Ethics of Identity

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Appiah, The Ethics of Identity, 2005.

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In the everyday life of a human being, one’s cultural identity and how it is perceived by oneself and others matter a great deal. While rationalists like Descartes place human existence in one’s rationality, psychologists like Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan have tended to see human behaviour being guided by the Subconscious mind.

Freud divides the human psyche into Id, Ego and Super-ego. The Id represents basic instincts. Ego is the functional self which works for the Id and is guided/controlled by Super-ego. The super-ego is Conscience which is formed through societal morality and works to control the drives of the Id. In a way, both the Id and Super-ego are in constant strife for the control of the Ego.

Jacques Lacan, in the following quotation, clearly indicates human existence in the Subconscious mind:

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Yash Chopra directed the 1961 movie Dharmaputra is based on Acharya Chatursen Shasti’s novel having the same name. The movie depicts not only the communal bigotry during the partition of India in 1947 but also establishes that we are not born with a religious Identity. Dilip (played by Shashi Kapoor), born out of wedlock from Husn Bano and Javed, becomes a Hindu fundamentalist given his Hindu upbringing. To read more about the plot, visit To see the movie, visit:

The following song gives a heart-wrenching picture of brutality brought about by the identity conflict in the wake of partition violence. One cannot help thinking that in communal clashes, what begins with a mere fact of conflict of interest manipulating identity, finally ends in violence subsuming everything, including the identity itself. Violence becomes a bloodthirsty dragon shattering everything that provided human beings centrality.

Manmohan Desai’s 1977 movie Amar Akbar Anthony more profoundly establishes the fact of religious (cultural) identities being acquired one’s. They are not biological or ascribed to the genetic code of a person. Even though they may be seen as a matter of inheritance, seeing religious identity as only an inheritance that needs to be protected will be a misnomer.

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Amar, Akbar, and Anthony (being played respectively by Vinod Khanna, Rishi Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan) are brought up as three different religious identities yet are carrying the same blood group. This challenges the idea of purity of blood which has been at the centre stage of many identity-based conflicts. Their friendship is an exemplary case of human relationships rising above all parochial concerns of identity.

To watch the movie, visit:

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Even though cultural identities (religion, caste, race, ethnicity, gender, nationality, regional belonging) are either acquired or more often imposed by society, they are seen as inherent or genetic in the societal power structures to justify the exploitation of the dominated groups. The following can be a representative imposition of behavioural/intellectual characteristics on the dominant and the dominated identities by identity groups exercising power:

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The following is an example of how the West sees the East as a land of primitive savages who keeps whiling away their time in activities like snake charming.

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The following movie adaptation of EM Forster’s novel A Passage to India represents the same racial representation of the East by the West.

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A still from David Lean’s A Passage to India shows India as a land of poverty and snake-charmers

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Advertisement of “Fair and Lovely” endorsing the sexist and racist representations of men and women
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Caste Pyramid is taken from Genetic Literacy Project (
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