Last Update: May 2023 (Diversity of India)
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Diversity of India
This article deals with ‘Diversity of India’. This is part of our series on ‘Society’ which is an important pillar of the GS-1 syllabus. For more articles, you can click here.
Diversity is a prominent and defining characteristic of India. India’s diversity is often celebrated and acknowledged as a source of pride, showcasing the country’s pluralistic and inclusive character.
Diversities in Indian Society
India has a variety of races, religions, languages, castes and cultures.
- India is known for being the birthplace of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. Additionally, it is home to significant populations of Muslims, Christians, and various other religious communities. Apart from that, there are tribal societies that still live in the pre-religious state of animism and magic. Hindus are divided into several sects, such as Vaishnavas, Shaivates, Shaktas, Smartas etc.
- India is linguistically extremely diverse, with 22 languages declared as official languages under the 8th Schedule of the Constitution. There are 124 major languages and 652 dialects being spoken in various regions. Each language carries its literature, poetry, songs, and oral traditions, contributing to the overall cultural mosaic of India.
Caste and Jati Diversity
- Caste and Jati is an intrinsic features of Indian society. People from four castes reside in India, viz. Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras. Apart from that, there are more than 3000 Jatis in India.
- These systems have been prevalent in India for centuries and are crucial in shaping social relationships, occupations, and identity. Each caste and Jati has its own distinct customs, rituals, occupations, and social interactions. Marriage within one’s own caste or Jati has been a traditional practice to maintain social and cultural boundaries.
- While the Indian Constitution prohibits caste-based discrimination and ensures equal rights for all citizens, the influence of caste is still prevalent in various aspects of Indian society.
- India is home to various ethnic groups, including Indo-Aryans, Dravidians, Tibeto-Burmans, Mongoloids, Mediterranean, Proto-Australoids and Western Brachycephals. These groups exhibit distinct physical features, cultural practices, and historical backgrounds.
- India’s history of invasions, migrations, and interactions with neighbouring regions has contributed to its diverse genetic and cultural landscape.
- India spans an area of 3.28 million square kilometres with great diversity of physical features like deserts, evergreen forests, lofty mountains, perennial and non-perennial river systems, long coasts and fertile plains.
Unity & Diversity in India
Unity and diversity are two fundamental aspects that characterize India. Despite being a diverse nation with a multitude of languages, religions, cultures, and traditions, India has managed to maintain a sense of unity.
The concept of unity in diversity emphasizes the idea that although India is composed of diverse communities, there is a collective sense of belonging and shared values that bind the nation together.
Unity in diversity essentially means “unity without uniformity” and “diversity without fragmentation”.
How such a diverse society living together in India
Most states are generally suspicious of their cultural diversity and try to reduce or eliminate it. It is because community identities (like language, religion, ethnicity and so on) can act as the basis for nation-state formation. Hence, already existing states see all forms of community identity as dangerous rivals. That is why states generally tend to favour a single, homogenous national identity. However, suppressing cultural diversity can be very costly in terms of alienating the minority whose culture is treated as ‘non-national’.
1. Constitutional Identity
- With such diversity, it becomes essential to have a unifying force that binds the country together, and the Indian Constitution, by providing a common set of values, rights, and principles that transcend regional, linguistic, religious, and cultural differences, serves that purpose.
2. Religious Coexistence
- The concept of religious coexistence allows people from different religious backgrounds to coexist harmoniously, acknowledging and appreciating the beliefs and practices of others.
- Religious coexistence encourages interfaith dialogue, fostering understanding, empathy, and respect among religious communities.
3. Economic Integration
- Economic integration creates opportunities for individuals and communities from different backgrounds to engage in economic activities. When people share economic interests and benefits, it helps to bridge the gaps and reduce social divisions based on cultural or ethnic differences.
4. Fairs and Festivals
- Fairs and festivals provide a platform for people from different regions and communities to come together and celebrate their shared heritage. For example, Diwali, celebrated across India, unites people of different religions as they light lamps, exchange sweets, and share the joy of the festival.
5. Climatic Integration
- The entire Indian subcontinent is intricately connected to the monsoon season, which influences flora and fauna, agricultural practices, and the way of life for its people. Hence, the festivities celebrated by the people are also centred around this significant climatic event.
6. Insight of our founding fathers
- India’s founding fathers, the architects of the Indian Constitution, deeply understood the importance of unity in diversity. They recognized that India, with its vast array of languages, religions, cultures, and traditions, needed a strong foundation that could accommodate and celebrate this diversity while ensuring a cohesive and united nation.
- Indian Constitution makers envisaged India as a Mosaic culture. In a Mosaic culture, different languages & cultures coexist with each other. Although they stay together, their individuality remains intact (The concept of Mosaic Culture was given by Canadian sociologist John Murray Gibbon, who disapproved of the American melting pot concept. In American society, immigrants were encouraged to cut off their ties with their home country & assimilate into the American way of life).
7. Geopolitical Unity
- India’s geographical unity, marked by the Himalayas in the north and oceans on the other sides, has played an important role in the formation of a shared cultural identity in India.
8. National Signs
- National signs like Flag, Anthem, National figures and National sporting teams unite Indians and promote a sense of belonging and national pride among the diverse population.
- These symbols are prominently displayed during national events, public ceremonies, and important occasions, instilling a sense of unity, patriotism, and collective pride.
9. Interaction between societies, i.e. Acculturation
Interaction between different groups has both positive & negative effects. They either reduce differences or increase differences
- Samuel Huntington, in his book “Clash of Civilizations”, argues that globalization, when more & more people are meeting, is leading to an increase in differences which is the leading cause of terrorism in Western nations because two communities are so different that they can’t live in harmony with each other. Even in India, we can see this process playing out when two communities are not able to live peacefully, as seen in Assam (Assamese vs Bangla Muslims)
- But in India, mainly the process of Acculturation has occurred, i.e. the original culture of both communities changes somewhat to accommodate each other. It has led to the development of a secular fabric in India.
- Language: Hindi and English act as unifying threads on a pan-Indian basis.
- Cinema: Bollywood is seen all over India
Factors that threaten the unity of India
- Communalism: Communalism divides people based on religion.
- Regionalism: Regionalism tends to highlight the interests of a particular region over national interests. They threaten national unity by following policies such as the policy of Sons of Soil.
- Caste Politics: Caste-based parties promote the division of sections of society based on caste to create vote banks.
- Linguistic Movements like the Dravidian movement sowed the feeling of difference between people of north and south India.
- Development imbalance: Uneven socioeconomic development patterns can lead to a region’s backwardness. Consequently, this can result in violence, kickstart migration waves and even accelerate separatism demands. E.g., separatist demands in North-East India.
- Influence of external factors: Sometimes, external factors such as foreign organizations, terrorist groups, and extremist groups can incite violence and sow feelings of separatism. E.g., Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has been accused of supporting and training mujahideen to fight in Jammu and Kashmir and sow separatist tendencies among resident groups.
- Rise of the ultra-right wing in India, which try to mix religion with nationalism and impose the majority’s values on minority groups.
Side Topic: Diversity in Unity
‘Diversity in Unity’ means the same sociological system manifests itself in different ways
- Patriarchy: Within Patriarchy, there are different forms of Patriarchy, like Brahmin Patriarchy, Dalit Patriarchy etc.
- Hinduism: Within Hinduism, there are various sects like Shaivism, Vaishnavism etc.
- Marriage: Marriage is a feature of almost all Indian Societies, but there are different types of marriages like Monogamy, Polygamy, Matrilocal, Patrilocal etc.
- Language: There are various dialects of the same language spoken in different areas