By Sarah Ash
Imagine that you are a 11 year old boy living outside of New Delhi, India. Do you look something like this?
What if I also told you that you were born in Great Britain, and attending boarding school in India because your family believes it will give you access to the best medical and law schools in the world. Do you picture someone more like this now?
This scenario uncovers a strange pattern we have developed, despite living in an increasingly globalized world. Often times, we jump to conclusions about someones story based on our own formed idea of their ethnicity based on what they physically look like. This concept is manifested in the Oscar nominated film The Road Home, a 2010 film directed by Rahul Gandotra, a TCK himself, who born in Belfast and grew up in eight different countries across Europe the Middle East, and Asia. You can watch the trailer below.
Trailer for The Road Home
In the film, Pico struggles with basic assumptions the people around him make about his background based on his seemingly Indian appearance of dark skin, hair, and eyes. They don’t understand why he does not want to be Indian. But as we come to understand, he does not want to be Indian, because that is not how he identifies.
Identity is a powerful part of the human experience. And for many, spiritual practice and religion is a major part of that identity. So what is it like to practice a religion that isn’t what most people associate with your country?
This experience is a reality for more people in this world than we may realize. India for example, is commonly associated with Hinduism and actually holds the second largest muslim population in the world, next to Indonesia. However, the Census of India reports that while 80.5% of people in India identify as Hindu, 13.4% of people actually identify as Muslim. Another 2.3% identify as Christian, and a small .8% of people identify as Buddhist. In The Road Home, one of the opening scenes speaks to this, as Pico is seen running away from his boarding school while muslim calls to prayer echo through the valley.
In some ways, those who follow one of the other religions described above share something in common with Pico. People may assume that being Indian means being Hindu, and only become more confused when learning that it is possible to be Muslim, or Christian or even Buddhist in India, just as The Road shows that people assume that having dark hair, skin, and eyes means Pico is Indian.
What matters though, is acknowledging and understanding where that confusion comes from. And maybe if we make an effort to create and share more movies like The Road, and engage in this discussion with people from all kinds of backgrounds, including those from different religious backgrounds, we might be able to better understand each other and leave the power of identity up to the individual, rather than on the labels we want to place on them.