Politics of recognition and politics of difference in the multiculturalist context

Monday, November 26th, 2018, 07:20 WIB

By: Roy Vettikuzhiyil Joseph (Batch 2017, India)

Today, religious freedom becomes the centre of discussion in almost all the countries, especially countries which are diverse in nature. Although world became a global village at the advancement of the information and technology, the tension between religions and their adherents are widening and complicated more than ever before. One of the reasons for tension between religions occurred out of the ignorance of the cultural diversities. All cultures are important. We need to appreciate and encourage various cultures. Every culture is associated with one or other religion or belief. Therefore, by recognising each culture as it is, we can overcome the problem of misunderstanding in the multiculturalist context in a certain extend. In this context I would like to refer the concepts of culture developed by Charles Taylor in his book, Multiculturalism. Charles Taylor examines how public institutions should better recognise the identities of cultural and disadvantage minorities. Taylor defines multiculturalism as a demand for recognition. It comes from number of ways in today’s politics, on behalf of minority or subaltern groups, in some forms of feminism and what is today called the politics of multiculturalism. There is a link between recognition and identity. As per Taylor “the thesis is that our identity is partly shaped by recognition or its absence often by the misrecognition of others, and so a person or a group of persons can suffer real damage, real distortion, if the people or society around them mirror back to them a confining or demeaning of contemptible picture of themselves.

As a result of misrecognition, it can harm the person, can be a form of oppression, imprisoning someone in a false, distorted and reduced mode of being. This is very evident in our societies. The majority in terms of religion, politics, language etc. plays a nasty game to tarnish the minorities. Self-esteem is very important in this case. After a long period of partiality and injustice, a form of self – depreciation grown within these minorities. Even if they are given opportunities, they are not able to appreciate or take up the new position. First of all they need to be get rid of this ill feeling. Demeaning image of those who are under privileged by privileged for many centuries impose a somewhat inferior and uncivilized images to them.

As a result of misrecognition, it can harm the person, can be a form of oppression, imprisoning someone in a false, distorted and reduced mode of being. This is very evident in our societies. The majority in terms of religion, politics, language etc. plays a nasty game to tarnish the minorities. Self-esteem is very important in this case. After a long period of partiality and injustice, a form of self – depreciation grown within these minorities. Even if they are given opportunities, they are not able to appreciate or take up the new position. First of all they need to be get rid of this ill feeling. Demeaning image of those who are under privileged by privileged for many centuries impose a somewhat inferior and uncivilized images to them.

According to Taylor misrecognition inflict a grievous wound, saddling its victims with a crippling self-hatred. So recognition is just a comtery we owe people, it is a vital human need. The honour and dignity of the people should be protected and promoted. There is a Universalist and egalitarian sense. The dignity of human beings is to be respected. Everyone shares in it. Difference should be celebrated. Each person is unique. We need to stress on the difference, and thereby try to appreciate the difference in each person. Whenever there is an attempt to make everything uniform and measure things and persons with the same measurement, there is problem. Each culture, tradition is unique and important. Unity in diversity is the best principle that could foster multiculturalism.

The important point to be remembered is the fact that being true to myself means being true to my own originality, which is something only I can articulate and discover. In articulating it, I am also defining myself. I am realizing a potentiality that is properly my own. There is a dialogical relation between people. The genesis of the human mind is not monological, not something each person accomplishes on his or her own, but dialogical. Here stress is on the communitarian life of human beings. No man is an island. Everyone is connected. Therefore, making one’s culture as great and norm for other is an injustice towards other. My identity is not worked out by myself in isolation but I negotiate it through dialogue. Therefore Taylor says that “my own identity crucially depends on my dialogical relations with others.” Our identity can be formed or deformed through the course of our contact with significant other. Therefore, withholding of recognition can be a form of oppression. Examples for the practice of recognition could be the equal right to worship and religious freedom, right to expression. Right to vote irrespective of race, caste, colour etc. it is available for citizens equally.

There are two levels of recognition. The first one is the formation of identity and the self as taking place in a continuing dialogue and struggle with significant other. Second one is that of a public sphere in which a politics of equal recognition has to play a significant role. There was a move from honour, which was based on social position of a person in society to dignity. It emphasises the equal dignity of all citizens, and the content of this politics has been the equalization of rights and entitlements.

Politics of recognition affirms that everyone should be recognised for his or her unique identity. With the politics of equal dignity, what is meant to be universally same, an identical basket of rights and immunities, with politics of difference, we are asked to recognise is the unique identity of this individual or group, their distinctness from everyone else. The problem is that the distinctness is ignored and merged with the identity of majority. It is against authenticity. The principle of politics of difference demands universal equality. There is no more second class citizens. Sometimes the politics of difference may become problematic one. Concession to deprived classes may seem to be differently treating. But actually it is to empower them, to preserve their cultural heritage. For example, in India there is a reservation for SC and ST community in all government jobs and opportunities. They are also exempted from certain exams which are mandatary for general category. Viewing from outside one may think that it is a kind of injustice. But it is to facilitate them to preserve their culture and to uplift them to the general category. His theory of politics of recognition and the politics of difference is a great contribution in this time of multiculturalism. There are many instances of the exercise of multicultural existence in Indonesia. One of the expressions of multiculturalism and practice of recognition is from the present President of Indonesia Jokowi. He has a very strong concern for different cultures of Indonesia. As an expression of it, he started to wear the different cultural attires on the Independence Day celebrations. In 2017 Jokowi wore the traditional south Kalimanthan attire while leading the Independence Day celebrations. He declared traditional clothing as the dress on Independence Day, explaining that he believed it was important to preserve cultural diversity as part of the country’s national identity. In 2018 for the Independence Day celebration, he wore the Aceh traditional attire. This is an act of recognising different cultures. Unity in diversity is celebrated by doing action of this kind. Indonesia being a land of multiple cultures, it is to be promoted. By doing this, the President is telling that every culture is important for the existence of Indonesia. 

By recognising the identity of each culture, we are promoting the unity in diversity where there are many cultures exist. We should not make any parameter to value other culture. We should be able to understand that other culture is entirely different. Only when I appreciate other culture as other, the possibility of recognising other culture emerges. As a result a positive attitude towards other culture, religion etc. would be achieved. Other becomes a problem for me when I see him as not important and less valued. There arises problem of eliminating other because he is not valuable for me. Or he is not matching with the culture and attitudes which I have fostered. Therefore, it is the duty of the people of the majority culture to recognise the difference in other cultures, especially the culture of the minority people. Hence the politics of recognition and politics of difference would help us to foster a multicultural society and its varied aspects like religious freedom.