Monday, 30 January 2017

Feasibility of Unity in the Great Indian Diversity

Recently a friend asked for an academic opinion on the idea of regulated diversity as a feature of the Great Indian "Unity in Diversity". I laughed and said the idea is flawed at its inception.

However, that got me thinking, if a student of a reputed university is thinking of such a segregation measure, the idea must have festered other minds too. It is quite abject to hope every citizen to be aware of the rights and duties of Indian citizens but certain things assured in our constitutional rights are vehemently opposed to the very idea of regulation of diversity. The following goes to those who believe that a parameter has to define our unity in diversity and the idea is not enough in itself.

When we speak about unity in diversity in India, we refer to the many ethnicities and cultures that co-exist in our country, supposedly harmoniously, and we uphold that virtue of unity in a country as diverse as India. Now the problem is, India, as a nation is united only by the thin thread of nationalist ideals that binds every individual in the country. It has been imposed upon us by the Constitution makers of the nation.

Basically, on 14th August 1947, the many provinces and princely states of India, after much negotiation, were finally to be united under one banner with a common legacy of a movement for freedom from the British. So essentially, some 33 crore people were asked to live together in harmony under a common name and with uniform rules without any specific exceptions in the name of nationalism. Now, the question is how far an artificial concept like nationalism can bind people together and stopping them from acting on their obvious differences.

Let us see, as a country, how India is governed.

Generally, India is supposed to be a federal state with a unified centre, and a tendency towards centralization. The federal structure was adopted because of the diversity as well as to promote healthy competition between the states in course of development and to allow self-governance in linguistically different areas. Now, the basis of differentiation between states may have been language, but it is not the only criteria for harmonious interaction amongst different groups in presence of different hierarchy and stratification in Indian society. So the initially demarcated States were broken down to form other states, the latest being the breakdown of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

What is being conveyed here is that, in States, we see a tendency of decentralisation and segregation based on subgroups. Thus, every layer of a reasonable nexus of classification will have sub-groups which shall come into prominence as soon as the group is considered individually. There is no end to how many subgroups can exist in one community and a parameter cannot effectively define that.

Now, as a nation, India is a very thin nation, so to speak. A thin nation is one where the binding force between the nation and its citizens is loose. For example, erstwhile France would be considered a very thick nation considering only the Frenchmen inhabited the area demarcated as France and were bound by secular principles. India, however, was never a nation, but a subcontinent.

Before the arrival of the British, it had always been a cluster of states of varying sizes owing to conquests and annexations. There has never been, in India, a pre-existing system where the entire country was bound by the same norms before the arrival of the British and their subsequent annexation of the subcontinent. Even the great empires had limited stretches. Moreover, this British unification was only looked down upon by the general population because of the foreign nature of the governance. Thus, honestly, Indian citizens have never known a unified government and a unified system of legislation. They have been used to specific legislative systems appropriate for different dominant cultures. This has been partly adopted through the federal structure but the strong centre leads to a conflict of interest between the centre and the state after independence.

Because of all of these, all of us are basically Indians by virtue of the idea of nationalism aspired by our forefathers but in reality, we often find it difficult to reconcile our customs with the changes in laws. This is very prominent in the recent situations of the ban on beef and jallikattu. While in the interest of the Constitution and animal rights the courts were right in deciding in favour of or against certain practices, the people were outraged and they felt their identities threatened by the imposition of a seemingly beneficial legislation. The beef ban was construed to be a communalist stance regardless of its implications and the ban on jallikattu, an attack against the Tamil identity. Whether the allegations held water or the representations were misdirecting is to be decided on individual reading but the fact of the matter remains that evidently liberal stances were opposed in order to preserve culture.

This is because the change in laws does not often reflect the consensus of the people but only that of a handful. As majority rules the system of democracy, there can be no complaints on the ground of bad governance as the parliament consists of essentially the representatives chosen by the masses. This, however, leads to various conflicts of interest amongst minorities and begs the question, if there should be a rational system of decentralisation to empower separate communities. This is controversial as it thwarts the basic proposition that in India, the land of diversity, people are capable of living in peace and harmony. But we all know that is not the case.

There is anything but harmony in a population of one billion.

People struggle for their basic necessities and they blame other communities for eating into their privileges because blaming their neighbours and fellow communitarians are against their deep set and well-perpetuated morals. Hence we see communal differences in various places. Riots are blatantly suppressed by the Government and media is censored to protect the integrity that is falling apart at the slightest instance of discord.

However, if we are talking about a reasonable measure of diversity, we disregard the fundamental proposition of our sovereignty whereby the people are all powerful and India stands as a front to the world. When we say that diversity must have parameters, we are imposing upon the people on the soil of India, restrictions upon their fundamental rights of religion, practices and even privacy. The basic civil rights guaranteed under the constitution are rendered useless when we set up measures for limiting diversity within a certain scope.

Imagine if you were not allowed to be atheist because of the religious policies or were forced to identify yourself as somebody you are not to stay on your motherland. Sounds rather dreadful, does it not? Despite the sensibilities in limiting chaos, this approach does not seem practicable or even valid in light of basic human rights made available to everybody irrespective of their identity. Hence, even though India may be dominated by a majority that oppresses the minority and to an extent consideration of such a proposal may seem viable to the masses, it goes against the foundation of a country based on the idea of unity in diversity. While the extent of such a unity cannot be regulated through law, the multiplication of diversity can also not be restricted through qualification.

Thus, it cannot be said that Unity in Diversity as a concept is effectively meaningless. It allows for a negative right of individualism which is indispensable for human growth and the unity comes from the acceptance of harmonious existence in each other's best interests. This symbiotic growth within a fixed territory cannot be crystallised through codified parameters and has to be allowed an organic bloom. In fact, when you consider such things in all seriousness, it ridicules the idea behind our nation.

Written by Sayantani Saha
Writer, dreamer of world exploration and lover of high fantasy

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