India’s Unity in Diversity: A Challenging Task
‘Unity in Diversity’ is the expression which speaks about a balance between wholeness and difference, between integrity and variety. India claims to be a country of religions, customs, traditions and languages; known for its cultural diversity throughout the world. No country in the world is as multi-religious and multi-cultural as India. Therefore, by virtue of the 42nd constitutional amendment the word ‘Secular’ was inserted in India’s constitution. Secularism means equal treatment of all the religions and non-interference by the state in the religious matters.
Unfortunately, this is not the situation today and everyone, including the state, misuses the concept and takes undue advantage of it for their vested interests. It clearly portrays the religious fanaticism of the people. The situation is same in the world because the majority religion prevailing in the society always tends to extend its powers over the minorities by suppressing them. The former forces their religion on the mass and this form of suppression is called as forceful conversion, where people are forcefully converted to another religion without their will.
Jawaharlal Nehru in his book Discovery of India claimed that India has a great civilisation existed despite of all commotions and restraints over the centuries because of its ability to blend ‘unity in diversity’. Sunil Khilnani in The Idea of India held that the very basis of India’s survival up till now is because of the idea of ‘unity in diversity’. It has kept multicultural, multi-ethnic, multilingual, and multi-religious conceptions together.
It is undeniable fact that India has been confronted with disrupting and disintegrating forces who gain upper hand in civic spaces. Being a multi-religious society, the idea of ‘unity in diversity’ has rested on the concept of secularism. It believes in religious harmony or “sarva dharma sambhav”. Constitution guarantees fundamental rights to freedom of conscience along with the rights to preach practice and profess one’s own religion. To protect minorities religious freedom constitution guarantees several safeguards like article 29 and 30.
However, now a day’s fabricated brand of secularism is threatened by various communal incidents across country. People are being lynched on suspicious grounds. These communal elements and their presence in society now are being used by political parties and politicians for their vested interests.
PM is a Hindu strongman devoted to remaking India in his own image. He inherited a country where political virtue had been synonymous with pluralism. This pluralism basically consists of celebrating India’s religious diversity, appealing a serene pre-colonial past, despite its huge Hindu majority, was not a Hindu nation but a pluralist, non-denominational State.
His coming to power in 2014 was achieved with promises of development and growth for a young India. Foreigners and Indians alike had not expected Hindu nationalist ideologues to derail Modi even before he could launch his agenda of economic reform.
Certainly, Hindu chauvinists, intolerant of minorities and indeed anyone who can be identified as a ‘liberal,’ seem determined to replace the secular and democratic principle and ethos of this country. The devastating flaw in BJPs project is this: They are trying to build a homogeneous national community in an irrevocably diverse country. It commits them and their supporters to demonizing, excluding and alienating too many members of the Indian population.
There has been a steady rise in the number of communal incidents in India since independence. But from 2014 onwards these incidents gets intensified as we have seen last couple of years. The reason behind these incidents is that within the Hindu chauvinism, there are people who seek to put pressure on Modi to use his electoral mandate to implement policies of their choice. Muted watch on these incidents bears its testimony.
To be religious means to be tolerant. That’s why we have survived as a race in spite of invasion, conversion and unimaginable attempted destruction. If you do not understand that tolerance or exercise that compassion so fundamental to other religion, you do not deserve to call yourself religious or citizen of a democratic nation. Distortion exists in every religion. Because those people who don’t understand religion properly trying to defend their faith by fair or foul means.
India’s future is tied to its identity as a pluralistic, democratic and secular society that is a pillar of stability in a region and world that is increasingly chaotic. Fundamentalism in every form should be condemned. Undoubtedly, Hindu fundamentalism is gradually spreading its influence everywhere and has already established for itself a firm base in every sector of the Indian society including bureaucracy, media, educational institutions, and so on. It divides the nation, senselessly takes away from welfare and development, raises hierarchy and, by inhibiting reforms, restricts freedom, bores communities and inspires a morally obnoxious conservatism. But most of all it has the potential of turning the country into an economic wasteland and underdevelopment.
The hate campaign unleashed by the fundamentalist forces is keeping the minority wholly anxious with protecting their basic human rights and cultural identity. Hindu fanatics are tightening the noose around the minorities and ethnic groups in India, as ill-treatment with them continues unabated.
Political parties and legislators should give up the unnecessary politics over the singing of the ‘Vande Mataram’ or the ‘Surya Namaskar’, food politics, other issues and keep focusing on employment generation and other developmental sectors. Ordinary Indians want good governance, jobs and economic development, an end to prevalent social instability, and peace and security in their lives. If given a chance they will, beyond the machinations of clever politicians, vote in the long run for someone who promises these ends, and not for those who only use them as cannon fodder to win elections. Elections now are being used as tool to gain power, and wealth.
For decades now Indian intellectuals have claimed that religion is perfectly compatible with secularism. Indian secularism, they said repeatedly, is not a total rejection of religion by the state but rather an equal appreciation of every faith. Even though no faith is in principle privileged by the state, this approach made it possible for religion to find expression in the public sphere. But the changing scenario of religious fundamentalism is eye opener that how these communal forces are in action to prove the above statement wrong.
However the complexity of time should not reduce to simplicity. If India is to survive its plurality as a nation, the time has come for such insanity to stop. Indian politics badly needs a return to balance and statesmanship through democratic means. Inclusion not exclusion and hope not fear needs to guide our political class. If politicians do not understand this, the only hope is that, ultimately, the people of India will.
Therefore, the idea of India is of one land embracing various communities. It is the idea that a nation may sustain differences of caste, colour, belief, culture, cuisine, custom and tradition, and still assemble around harmony. And that consensus is around the simple idea that in a democracy you don’t really need to agree – except on the ground rules of how you will disagree.
The author is research scholar at Deptt. Of History and Culture Jamia Millia Islamia. He is interested in conflict studies. He regularly writes on different issues of Socio-political concern. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position and policy of Oracle Opinions.