Nicholas Sambanis, School of Arts & Sciences Determinants of Ethnic vs. National Identification in India

Full Project Title

Determinants of Ethnic vs. National Identification in India: Evidence from Kashmir

Principal Investigator

Nicholas Sambanis
Political Science, School of Arts and Sciences

Project Abstract

This project provides an experimental framework to study the determinants of individual-level social identities and preferences in India with a focus on the region of Kashmir. We ask when and why peripheral minorities identify with the state or the nation as opposed to their ethnic group or even with neighboring countries. We explore the effect of violence exposure on the formation and intensity of social preferences in India’s Kashmir region and we study how the perception of media bias mediates the ability of the state to engage in a public information campaign designed to shape local social identities.  We build on a first wave of research conducted in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir in 2015 that randomized videos of actual violence in a large, representative survey of the population. Results from the Kashmir Valley suggest that the salience of the Kashmiri identity is not responsive to policies or messages by the state intended to induce national identification. A strong regional identity is a counter-weight to irredentism, but violent repression by the state can push members of the minority to identify with an irredentist neighbor. Violence increases the Kashmiris’ perceived distance from the nation and reduces national identification, particularly among individuals with attributes that otherwise predict higher levels of identification with the state. We test whether or not an increase in national status brought about by information concerning India’s rapid economic growth can induce national identification and find no evidence for such an effect. We also find no support for the hypothesis that integrative institutions (specifically, integrating minorities in the national army or police) diminishes the salience of ethno-religious identity at the expense of the national identity.  We pursue this research further by exploring whether the identity of the media outlet that provides information about national status or about integrative institutions matters for how the information is internalized by the public.  The analysis is based on experimental data obtained from face-to-face household surveys.  We complement data obtained from the Kashmir Valley with data from the regions of Jammu and Ladakh, which offer a useful comparison as ex ante social distance from the nation should be lower in those regions compared to the Valley.