Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Is diversity really the strength of India?


India is a nation of festivals. No nation has as many. They mark the changing seasons, religious events, political anniversaries, and birthdays of eminent persons. And yet they are just one aspect of our amazing diversity. When we explore food, or language, or literature, or ritual, or dress, or ecology, or ethnicity or even different conceptions of beauty, we find diversity in all its glory.
Diversity is India's greatest asset but an under-appreciated one. In the last sixty years we have given it the status of one half of the slogan, 'Unity in diversity', and have spent more time elaborating and campaigning for the 'unity' half, as we get about the task of nation-building. If diversity got a look in it was accompanied by some kind of subterranean anxiety as if its existence was a threat to unity, as if the fragility of 'unity' would be at risk if we stressed our differences and, worse, took pride in them. Discussion of diversity descended into a discussion of what holds us together, although we are different, and just like astronomers today who look for the dark matter that holds the expanding universe together, we spent our intellectual energies looking for the glue. Rather than marvel at the diversity we seem to have feared it. This is indeed a pity.
India's strength, when seen in terms of the human story, lied in its diversity. There are many factors that have contributed to its existence from our varied geography and ecology to our long and colourful history. Factors such as accident, luck, memory, invention and design have even played a part. Looking at, and into, this diversity we find a capacious concept that needs to be inhabited by the details of our condition, by the many ways in which we live our lives, construct our systems of meaning, and conduct our social relationship. It is a concept that needs greater analytical attention.
The Indian Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS) at Shimla in its seminars, invited scholars from all over to look at the different dimensions of diversity in India.
The first looked at 'Troubled diversity' that looks at India's North-East region and explores the relationship between diversity and social and ethnic conflict. Is diversity the cause of conflict or is the cause elsewhere which then uses diversity to make its case?
The second was 'Managing diversity' that examined the wonderful world of an Indian election and illustrates how the Election Commission has to factor in this inherent diversity when planning the location of booths, allotting symbols, preparing voter lists, assigning observers, deciding on voting days, etc., and also how; looking at it from the other end, the electoral process consolidates this diversity.
The third was 'Celebrating diversity' that looked at the eight and more food regions in India and discovers the deep interdependence between region, and community, and flavour, and favour in the preparation of food. The 'pure vegetarian' Udipi meal has had a little help from the Portuguese who have used the potato and the chilly. And lest one forget, it is the Hakim and the ageing Nawab who gave us the Kakori Kabab. Nothing explodes the myth of purity, that so dominates our social relations, so effectively as an anthropological exploration of our food history.
The fourth was 'Treating diversity' where the coexistence of diverse health systems, from Siddha to Ayurveda to Folk to Unani and Tibetan, are all shown to be necessary to provide health services for our large and poor population. Allopathy has limited reach.
The fifth was 'Flattening diversity' which looked at the educational domain and deliberates on the disjunction between the heterogeneous school environment and the uniform policy of DPEP/SSA that does not factor the diverse backgrounds, locales, requirements, and disabilities that are required for universal and quality education in India.
The sixth was 'Mapping diversity' that will look at one region, the Himalayan region, and survey the differences in culture and ecology as we move from Kashmir to Sikkim, a fascinating story of how a diverse people have adapted to diverse ecosystems.
The seventh looked at 'one Indian diaspora or many' as it journeys thorough how the different Indian communities across the world, form Malaysia to the Carribean, try to be Indian. The spelling of name would be a good place to start: Laxman (India), Lakshman (Sri Lanka), Latchmann (Mauritius), Lukshmann (Germany?)…
Adapted from many Sources- Times of India, Indian Institute of Advanced Studies,