Presentation given at the annual international conference on the unfinished legacy of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, Center for Global Development and Sustainability, Brandeis University, April 2017, Waltham, Massachusetts.
Analysis of the Relationship Between Religion, Personalization of Politics, Indian Identity and Social Media
The twenty-first century has been marked by a rise in global interconnectedness through social media and internet technologies. It has resulted in the reshaping of concepts such as national identity, multiculturalism, and cosmopolitanism. Here, social media or social networking is any “user-generated” content shared through the internet. Its characteristic is that the content tends to be free and accessible across social and economic statuses. Consequently, social networking has developed a “participatory culture” and encouraged ‘self-sponsored’ and ‘peer-centric’ engagement.
On the one hand, social media is an empowering tool that connects people across regional, national, and transnational borders. It provides a channel for personal expressions and tools to challenge old political cultures, mainly due to the absence of a hierarchical structure. It has facilitated the “individual” to be the center of the universe. Due to the ubiquitous nature of social media, this universe can be vast with loose boundaries. On the other hand, skeptics challenge the plaudits of personalization through social media. They argue that social media can trigger old rivalries or give rise to new ones that can potentially get constructed as an issue of an ethnic or religious group (Youniss, et al., 2002). Additionally, the currently limited penetration of social media usage in the less-industrialized nations creates a lopsided digital environment. As the world transitions into an “information society,” many countries face challenges not just to position themselves on a global platform but also to balance policies and ideologies.
India, a product of centuries of immigration, invasions, trade, and tourism, is a multilingual, pluralistic society. Although known to be a secular union, India’s politics is not divorced from religion and historically has an intricate relationship. In India, the political landscape, especially at the state level, is characterized by identity politics based on religion, caste, or language. The electorate is arguably decided by nepotism and patronage on those frontiers. However, on a global front, religion, rather than caste, is the primary determinant of an Indian identity.
Although Hinduism’s ideologies argue that it is a ‘way of life’ and ‘tolerant’, Hinduism has a strained relationship with other religions of the land as it defines itself dogmatically and draws sharp boundaries. Social media plays a vital role in reinforcing these religious differences (Robinson, 2001). As a consequence of divisive online discourses globally, Hinduism pitches itself against Islam, Christianity, and other major religions within the country and contributes to sustaining cultural wars (Robinson, 2001). To understand the interaction of these different religious identities, one needs to look at the isolated case of India and place it in the context of global dialogues.
The current published research in these areas separately presents the ideas of personalization of politics through social media, and religion and digital discourses in India. This presentation seeks to understand the interplay between identity politics, religion, and personalization through India’s social media. Accordingly, it will seek to address whether India’s transformation to a digital society will enable a constructive representation of the secular and diverse Indian polity? This issue will be examined and reviewed via the current literature on digital representations of religious identities, especially in India, and evaluating data on social media penetration and repertoires in Indian society.
The ideology of Hinduism and Hindutva is not confined to specific right-wing organizations. Still, it is integrated into the commonplace communications and followed in the land as “common sense” (Robinson, 2001). Similarly, the Digital representations of Hindu identities are shaped by the people who occupy elite positions in the technology fields, and the Hindus usually dominate these spaces. So the version of Indian modernity can be exclusive and undemocratic (Chopra, 2006). Social media has created a world that is increasingly divided but radically connected. By merging the traditional and the modern, and linking religion, personalization, and identity politics, social media can become a critical tool to remove perpetuating religious differences and social inequalities and redefine Indian identity.
Chopra, R. (2006). Global primordialities: virtual identity politics in online Hindutva and online Dalit discourse. New Media & Society, 8(2), 187–206.
Robinson, R. (2001, September). Religion on the Net: An Analysis of the Global Reach of Hindu Fundamentalism and Its Implications for India. Sociological Bulletin, 50(2), 236-251.
Youniss, J., Bales, S., Christmas-Best, V., Diversi, M., McLaughlin, M., & Silbereisen, R. (2002). Youth Civic Engagement in the Twenty-First Century. Journal of Research on Adolescence , 12(1), 121–148.