There is no harm in a single person having multiple identities, such as ethnic, religious, sectarian, and professional. But when certain groups are excluded economically or politically, they can resort to a singular identity, which can lead to identity politics and even conflict.
These thoughts were expressed at a two-day talk on ‘Coexistence with Multiple Identities’, organised by the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) with a select group of experts, academics, lawyers and social scientists from Balochistan and Sindh. PIPS Director Muhammad Amir Rana moderated the sessions.
Journalist Wusutullah Khan likened identity to an onion. The topmost layer is of personal identity, the next layers pertain to faith, ethnicity, the other national, then global and so on. “It is up to us which identities do we strengthen and which we ignore,” he said.
Renowned scholar Dr Syed Jaffar Ahmed said that every individual has different identities, such as ethnic, religious and sectarian. These are not contradictory and can exist at the same time.
It is only when some people feel excluded economically that identity comes to the fore, he said. Specifically, when a state does not bestow rights to some people, a feeling of discrimination will make way. In that case, a person from the excluded group will start wondering if they are excluded because of what their ethnicity, religion or mother language is. Only then are identities used to advance one’s goals, he said.
Participants shared how, in different circumstances, their different identities come to the front. “Context is key,” the dialogues noted.
The participants said that the best way to overcome tension is to accept multiple identities. This should be taught, in fact, rejoiced by all, they said, adding that multiculturalism can even enrich an individual’s life.
Several participants complained that the state, in its attempt to enforce a particular brand of identity from the top, ended up excluding local identities. Even now the state is seen as tilted to some groups at the cost of others. The participants said that the role of the state should be to secure individuals irrespective of their statuses; in particular, weaker segments of the society should be protected.
The dialogues called to shape social contract to the mutual benefit of all. While the Constitution grants a range of rights to all citizens, its enforcement has been questionable, the participants said, adding that already, there are certain limitations in place.
They noted youth in different parts of the country have either accepted dichotomies or turned confused. In Balochistan, one participant noted, the youth feel insecure, physically as well as mentally. The dialogues noted that many youngsters are migrating abroad to seek better job opportunities or make themselves secure. A well-off segment of society is anxious in not expressing one’s opinions openly. They too are among the migrants.