The tyranny of hyphens

Citizenship rights are being increasingly coloured and muddled by identity politics

The debate on these pages on February 13 was, as I see it, a good attempt to widen an ongoing online debate. The issues raised by Harsh Gupta and Rajeev Mantri ('One versus group', IE) are critical for two reasons. Through 65 years of our independence, we saw citizenship rights being increasingly coloured and muddled by identity politics. Newer interpretations of constitutional principles and goals are being offered. Periodically, actions enforced either through the executive or the legislature hit at the basic structure of the Constitution "we, the people" have given ourselves. Second, during this period, and even today to an extent, public discourse is stifled by a section of the intelligentsia who set its framework and terminology. Others questioning either the terminology or the substance are rejected and ridiculed. This suited the establishment that had adopted the socialist model of delivering democracy to the people. Now, with socialism itself tempered down, the inaccuracy of their jargon stands out. It is time to conduct debates with greater openness both on issues and on terminology.

In his response ('Why India must allow hyphens', IE, February 13), Ashutosh Varshney has chosen to remain in the good old world with all its definitions. He has missed an opportunity to look afresh at the aspirational generation that hopes to contribute to a strong and emerging India. Much like in Varshney's hyphenated United States, hyphenated communities in India are looking for opportunities to learn, perform and better themselves. The Tamil-Indian or the Muslim-Indian from Uttar Pradesh or Bihar is looking for English medium schools, skills to make themselves employable and to live with their families in a safe and secure environment. However, Varshney's impression that America allows minorities to flourish on the grounds that Diwali is celebrated in the White House is simplistic. A few years ago, the struggle and campaign carried out by American-Hindus to have errors about their religion removed from school curriculum was well publicised. Varshney may have missed this.

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