached to it) and absolute truth (is it morally and ethically correct or not).

Lets take a ‘simple’ example. Child Labour

Different dimensions to it maybe: –

(Perspective of a businessman using child labour).  Children are easy prey –> Convenient to exploit (no workers union, as it is already illegal) –> less wage –> More profits

(Perspective of the parents allowing/sending their child to work).  Child seen as a source of income (causing High fertility rate) –> no alternative (lack of good and functioning schools) –> No incentive to get the child educated (shady job prospects – widespread unemployment)

Repercussions of this so assumed ‘simple’ problem are multi-faceted. It influences and in turn is influenced by many interlinked problems. Concept of Poverty trap for instance. As there is poverty, it leads to child labour. As there is child labour, it leads to poverty. Somewhere the chain has to be broken and that will be possible if we get to the roots of the problem. Single minded claim to ban it is no solution either. In the process we may be adversely affecting the lives of the millions of children who at least get two square meals a day because of their labour!

Problems interlinked and related policies – The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986, The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act of 2009, The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) of Children Act of 2000, Mid-day meal schemes, Vocational training in schools, Aanganwadi, NREGA (minimum employment to a member of the household), rural infrastructure development (hoards of centre and state schemes), Food security bill, Family planning etc.

One can’t deal with child labour till the time problems of education (availability and quality), high fertility rate, subsistence wages and job opportunities to the deprived, vocational training to children etc are solved.


Children look on as their parents work as manual laborers (while the school is still on – no teachers present though). What will be their future if this is what they witness for the first 10-12 years of their lives?

PS – There are many more issues you can link with the problem of child rights and labour. But as stated earlier, my motive here is not to focus on child labour, rather on the need to incorporate multi-dimensional view to an issue, as what we see around us cannot be isolated so easily. There is a problem with over-simplification.