The Politics of Labels

Sunra B

I beat myself up asking, why is it that we talk in labels?

What is it about them which is so infectious, almost impossible to escape?

I guess labels are convenient. They are like the remote control I use at home for switching on my television, I don’t have to make the effort to actually get up and reach for the switch and it is at the slightest touch of my fingers that I can shut the idiot box up!

Labels are comfortable, they provide us with an already existing definition, and they let us be. We don’t have to make the effort of really probing or even informing ourselves of the novelty of a person or a situation, we can just tag them to people and make do with it.

But I am afraid in the bliss of our ignorance we have forgotten that we as humans cannot be defined, we cannot be shut up at the press of a button. We think, we experience, we analyse and these processes are beyond the entitlement of labels and conformity.

I am a woman, a hindu Brahmin, an Indian, and as much as these labels may help you to locate me in the world, even give you a peep into how I dress up and what I might enjoy eating, it brings you no close to understanding what I think and might choose to be. These labels may help others to identify my ‘type’ but they sure have silenced my expressions and butchered my appetite to question.

Today, I am scared to voice my opinion not because it might generate criticism but because that criticism shall be coloured. I shall not be heard on the basis of the words coming out of my mouth but on the bases of my gender, my religion, my caste, my being national or anti-national, and many such immediate identities which may define and even identify my ‘type’ but not me. And this is the reason why what Rohith Vemula wrote in his suicide note haunts me “I was reduced to my immediate identities…”

(Inspired by Barkha Dutt’s speech at the Teleghaph debate on “The Tolerance of Intolerance”, organised in Kolkata)

Sunra is a free-lance education consultant with qualification in Politics, Cinema and Journalism.