My friend Zahid, a Kashmiri Muslim, once narrated his ordeal to me, one that has been etched deep into his mind. It was about him getting into a verbal duel with his friend Akash, a Hindu Delhiite. Specifying identity in this narrow order must have sounded weird to you but by the end of the story, you will understand my motive.
The triviality of the cause of the fight can be judged from the fact that till date, Zahid does not remember what the fight was all about, or maybe he does not want to share it; whatever might be the case. What he distinctly remembers of the fight are Akash’s words that created a stir in his mind and made him rethink his identity, something he thought he knew well. “Why don’t you stay with your own people? Go back to your own place, you are not needed here.” Though Zahid is good at giving sharp retorts, he says he kept quiet that time. “When the people you consider your own call you an outsider, it hurts”, he lamented.
I nodded, though it was difficult for me to comprehend what ‘my own people’ means. What is the criteria, the parameters, and where to draw the line between one’s own people and others? Is it one’s genealogy, ethnicity or religion that determines ‘one’s own group’? Or is it rising above all these socially constructed barriers (as I see them) and accepting ‘others’ as one’s own. Zahid did that. I did that and we both ended up facing ‘double edged stereotype’.
Zahid has been living in Delhi since he was a kid. All his childhood memories, hangouts and first love are related to this city. Though he keeps juggling between Delhi and Kashmir, he has a deep attachment and an equal liking for both the places. How can he then be called an outsider?
As for me, I too have a similar story to tell. Sharing ethnicity with my Ladakhi brethren, while home and space with the Kashmiri ones, I have often relished the idea of experiencing multi regional diversity. Where the former has given me my genealogical traits, the latter has induced a sense of being in me. Or rather, it would be more appropriate to say that it has introduced myself to me.
Having grown up in the political turmoil of Kashmir, I empathize rather than sympathize with them (this causes offence to some, though the intention is purely out of respect for the region and its people).
While most of the people have been gracious enough to accept my multi- regional identity, few have shown contempt. I am judged, my intentions doubted, ideas scrutinized. What I fail to understand is that why can’t a person love both the places without jeopardizing his sense of patriotism for that place.
Now after entering Jamia, I have faced the same stereotype, though on a broader level. This one is being a Kashmiri (here I use it as a generic term for the indigenous people of J&K) and a non-Kashmiri. For both, again, I am an outsider. My experience of shared home comes as a drawback to me in getting acceptance from the people. I am not a pure ‘anything’ and therefore can’t be trusted. Well my own attitude is also to be blamed. With my Kashmiri friends, I behave as a Ladakhi, with my Ladakhi and non-Kashmiri friends, I behave as a Kashmiri, with my shia friends I try to bring in the similarities between Shias and Sunnis, with my Sunni friends I am found defending Shias. I do not understand why it is so. Also, why I am so.
When all the people support one thing, I tend to support the other. Whether this is out of love for the ‘other’ or a mere show of reluctance to accept the majority especially when hostility is meted out to that ‘other’, or is it feeling related to that ‘other’ is a question I often ask myself. I am still looking for the answer. The inability to take a stand (as the ‘other’ calls it) is what I think makes me look an outsider to my all kinds of friends: Kashmiri, non-Kashmiri, Shia, non- Shia, the list can go on.
I try to shun from being defined by regional stereotype. Not only regional but also all kinds of stereotypes. It is difficult to evade them. I would rather be known through my personal identity than the collective one. However, if my indifference to the socially constructed categories qualifies me as an ‘outsider’, then I am happily willing to accept the tag. If you cannot defy a stereotype, change the way you look at it.
I have found myself dealing with this dilemma of insider-outsider ever since I started understanding things. To do away with it, I have created a space for myself in my mind, which exists between the outsider and insider thing. This allows me to delve into myself without bothering about my identity. I am no more a hapless soul there.
[Note: This article was first published in Episteme (2013-14), the Subject Association, Department of Political Science annual student magazine. It has been reproduced here with their permission.]
[Note to Department Magazine Editors: Just like Episteme, share your magazine articles with Jamia Journal. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org]