Identity Formation and the Social Ethos: Pathways of Progress

By Amar Yumnam The concept of individual as used in Economics is now being subjected to renewed scrutiny in the wake of the new search for foundational relevance characterising the… Read more »

By Amar Yumnam The concept of individual as used in Economics is now being subjected to renewed scrutiny in the wake of the new search for foundational relevance characterising the discipline now. In the process, the issues of identity have become a focussed area of research. The Lockean individual as self-directed and conscious human being is being countered by a concept of individual shaped by social events. In the process, modernism as well as post-modernism approaches is being invoked. Personal Situation: In the light of this, two recent personal experiences have really re-taken me to the issues of identity and their correlates with the development path of Manipur. First, a friend from the mass media asked me over phone as to how I react to the increasing popularity in Manipur of Korean serials in the televisions, and the consequent rise in adoption of latest Korean fashions among the youths of Manipur. Second, in a viva-voce examination of a doctoral student in Political Science, the external expert asked of the scholar as to how he explains the deep roots Christianity had taken among the tribes of Manipur and at the cost of the traditional culture. I consider these two questions as of immense significance in so far as the process of emergence of national and development ethos in the province is concerned, and the resultant social outcomes emanating from it. In the first case, I gave my own immediate comments, while in the second I had reserved myself. I cannot help feeling that the whole debate of individual and identity need to combine the Lockean view of the aloof subjective with the modernist view of social self. Further while doing so, we must be alive to the reality of path dependence where history matters. Individual is an identity formed by amalgamation of many facets, and ipso facto a single approach would fail to capture the whole picture. When the journalist asked me about my comments on the issues of popularity of Korean serials, I immediately put myself in the mould of the Lockean individual. But this did not necessarily imply that my perspectives were not influenced by my own theoretical and personal experiences around the globe, and my own evolution in the society where I have grown up. First Question: The first question came exactly at a time when I was writing a piece on governance in Manipur and the relevance of the issues of identity while explaining the quality of it here. When the reporter put me the question, I had no hesitation in immediately reacting that the increasing popularity should be taken as a positive sign. Culture is never a static phenomenon, but a very dynamic one. Individuals and people do need all the time something unique and globally known (an aspect increasingly important with the rise in globalisation) with which they could identify themselves. Because of the demographic and cultural affinity in the historical sense, people of this region do not find to feel the ethos and emotions expressed via the various Korean serials despite the limitations imposed by the alien language. It is important that the people do have some strong identification with certain elements of culture all the time and any time. It is only this element which would drive the population for higher performances. Here we need to make a distinction between identify and similarity. While the valley population have similarity of religion with the main population of the country, and the mountain population with the Christians, these do not necessarily form their identity. I feel that the distinction is becoming sharper now. Why I put an importance to this distinction is because of the sharp rise in parochialism and corruption in the land. All along there has never been any identification of the people of the region with the development schemes and the associated funds. The latter have so far failed to merge with the ethos of the people of the soil as something meant to serve their own causes. This absence is visible at both the level of the implementers and the level of the general population. Since nothing is related to the self, the pilferage and destruction of any involves no personal loss. Naturally, morality does not enter the picture at all. In such circumstances, corruption and ineffective governance naturally have to characterise the scene. Is not this what is happening in Manipur? So the emergence of a strong new culture should be encouraged, and the role of governance and social engineering should be to piggy-back on this to bring corruption under control. Second Question: While I had reserved my take on the second question earlier, I would now share my perspective on the issue. As said earlier, every group of population do need an identity which is unique and globally known. This was and has been the need of the tribal communities in the land as well. While the valley population had established certain kind of similarity with the more advanced groups of population by adopting Hinduism and had started flaunting it to portray superiority over the surrounding population, the mountain population were in definite need to adopt a kind of similarity and identity to counter that of the valley population. Historically the Meeteis had failed terribly to evolve an inclusive society capable of embracing the aspirations of the surrounding population as well. So when the Christianity was established in the mountains, it naturally gave the tribal groups in the mountains a kind of identity which was very competitive to that of the Meeteis in the valley. Finally the religion had to acquire deep roots in the mountains whatever the cost involved. Not The End: As said above, culture and identity are very fluid phenomena. Religion cannot serve the long run purpose of identity as it does not go beyond establishing similarity. Lots of changes are in store for the land and people here in the remaining period of this century in so far as identity issues are concerned. The challenge before us is how to utilise the unfolding changes for good cause.

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