The Relevance of Identity

Identity

It is the context that gives identity its meaning. Depending on the context a man can be identified as a friend, father, husband, doctor, runner, blogger, Hindu, vegetarian etc. A person being a vegetarian is hardly relevant to his skills as a doctor but may be relevant if he is looking to be employed as a chef at a diner that serves non vegetarian food.

In this blog post I will discuss the case of Mihir Sharma, a Delhi based journalist and author who writes extensively on the subject of Indian economy. Mihir has been a subject of a online campaign in which the right wing element on the social media want him to admit to his “Christian identity”.

The case of Mihir Sharma

In a recent interview to News Laundry Mihir was asked about the online campaign against him. He said he was brought up as Christian and this sparked a new round of bigoted commentary against Mihir on the social media. An Australia based doctor tweeted.

https://twitter.com/WrongDoc/status/609172691577212928

In the interview Mihir does not identify himself as Christian or religious. Mihir had refused to comment his religious identity so the accusation that he went to lengths to deny “that is a Christian” is simply a lie. Mihir identifies himself as an atheist and a rationalist who is “not in the least religious”.

For Dr Bhavin Jadav, the fact that Mihir was brought up in a Christian family was enough to establish his identity as a Christian. The idea that a person necessarily has some religious identity and that identity is determined at birth has its roots in the caste system of India. From the interview it is clear that Mihir had no qualms about discussing his family’s religious background. Earlier Mihir had declined to comment on his religious identity and he was right in doing so. Let me explain this by using the example of Dr Bhavin Jadav.

After looking at his name an upper caste patient asks Dr Bhavin Jadav if he belongs to the “lower caste”. Should Dr Jadav explain his caste affiliations to his patient or should he simply decline to dignify this irrelevant and possibly bigoted question with an answer? Let me respect the good sense of Dr Jadav and assume that he will decline to answer and even ask his patient to find another doctor if he is not comfortable with his name. Mihir did the same. He refused to bow to the bigotry and bullying by the right wing.

For a moment, only for the sake of argument, let us assume that Mihir is a practicing Christian. As long as his religious beliefs do not impact his work as a journalist and an author who writes about economy then it is irrelevant to discuss about his personal beliefs.

The campaign to force Mihir to admit that “he is Christian” has a purpose. First purpose is the disassociate him from the perceived Hindu identity that Mihir gets from his name and the second purpose is to launch Ad Hominem attacks against his columns. Instead of writing another column explaining why they disagree with Mihir they want to say that Mihir is wrong or prejudiced because “he is a Christian”.

Other Common Methods Employed By Bigots

There is nothing new about bigots using the social media to spew venom against cultures and communities against which they carry deep seated hatred. Bigots use a limited number of tricks and are quite often very easy to spot. The commonly employed trick is to use tragic situations like civil wars and crimes in distant lands to dismiss the idea of co-existence with the group they despise at home. If you speak about co existence and Multiculturalism they will try to link the idea of peaceful co-existence to terrorism.

“Multiculturalism” is the co-existence of diverse cultures, where culture includes racial, religious, or cultural groups and is manifested in customary behaviours, cultural assumptions and values, patterns of thinking, and communicative styles.

Then there are those bigots who propagate the idea that a person cannot be a decent human being while remaining a Muslim or a Christian. Although in the case of Mihir Sharma we have already seen that his disassociation with religion hardly made any difference to how he is perceived by the bigots.

Quite often bigots do not make any sense. If we look at the tweet below it says “So what Islam needs are a lot of Muslims who actually don’t believe in it”. It is like saying “So what free market economy needs are a lot of people who actually don’t believe in it”. Perhaps Mr. Pradhan wanted to say that the world needs less Muslims but he couldn’t bring himself to say that openly so he just wrote this.

Countering Bigotry

The best way to counter bigotry is to counter and destroy their argument using reason. A bigot’s argument is based on half truths and lies and is usually very easy to destroy using logical arguments. If your engage with a bigot in an argument then ask for specifics because bigots thrive on generalizations. If they talk about reforming a particular community ask them about specific ideas that they have in mind, they rarely come up with solutions because their focus remains on demonizing the people they despise. Always ask them for evidence on which their view is based. Challenge their evidence. Bigots are counting on you remaining quiet. Surprise them.

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