There are many expositions on the issue of identity. Some, align it with ethnicity, but identity consciousness has I think various and variable manifestations. When it comes to ethnicity or religion there can be a marked proclivity towards ethnicity, which caste, community or religion I belong to. It can also raise questions of nationalism and nationalities.
The present problems in the Bodo areas of Assam are part ethnic, part 'religious' but they raise the issue of identity, which is inextricably linked with land, cultural and hegemonic rights. Linguistic identity is a tour de force, so is religious identity. But what is identity in a broad sense. I am an Indian is this my identity? I am a North Easterner, is this another identity? I am Bengali speaking, another identity? If this be so, then there are complex strands to identity. I am a Hindu or a Muslim, or a Christian, is this my major and preponderant identity? I work in a University, is this too my identity? I am a writer or a novelist or a poet, or an artist, a painter, a cinematic buff, are these also my identities? If I am all of them, then I have so many identities. Yet when we talk about the ticklish issue of identity, we rope in language, culture or ethnicity.
What is the Indian Identity?
Is it one or, many, inter cultural and cross cultural, or does it go down to one unit, that I am Marathi, Assamese or Tamil? When sociologists discuss the question of identity, then why do they bring in issues of culture and ethnicity?
How do we define culture?
Cultural moorings are something that we have grown up with. It includes literature, religion food habits, customs and traditions. It may or may not be related to a particular language we speak. For example it could be pastiche, for example, I can be a part of a ‘Hinduized’ culture, Christian culture, a mix of different languages thinking partly in one and partly in others.
For example, I am one such and I consider myself lucky to be in an ethos which is a cultural intermixing. When I was born, we were a part of Assam and after different states were carved out in North East India from the erstwhile Assam now I am an integral part of Meghalaya. Or that is what I consider myself to be. Most of my closest friends are the ones who speak a different language than me in respective homes. The medium communication is mainly English which is a legacy of colonialism. But these are paradoxes we have to live with.
Another aspect of identity could be the clubs we are members of or our school alumni, or the church we visit, or even the office or the organization we work in. Identity is a complex cultural, social and personal strand. If we identify it only with language or religion we become constricted in our thoughts and actions. Professor Amartya Sen has pointed out such critical cohorts of identity in one of his eminently readable books. True, issues of nationalism and sub nationalism as in the Indian context are matters of identity, but there are larger issues as well which we have to address when we use the word identity.
Identification is a associating, so identity also stems from associations influences and assimilation.