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Symbols affect the identity

Writers have been using symbolic representation of socio-religious events and ‘Colors of Violence’ by Sudhir Kakr is a book that tells about religious violence from a psychoanalyst’s point of view. The author has taken the circumstances surrounding the Hindu-Muslim violence of the 1990’s and presented it as a case study. The case study is based in Hyderabad southern Indian city which became the target of violence in 1990 and brought about intense violence. The writer takes up a community which is vastly divided in terms of religion.

The writer shows that the individuals’ identity in the community is grounded in their religious values and when any conflict emerges the identity takes over and the differences become unacceptable. Reading the book I realized that my identity is based on cultural and preconceived notions. On the truths and half truths of people I have met and books that I have read. I may not actually believe in the beliefs I have consciously but subconsciously I have an opinion about them.

My identity is shaped from my experiences and my parents thoughts and beliefs are mine, until I start asking questions, and then I sometimes feel I am going against my upbringing. This ambivalence, which comes from the questions bring guilt. My needs and my beliefs begin to differ and my sense of the self comes under fire. My identity is not isolated it is part of a collective experience based on history, as are most religious symbols. Kakar brings the same ambivalence into question as he relates the experience of the Muslims.

They are given a truth that comes from the past. Their religious beliefs are presented to them and they are convinced that they are right. Yet, these truths come through various interpretations, they are presented in ways that create a certain opinion without giving the individual the chance to form an unbiased opinion. According to the author, Muslims of the continent believe that they gave India its cultural value from the Taj Mahal to the spices being used in the food.

Their need to impress on the Hindus their own Islamic values and their inability to see the nation before Islam, their religion, is the main dividing factor between the communities. The Muslims are brought up to believe their religion is all encompassing and comes before even their individual selves. The Hindus have strong beliefs which often conflict with the beliefs of the Muslims. They want the Muslims to prove their loyalty to the nation first which they are unable to do. Muslims are so confined within their Arabian culture that it is hard for them to survive within a divided culture.

They are living in the past. Muslim leaders tell about the tales of the Prophet, the battle of Kerbala and the need to revisit the past and it is this form of history that shapes the identity of the Muslims. These thoughts are transmitted from one generation to another without taking into account the child’s own interpretations, rejecting surface interpretations [Kakar, pp. 34]. We see the ambivalence in identity of the groups as they struggle to retain their cultural values.

There are millions of Muslims and yet, most of the Muslims nations are controlled by the west. The loss of power from the Muslims is not taken by the individuals as a lesson to be learnt. Rather, the loss feeds their narcissism that they are a nation that has been taken advantage off and they try to take revenge rather than try to gain their former glory through knowledge. Their religious leaders talk about macho sadistic imageries from the Muslim past and they reveal a hidden rage of lost greatness which is transferred onto the people they speak too.

[ p 176] The inoculation of guilt, of rage, of revenge are so common for the Muslim people that they do not realize the words being spoken to them are taking them down the road to violence and division in a democratic society. Muslim scholars and speakers within India separate Muslim identity from Hindu reality. They create a conception of anxiety that people do not realize. They impale in them a need to separate themselves from the Hindu’s on base of their religion. The fundamentalism inherent in their speeches does not allow the Muslim individuals to become a community with the Hindu’s.

The identity of the two groups of people is always under conflict. We see the groups trying to retain their identity by becoming hostile to the ‘other. ’ [pp 60] There is always a measure of ambivalence as they live in a common society while struggling to remain aloof from their separate beliefs. Where I was brought up, religion is a means by which people gain an understanding of life. They require religion to understand themselves and their lives in society. However, Kakar shows [pp. 147] that Muslims all over the world have a tendency to separate themselves on the basis of religion.

While most religions are adapting to the changing modern world from Christianity to Buddhism and beyond, Muslims have grasped the past and taken it to be their present. They refuse to understand that their decline was based on individual and group failure. Self-identification with the past Muslims is their base of belief they are convinced that they were wrong. That they were responsible for giving into corruption and leading weakly, is unacceptable and as their rage cannot be self directed it is being directed externally.

They are unable to face their weakness and thus, their fundamental weakness is emerging as a form of rage against their perceived dominance. [pp 125] The problem we see in India is that there are two groups of people both with vastly different religious beliefs. Hindus and Muslims have a past full of conflicts and violence. Hindu nationalism believes that Muslims will work to eradicate them and Muslim preachers teach that Hindus are infidels and must be wiped out from the world even if it means violence. While the Hindu factions can on the base of their religion incorporate Muslim beliefs. [pp. 145]

The very stagnancy of Muslim beliefs forces them to find conflict with the Hindus. The identity of both the groups is based on religion and tolerance may be there but right underneath that thin veneer of tolerance is the notion: For Hindus, that the Muslims want to get rid of them and for the Muslims, that the Hindus have forced them to compromise their religion. This grievance or sense of hate permeates the values of individuals in a manner such that when conflict arises between the groups, all the emotions rise to the surface. In face of modernity the Muslims are trying to hold on to their past.

[pp 147] Their identity as a Muslim is being taken from their past glories and thus, disrupting their present beliefs. They want to regain their power without facing their own inadequacies. The ambivalence of living in a secular society while being a religious individual is proving somewhat unacceptable. They cannot question their beliefs as that would suggest doubt and in their religion there is no room for doubt, only blind obedience. That is why when the violence erupts, like it did in 1990, it is so gruesome that it becomes something un-understandable. Neighbors become enemies and friends become strangers.

The violence is not a result of the present day causative factors rather, is a result of the past grievances that are so much a part of the individuals identity that they are hard to resist. It’s an ambivalence and conflict of identities one that wants to live in a modern world and the unconscious inability to do so because of the religious values that are so much a part of every individual’s character in that part of the world. Due to religious beliefs each individual is convinced of the ‘truth’. We do not realize the ‘truth’ of our believe is based on the past and our own collective beliefs.

Our convictions cannot be questioned as they bring into question our very existence. The associated guilt is unacceptable, so we as individuals go through life unquestioning and accepting our individual selves without realizing that our convictions are false. Philosophers always question, they always ask why. This makes them more of a believer than us, people who accept in fear. Fear of ourselves and what we will find in our beliefs.

References: The Color of Violence: Cultural Identities, Religion, and Conflict. By SUDHIR KAKAR. Chicago: UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS, 1996. Pp. 231.

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