Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Population and Identity

All this talk of Mumbai for Mumbaikars is making me very nervous. I don’t know to what part of the country I can lay claim to. As a man from Bengal, largely brought up in Delhi, partly educated in Pune and also owning a small flat there and further married to a lady from the Philippines, just who am I? The identity question is beginning to haunt me, for over years, having travelled to practically every part of India, I realize that I can largely live and adjust everywhere. I have no food fads, no clannish tendencies to hang out with my own kind (just who would they be any way?), or any other parochial tendencies that I am aware of or any one has pointed out. Further, having served a stint in the Armed Forces, I have imbibed the ideals of secularism and national integration to the brim. I am the living, walking and talking model of the Nehruvian cliché of “unity in diversity”.

But today I wonder where I belong. Do I belong to Bengal? May be because I speak, read and write the language. One good thing about the Left Front government is that it has been socially inclusive in keeping with its ideology and so linguistic and ethnic differentiations are rarely talked about or a matter of debate.

But identity is obviously something important to Indians and the Indian identity; notwithstanding the heroic efforts of the RSS and other nationalistic entities is clearly not enough. Although the RSS has mistakenly tried to propagate an idealistic myth that a common religion (read Hinduism) will automatically lead to a unifying pan Indian identity, this is clearly not the case. Religion is obviously not very unifying in Mumbai where the Shiv Sena and the RSS are speaking in a different tongue, even though they espouse the same faith and do so with passion and fervor.

So “mile sur mera tumhara” is out and linguistic and ethnic based xenophobia is in. Treading the fine line between being conscious of and being proud of one’s identity – be it ethnic, religious or linguistic on one hand and being intolerant of those who are different on the other is always a delicate matter , but we seem to be losing the battle here. Clearly the Indian identity is a tenuous one at best and dangerously at threat at its best.

At the root of all this battle for identity is some thing that was once recognized as a national priority ; but is now consigned to the dustbin of history. India’s family planning program , driven by its burgeoning population. In my childhood and youth, I lived through slogans like “do ya teen bus” and even later “ hum do, hamare do’, slogans, today’s population hasn’t heard of. As the population keeps growing, opportunities diminish – be it for education or jobs, or houses or basic civic amenities.

As these diminish, migration ensures that people move elsewhere in search of these opportunities and in the process swamp languages and cultures and ethnicities by the sheer power of numbers. If you need examples look at Tripura , once tribal dominated but today effectively controlled and even governed by Bengalis, the same with Silchar in Assam and of course – the much talked about Mumbai, the door to opportunity for supposedly all.

It is a pity that in today’s consumer driven market , high populations are an asset, though on the overall balance sheet , an exploding and uncontrolled population growth is really a liability , threatening life and livelihood in every possible way and thereby eventually beginning to threaten identities and nationhood as we have known and understood it. It is a pity that the Family Planning program is dead. We need it back and badly and soon.

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