Musings

Melting identities

I am supervising my nephew as he fills up the boxes on his Maharashtra State Board examination form. As we reach question 11, my jaw drops. It asks:

Minority Religion:  0 – Non-minority, 1- Muslim, 2-Christian, 3-Buddhist, 4-Sikh, 5-Parsi, 6-Jain

“What does it mean?” he asks. “Fill in zero,” I mumble while my mind struggles to accept this logic. As if it wasn’t bad enough to be asked your religion in every silly government form, now we have to teach our children the difference between majority and minority. Is it essential to draw these divisive lines in every growing child’s mind?

As a child I struggled when someone asked me where I came from. The apparent correct answer should have been Bihar. But with a parent employed in a Central government job, every six years we packed our bags to settle down in another city. So I have lived in Bangalore, Pondicherry, Bhubneswar, and for the last three and a half decades, in different parts of Maharashtra. Having married someone from Patna, I have perhaps visited Bihar more now, than I ever did as a child. Back then I could hardly identify with the place.  But does it even matter what your origins are, if you are able to adapt to a place and its people?

I try to think of some of my friends from school and college. These are friends I interact with on a daily basis. A Brahmin married to a Muslim— both from Pondicherry, a Christian married to a Gujarati Muslim with in-laws from two different religions, a Sardarni married to a Tam-Brahm, a Jain married to a Hindu, and so many more. How is their brood going to handle inane forms like these? Are their children ready to make a choice of religion at this age? And does it even matter what they choose? The other day, I said ‘Happy Easter’ to a Marwari friend who now has a beautiful lilting Goan Christian last name. And she snapped back: “Just because I changed my name, doesn’t mean I have converted to Christianity”. Oops! Sorry! She had a point.

I’m trying to think of the kinds of sons-in-law and daughters-in-law our generation will encounter. The world is shrinking. With accessible travel and opportunities everywhere, we are bound to see a wide range of international couples in our homes soon. Chinese, African, American, Canadian, Arab, Spanish, French, Egyptian— the boundaries will blur. What will these archaic government forms look like then?

Identities— international, provincial, religious, caste, linguistic — all irrelevant stereotypes. As the distinction between man-made boundaries melt, we will witness the severe hardening of narrow-minded coronaries. These artificial plaques need to be displaced soon before they become symptomatic. Lest they clog our open minds with needless questions about pseudo-identities. Isn’t it just enough to be human?

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