I often think back to our last day in Delhi, walking through Chandni Chauk, slowly making our way through the crowded bazaars. We were on our way to Jama Masjid, one of the largest mosques in India. The small alleyways and streets of the old city were flooded with goats, decorated in beautiful colors and jewelry. Muslims were preparing for Eid al-Adha, a major holiday in Islam. Days later, news was released that in the nearby city of Noida, a Muslim man, accused of slaughtering a cow, was violently attacked and lynched by an angry Hindu mob.
Conflicts of identity in today’s world are on the rise. As a student of international relations, I wanted to come to India to learn more about identity politics and how intensifying nationalism was related to issues of foreign policy and India’s role as a global actor. I was curious about how a play on identity, such as the Hindu identity, in national politics, would manifest itself both domestically and globally. A challenge I came across early on in my interviews was that topics of foreign policy and nationalism in such blatant terms are not interwoven into the daily thoughts and conversations of most individuals, and thus would serve as a limitation on my ability to gain access to different perspectives. To narrow my scope and to ease myself into the interview process, I had to focus on topics that were regularly on the minds of people in each city. My central questions became ones about India’s cultural identity and how people view Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party, the BJP, amidst fears of extremist ideologies backing policy and structural changes. I tried to ascertain, through my interviews and fieldwork, how religious intolerance is being manifested on the ground, within the everyday lives of individuals, and to figure out what narratives or histories shape perceptions of ‘the other’. I discovered, through my many discussions and observations, that my mentioning of Modi or the BJP naturally led to conversations about the Hindu/Muslim conflict and growing communal tensions within Indian society. Finding material for my project was not a difficult task, in fact it was mentioned in nearly every lecture we had and headlined the newspapers each and everyday. Making sense of all of this information and of the media’s strong allegations of intensifying nationalism compared to actual individual perceptions and experiences, however, was hard to sift through and discern. I hoped that my final paper would serves as a glimpse into the complexities of identity politics in India and imposes a strong claim as to why an understanding of intensifying nationalism in today’s world is so significant.
I didn’t want my research to stop there, however. I applied for a Dinah Dodds grant through Lewis & Clark to head back to Delhi to narrow my scope. I have plans to look into both the archives at the Nehru Museum and Memorial, to gain a better sense of public memory as it is remembered through constructed histories, as well is in spaces such as the classroom, to understand how policy changes in curriculum are shaping and reshaping young peoples conceptions of India’s national identity.