Why do we need to protect our identity?

In the previous post this author had raised some fundamental and elementary questions pertaining to the value of identity and its cause. The essential element was, what is the value of identity and why should we protect it.

In order to approach the topic it’s pertinent to define the term “identity” before we attempt to demystify the layers surrounding the issue.

And before jumping to a definition it would be in order to explore and make some observations perhaps?

Contemplating the meanings of Identity

In a very crude sense, identity is the paradigm on the basis of which we identify or differentiate one from the other. When you become one with something, you’ve essentially lost your identity and taken the identity of another. Therefore, the question evolves into what exactly is it that separates or differentiates one from the other.

This brings into consideration about the context. For example are we referring to the socio-cultural identity, ethno-racial identity etc. Also depending on the subject the must be a notion of micro vs macro identity, personal or individual vs national or cultural identity.

In a social sense, one’s identity is what one stands for. The dressing, the obvious symbols on one’s body would help identify who the person is or what they represent. When the Pandavas broke into Magadha, the kingdom of Jarasandh, they didn’t enter from the main gate. They broke the the south wall of the kingdom, dressed as Brahmins to make their entrance. It was a conscious decision they took that borne upon their identity as well as intention. Entering by breaking the south wall: the direction of the wall and the act signified their intention that they do not come at peace. The Brahmin disguise signified that they came to seek something. And finally the mighty king of Magadha, Jarasandh realized their true identity by the marks on their body. Seeing that Arjuna had marks borne by the string of the bow and Bhima had the marks on his shoulder borne by the weight of the mace, he was able to unravel their true identity that of Kshatriyas.

Thus informing the identity are the acts themselves. Acts are informed by two key founding qualities:

  1. Moral values on the basis of which a person differentiates right from wrong — the crude identity.
  2. The refined identity borne by experiences of the past.

These represent what one thinks one stands for and what reflects from one’s action what one stand for and even others’ notion of what they make of it comes to bear upon the identity.

Who we are determines the way to how we look at ourselves and how others see us. The most personal sense of identity being the name, rooted in the name is one’s family lineage, cultural traditions, ethnic roots, faith & belief system and a lot of other encoded information within. Before colonisation it was common in India to ask of one’s identity which was presented in the form of mentioning one’s gotra, family lineage etc. It was totally normal and was stated as a matter of fact against the current time and era wherein asking or mentioning of one’s gotra is now seen as casteist and racist.

With the influx and growing advent of invasions, our Indic roots and identities came under threat. In essence, the Bharitiya identity of this civilisation came under the cross-hairs of invaders like it was never subjected to before. Thus arose the need to protect our identity.

The ifs and whys of defending our identity

In the previous post this author raised the following elementary questions:

  1. What is the “cause” of identity? Why should one protect or defend it?
  2. If X is the identity of A, why (or why shouldn’t) A protect it?
  3. Is the merit of identity alone a reason to protect and defend one’s identity?
  4. If one concludes that their identity is devoid of merit, should that be reason enough to abandon it in favour of evolution?
  5. What are the after-effects and ramifications of an identity-transformation?

These questions flow from the fact that India, that is Bharat, has been under constant attack by foreign invaders for now over a millennium.

One of the key assault on the Indic identity was the foreign import of the concept of religion which essentially alien to this land. There is no equivalent to the word “religion” in the Indic languages. And the key motivation of invaders was to promulgate and impose their own faith and belief system on the natives of this land.

It all began with the white man engaging in pursuits of exploring earth during the middle ages around 15th century and occupying the land they discovered and enslaving the people they came across. “The Book” allowed “the redemption of any land one occupies”. Thus began the fassad of giving a religion to the unwashed savages and barbarians sanctioned by the book. This is a subject beyond the scope of the current article and a righteous subject for a dedicated article.

With the growing sense of modernisation and liberalism today, the imposition or the case of religious conversion certainly poses questions as to what is the need to protect one’s identity.

Does Dharma Inform Ones’ Identity?

In order to get the right answer, one must ask the right question. Instead of exploring the answer to identity or to ascertain one’s identity, the necessary question is what’s our notion of identity or what do we understand by the term identity in the Indic context.

This then begs the question: is it possible to equate identity with dharma, the moral code that we identify as the universal, natural, cosmic law?

This is beautifully explained by J Sai Deepak in the following video. Essentially it manifests itself at three primary levels, each of which leads to the next in the following hierarchy or flow:

  1. Rita: Concept of righteousness in thought.
  2. Satya: Concept of righteousness in speech.
  3. Dharma: Concept of righteousness in action.

What does Krishna mean when he make the call for Arjuna to explore his identity or dharma? When Arjuna stands in the centre of the battlefield, overcome by emotion, staring at his consanguins, overwhelmed by the sense of attachment, fearing for their loss and is about to give up and surrender? Exploring the answer to this question can only lead to the fact that one’s identity can be succinctly (even if vaguely) defined by one’s sense of duties, responsibilities and the sense of justice one subscribes to. In that context would it be correct to say that our sense of jurisprudence is our identity?

This subject warrants a dedicated article to do justice to it.

Bearing of Ones’ History Upon Their Identity

But then aren’t we all made up of our scars? Don’t our scars tell our story? Can we simply whitewash history and say we are borne off a clean slate? Is the world merely two thousand years old as says the enlightened white colonialist? Is there only one true God and everyone else who has their faith elsewhere deserve death?

It would then be reasonable to conclude that our history and past experiences play a critical role in defining our identity.

Thus our identities constitute of two central constructs: Our cultural lineage interspersed with our historical experiences; much like a person who inherits from his moral-values and upbringing combined with their experiences and interactions with the world around.

To summarise: One’s identity is what one stands for.

Your faith in your tradition or the lack of it does not prevent the outsider from seeing the identity in you.

“Hitler saw a Jew in me.”

J. Sai Deepak

To put it simply: One’s identity is their “roots” and it has a 360 degree, 3D bearing.

Revisiting the roots

Having established the above expression of identity as a conglomeration of two primary constructs of dharma and history, it then naturally motivates us to revisit our roots because that’s what helps us explore the answers to questions stated above.

Why is Protecting & Defending One’s Identity Righteous?

Exploring deeper the dialog between Krishna and a dejected, surrendered Arjuna, the following citations become contextually relevant:

It is far better to discharge one’s prescribed duties, even though faultily, than another’s duties perfectly. Destruction in the course of performing one’s own duty is better than engaging in another’s duties, for to follow another’s path is dangerous.
— v.25, Ch. 3

Amongst several other verses is another relevant one:

Under illusion you are now declining to act according to My direction. But, compelled by the work borne of your own nature, you will act all the same, O son of Kuntī.
—V. 60, Ch. 18

This essentially means it’s only natural for one to fend for one’s identity, be it rooted in the fact that it’s the sense of connect to one’s identity, the merit of one’s identity or by the very personal nature that one is led to defend one’s identity.

Deracination—Erosion of One’s Identity

What happens when one forgoes one’s identity? This naturally leaves a vacuum and a void on the identity-front of oneself. This then leads to the vulnerability borne our of a lack of identity and paves way for deracination—uprooting of one’s identity.

Erosion of one’s moral-code or dharma is perhaps the worst that can accrue to a human being. It leads to identity-crisis, erosion of moral value-system thereby lending oneself into other’s hands only to be used as a weapon against one’s very own community and civilisation. The perspective of history that’s available to us perhaps demonstrates it best how political boundaries evolved on the basis of religious identity.

In the Indic context, a social fabric with a history of over 10,000 years is essentially a civilizational identity with diversity, tradition, culture, language, ways-of-life at its roots that evolved over millennia. Refinement, evolution, distortion are features that present themselves in the due process of aging.

Dharma means the science of righteousness and is derived etymologically from the root ‘dhr’ — to hold. There is no corresponding word in any other language for dharma. It emphasises justice (Nyāya), morality, religion, charity, obligations, law and usage.

It must be born in mind that the concept of dharma is alien to the non-Indic philosophy; not only alien, it’s also unfathomable to the foreign mind.

What must be acknowledged is that the Indic value-system doesn’t marshal the cause of protection of ones’ faith-and-belief system but the protection of ones’ “dharma”. This key differentiating factor being the fact that a protectionist approach to ones identity is rooted in insecurity whereas protection of ones dharma is rooted in upholding the meritorious virtues of righteousness.

In the next post we’ll visit the ramifications of the clash of identities in the Indic context.

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