Collective Identity and Music

    Music is something that every person can identify with. There is some type of music for every purpose and every cause. This is evident when studying social movements. Songs are a fundamental building block in gathering people together and forming a protest group. They also play a part in developing a collective identity, which is common goals, ideas, emotions, or morals, within this group. Collective identity is a vital piece of social movements because it brings people together and allows them to realize that others share their beliefs and problems. It helps construct social solidarity within the community, which is what social movements are all about. In order to bring about change, a sense of togetherness is needed. In the Indian Independence Movement against the oppressive British, there were many factors involved in creating it. The three major factors that were needed to do this were Mahatma Gandhi, Western technologies, and music. Although these three things are unrelated, they were all trying to accomplish the same goal of bringing the Indian people together under one common grievance; hatred of the British. They were all trying to make the natives realize that despite their many differences, the British rule was a more important commonality. The natives needed to first realize this, and then use it to fight for their freedom. The Indians needed Gandhi, technology, and music to form a collective identity and help them utilize the fact that they all had a shared enemy.

            Collective identity was nonexistent in India before Mahatma Gandhi, Western advances, or music introduced the idea of a shared enemy between the natives. Prior to the movement, India was a much divided nation, with many various subgroups scattered around the country. These groups spoke different languages, had different social habits, and even practiced different religions. Each of these individual clusters had a sense of harmony within it, but there was no common bond that brought all of these units together. There was no clear-cut or obvious connection that the natives could see that would bring them together. In order for any change to be brought about, someone needed to find a way to link all of the natives into one chain, and get them to believe in a common cause. What they were unaware of was that their hatred of the British was exactly what all Indians had in common. Even the British realized that “their raj would only last as long as India remained divided” (Mehrotra 1971:117). Collective identity was therefore crucial in the Indian Independence Movement. It was the key to getting the British out of their country. The question that the natives could not seem to answer was how this sense of solidarity was supposed to be accomplished (Mehrotra 1971:117).

One of the answers to this question was the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, who changed the face of the movement when he arrived in India in 1914. He hated the Western ideals of self-interest, and wanted the British raj out of India forever. What made him so special was that he realized in order for this to happen, there needed to be a sense of collective identity among the natives of India. To accomplish this, Gandhi first began dressing, eating, and living like a peasant, which was the social status of most of the Indian natives. He knew that this type of tactic would grab the attention of the Indians. He believed that “a mass leader…must identify himself with those he aspired to lead; and he must not only lead but raise them” (Spear 1965:197). Now that he had “identified himself” with the natives, he needed to find a way to “raise” them. He knew that this had to be done by pointing out that, despite each the differences of each subgroup of India, they were all in the fight against Britain together. Gandhi recognized that, “With all their differences, the people of India had far more in common with each other than with their foreign rulers” (Mehrotra 1971:117). He took the collective identity that was formed when he lived as a peasant, and used it to show the natives that they all had a common enemy. The Indians were finally started to realize that they all disliked Western ideals, and a sense of togetherness was beginning to be felt among them (Spear 1965:194-7).

Although Gandhi was a key factor in forming a collective identity in India, his leadership was not the only thing that made the natives understand that all of the Indian subgroups detested the British. When Western technologies, such as newspapers and postal systems, were introduced around 1860, something very significant happened; a change in the way that people could communicate, which meant a change in the way a collective identity could be formed. “Popular forces were undergoing change and employing new means to achieve solidarity” (Robb 2002: 179). Most of the reason why India had been such a divided nation before the Indian Independence Movement was that the various subgroups could not communicate with each other. With these new technologies, the Indians could now share common grievances, such as breaking free of the oppressive British rule. Forums, such as the Indian National Congress, were created for natives to share new ideas and solutions to break free of Britain. These new Western innovations were vital in shaping a solid Indian society because now all the subgroups were aware of a cause in which they all believed. It was a cause which would “unite all these contending parties, and make a common and harmonious and homogenous whole of them, and they will fight together” (Mehrotra 1971:117).

The final piece in answering the question of how to form a collective identity was music. As in most other social movements, the Indian Independence Movement involved music. There were many songs that made their way into the hearts of many of the natives and are still embedded in Indian culture today. The songs that were popular during the movement were written in an attempt to unite people and create solidarity. The artists of the time took advantage of the new found realization of a common enemy in the British. The composers were aware of the fact that “the English dominion in India lies in Native disunion” (Mehrotra 1971:117). They embraced what Gandhi and the new technology had accomplished; making the natives aware of the fact that they whole country disliked the British. Songs such as Vande Mataram, written in 1876, spoke of nationalism and loyalty to the mother country of India. People turned to these songs to remember their heritage and strengthen their belief in the Indian fight. Lyrics of these songs called for a change in India in which natives across the country realize their true identity and fight for it. Music, however muted it was in comparison to other calls for solidarity, found its way to the streets of India. It touched many natives in a way that the Western technology could not, by reaching the very core of their soul and reviving the true Indian within them. Songs were a way to call for a necessary change in the way that Indians viewed their culture. A change that meant grouping together as Indians, and forgetting the individual subcultures that were spread across the country. Without music, many people in India would not have realized what was necessary for solidarity. After listening to the songs of this time, the natives knew that they needed to forget their differences and unite under the promise of freedom that these songs gave. Although songs were not the main focus of the movement, they did play an important role in creating a collective identity (Robb 2002:179-80).

The Indian Independence Movement from 1857 to about the 1930’ was one that proved that social movements cannot happen without a collective identity and a common bond between its’ participants. When analyzing how a sense of togetherness was formed, three major factors prove to be the most significant in accomplishing it. Mahatma Gandhi, Western technologies, and music were what made the difference in the Indian struggle for freedom. They managed to replace what were many small, individual bands of Indian natives that varied very much from each other, with a strong Indian community based on the hatred of the British. Before Gandhi, technology, and music, these groups failed to recognize that this anger toward Britain was in fact shared by the majority of their Indian countrymen. The key to winning independence for the natives was simply uniting together, forming a collective identity, and comprehending the fact that the differences of all their subgroups could be overcome. All it took was the recognition that Britain was hated by all the natives in India. Without Gandhi, technology, music the Indian masses would never have felt unified, and independence would never have been achieved.