Identity and Violence by Amartya Sen


I picked up this book Identity and Violence last year after reading ‘The Argumentative Indian’ by Dr. Sen, which was a very enjoyable book. This one is a small book in comparison, less than 200 pages. Mainly drawing out of various lectures that Dr. Sen would have given at various places.

Identity and Violence The Illusion of Destiny by Amartya Sen

If the book has to be summarized, it would be “There are multiple identities that each of us has, which come from our birth, religion, region, social class, culture, profession, language, our beliefs and the causes that we support, our inclinations”. And we are a combination of each of these identities. The dominant identity is picked up based on the circumstances and situation that we are in. More often than not, others perceive us from a singular identity. And this is the cause of most violence in the world. There are a lot of examples where religious identity has been taken as a sole identity and has led to large-scale violence

Identity and Violence The Illusion of Destiny by Amartya Sen

The book draws a lot from Dr. Sen’s personal experiences of watching violence as a young kid in pre-independent India when he saw a poor Muslim being killed. Though he is killed because he is a Muslim, the fact is that he is also killed because he is poor. And did not have the liberty of not stepping out of the house during the turbulent times. He also talks about the Muslim identity across the world and its relation to violence.

Multi-Culture Multi-Identity

He talks a great deal about the thriving multi-culture and multi-identity in India. But still the world’s identity as a Hindu nation. He also talks about how Britain has tried to be a place where all religions and cultures are given an equal platform.

He talks of West and anti-west theories. How the non-Western world is trying to react to all the things that are perceived to be Western. Without going into the concepts and actually finding that what is called Western today actually has its roots in the eastern and mid-eastern world. He talks about what democracy actually means is that the reason prevails and everyone can participate in reasoning. The popular notion is that if you can vote for your representatives then you are a democracy.

Potential Global Democracy

Finally, he talks about a potential global democracy that may emerge in a more connected world. He, of course, does not envisage a global state. But a global world based on public reasoning. In a lot of places, the book takes a very biographical note when he talks about India and Britain. And how the multiple cultures thrive in both places.

The book has lots of repetitions, to the extent that it becomes boring to read it at times. It may be due to the fact that it has been a compilation of various lectures. But you read some of the sentences so many times that you wonder why they were not edited out. Otherwise, it’s a good reading, and gives insight into some things that we see, feel, and experience most living moments of our lives but seldom go behind the obvious.

Buy this book – Identity and Violence The Illusion of Destiny by Amartya Sen at Amazon India.

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  1. Hmm..thanks for the post Anuradha. Have to read ‘The Argumentative Indian’ first! Then I want to lay my hands on this one.


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