Ethics of Identity

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Appiah, The Ethics of Identity, 2005.

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

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

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

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Yash Chopra directed 1961 movie Dharmaputra is based on Acharya Chatursen Shasti’s novel by the same name. The movie depicts not only the communal bigotry during the partition of India in 1947 but also establishes the fact 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 and becomes a blood thirty dragon without distinguishing between identity of the blood.

Manmohan Desai’s 1977 movie Amar Akbar Anthony more profoundedly establishes the fact of religiously (cultural) identities being the acquired one’s. They are not biological or ascribed in the genetic code of a person. Even though they may be seen as a matter of inheritence, seeing religious identity as the only inheritence that needs to be protected will be a misnomour because one has been inheriting human values such as truth, non-violence and compassion for generations.

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

To watch the movie visit:

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Eventhough cultural identities (religion, caste, race, ethnicity, gender, nationality, regional belonging) are either aquired or more oftnen imposed by the 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 West sees 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 West.



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A still from David Lean’s A Passage to India showing 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 taken from Genetic Literacy Project (




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