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Everyone grows up with individual traits such as gender and intelligence. However, they also have collective identities i.e., a Hindu, a Muslim, a Dalit, a Bengali or a Malayali, and so on.
Positive side of focus on group identity
It has empowered the socially underprivileged groups. They have the power of the group’s vote. Therefore, they have accrued bargaining power for their share of the collective pie. Consequentially, inequality has fallen.
What are the problems with group identity?
Group identity politics can perpetuate inequality between groups or disadvantage within-groups. In addition, it does not improve the individual circumstances.
In fact, the most disadvantaged members of the group still get the least benefit from group privileges. For example, in the underprivileged groups, men have received greater social and economic mobility than women in reservations policy.
The group identity makes it difficult for the members to raise a united voice on various other issues. For example, they would have different interests.
At present, the politics is organized around traditional group identities. Therefore, the balance between individuals and traditional groups has shifted towards group identity. It has shifted the focus from the individual circumstances to the group.
Now each group wants a larger share of the pie. Therefore, the group politics have resulted into a zero-sum game. For example, states are reserving jobs for the sons of the soil. The Jats and Patidars demand reservations today,
It has reduced the level playing field at national level. It has made it difficult to provide equal opportunity.
The state should focus on upliftment of the disadvantaged group or disadvantaged members within a group. It will give a sense of recognition, dignity, and the sense of equality.
There is a need to distinguish between social disadvantage and economic disadvantage. And different tools should be used for each. For example, When a caste face social discrimination, the government can offer economic supports such as reservations. It should continue till social disadvantage is largely eliminated.
In case of economic disadvantage, the state can adopt a dual approach. It will involve enhancing individual capabilities through good healthcare and education and targeting government benefits to the truly economically underprivileged.
The judiciary and the executive should renew its thrust towards supporting the individuality and fundamental equality of persons, especially for the underprivileged within a traditional group.
The individuals should recognise their rights and duties as the citizens of India. It will strengthen their identity as citizens. It will improve their economic capabilities and opportunities.
There is a need to shift the emphasis back from traditional groups to the individual rights and circumstances. Every individual should be given fair and equal treatment.
We can forge newer group identities, united by common emerging challenges. For example, women facing discriminatory treatment in job, public transport, inheritance laws etc. can create new powerful coalitions across religious groups.
We could reach a consensus on a Uniform Civil Code. It will empower individuals within each religious group.
Source: The post is based on an article “The Missing I In India” published in the Times of India on 23rd April 2022.