Identity in Culture

Sakshee Chawla '17 Contributing Writer

The cliché goes that India is a land of numerous languages and dialects, castes and tribes, ethnicities and religions. Everybody is linked to a core, ancient identity. My family has its own mix of identities. While my grandfather associates himself with many other refugees who began a new life in India after the country’s independence and its partition from Pakistan, my father considers himself to be a part of a more liberalized and globalized India. The new, emerging India that I have grown up in imposes a very different kind of identity on me, even as it erases the old certainties. On a recent visit to Punjab, I began wondering about my own identity. Punjab is the homeland of five generations of my ancestors, who share its language, rituals, food and folklore. I should have inherited “Punjabi” as the dominant prefix to my own identity. Yet my link to it is thin. I do not engage in the same rituals as my forefathers did, but I still feel the urge to find the significance of each before either following or discarding it. Every now and then, I ask myself: Am I identity-less? I grew up in Gurgaon, a suburb of New Delhi that is often called the Millennium City. It is a microcosm of the new booming India – a city of giant malls, multiplexes and gleaming high-rises. Perhaps I am an amalgam of different identities – some regional, some linguistic. But most of all, I relate and belong to the identity of an aspirational, confident India – one which pursues economic growth, but one that is also conscious of its deep democratic, environmental and social imperatives. And yet finding one’s place within the new Indian identity is a process that is unfolding right before my generation. While I hear of the new economic and global strength of India every other week, the old, stubborn India rears its head equally frequently. The old India makes its presence felt not just through an unbroken tradition of cultural rituals, but also in disturbing ways – for instance, caste and gender atrocities, village clan councils passing regressive dictates or hunger deaths. Like my country, I too have to juggle constantly in my quest for excellence and progress. The challenge for many young students of my generation is to sift through the conflicting ideas of India and pick the ones that truly propel us to the greatness that we richly deserve. It is not always easy. It is not just a simple act of picking what we like and rejecting what we do not. The real challenge is to work toward eliminating the disturbing ways in which old identities manifest themselves. I often think of ways I can contribute to fostering a liberal and progressive public dialogue in almost every project I take up. My dream is to reflect an identity that balances my aspiration for progress, pride in my culture and courage to fight the dark stains of poverty and backwardness.