What Defines India's National Identity?

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India, with its multitudinous cultures, a mini-world in itself, is fast shedding the mantle of its old identities and poised to wear new ones. At this junction it would be interesting to examine the soul within and from whence it springs. For a moment let us look at the sharp geo-political divide of rural-urban India for our answers. When Mahatma Gandhi said, “India lives in its villages”, he meant national identity. Going by statistics today India comprises of more than 550,000 villages and 200 towns and cities whereby more than 70% of India lives in its villages. Not much has changed since Gandhi’s time. This throws the examination completely out of focus given that India is still dominated by villages and agriculture contributes 23% to its annual GDP. Yet it finds no space in the definition of a national identity. In urban India the picture of a village remains either romantic or colonial, both of which are nonexistent. So if percentages do not determine the face of this multi-faceted nation, then what does? Let’s pause here for a moment and ponder over the fact that for once, a majority does not figure in the making of a sensibility, that is India. It is imminent that we then question what is national identity. Is it what we are, what we accept we are or the face we show the world? For the moment let us consider the utopian “what we are”. What binds us and makes us people of one nation despite myriad similarities and dissimilarities. If countries can be defined by their socio-cultural make-up alone it would be a difficult task to define India and its subsequent ‘Indianness’. Given its multi-cultural set-ups, where each culture and its sub-culture is a separate world of its own, it is not only presumptuous but narrow-minded to define national identity in such a manner. It cannot be based on class distinctions either. If on one hand we have the destitute scavenging for food in dust-bins, the...
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