On Identity

– Hem Raj Kafle

Hardly anything bothers human beings so much as the uncertainty about identity.  The question of identity tickles more acutely in a foreign land. A place is foreign not only because you don’t belong to it, but because it poses on you the challenge to prove that you really or somehow belong.

Estranged from the ancestral soil, whether by choice or compulsion, people regularly attempt to find ways of establishing the identity they desire, and the desire is largely to be what they originally are. In this regard, they rarely show readiness to spiritually submit to the culture of the host country. For example, orthodox Indians or Nepalis may find it difficult to cope up with the ways Europeans or Americans live. But the same does not apply to the case of Nepalis in India or vice versa. The reason is clear: the similarity of culture, and geopolitical proximity.

Cultural similarity and geopolitical proximity are complications in the process of identity formation. Cultural similarity is the cause of easy dissolution / assimilation into the host community and may result into the dissolution of originality itself. It will lead the emigrants to such extent of adaptation that a bit of intolerance from the host community puts existence at stake. This, facilitated by locational proximity, usually does not trigger retaliation because reporting back to the native land is a wiser choice. It is, however, easier for those who own properties and have relatives in the native land. Usually the native country is cooperative enough to allow the returning citizens. Nepal, for example, did not have much grudge to let escaping Bhutanese Nepalis enter and take refuge here. In Nepal’s acceptance, nothing but the recognition of their ancestry had worked. Rejection would have elicited national and international criticism for being cold and unfriendly to its earstwhile countrymen.

Living in marginalization poses a greater crisis in identity building. The Nepalis living in Jammu and Kashmir face a perpetual crisis of remaining Nepalis by political identity. Their problem is unlike that of Nepalis living in North east, where the question of being Indian citizens of Nepali origin reigns supreme. Nepalis in Assam, for instance, claim the rights for a status of first grade citizens retaining their own language and culture and taking part in the mainstream politics. The Nepalis of Jammu and Kashmir are not in a position to claim participation in the mainstream due to their minority. The majority is stronger in many respects. The Nepalis of Assam have a kind of mutual empathy which keeps them emotionally secure though they have perpetually undergone ordeals in maintenance  of Nepaliness. They have their Nepaliness intact for their success in keeping Nepali as a dominant medium of communication. They have made it possible by producing considerable bulk of literature and journalism in Nepali. On the contrary, the Nepalis of Jammu are in a condition to forget the Nepali language itself. Specially, the new generation do not even know the everyday Nepali, let alone the language of literature and academy.

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