Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Unity in Diversity: Notion or Reality

Unity in Diversity is a reality that we must acknowledge and live with. Unity will not come by making everybody alike rather by agreeing on certain common values and principles and leaving the rest to the people. The first principle being equality and equity to enable people to achieve equality. Do we have unity in diversity? Not entirely, the Indian government and a large number of fellow Indians refuse to acknowledge caste discrimination because caste is different from race but they expect dalits to have the sense of unity. Same with women's rights; the state apparatus, society and families continue to kill female foetus, burn women, rape and molest women and girls and deny them basic rights in the name of religion, custom, traditions and so on but when women cry and make noise they are told that they have sold out to foreign ideologies as if only these inhuman practices are the foundation of the 'Indian ideology'.

The issue of unity cannot be left to nurture itself and remain a reality on its own unless the problematic of caste practice, the practices of abuse, discrimination, and violence against women and girls, and the inequality at large are consciously addressed. Do these practices threaten the concept of Unity in Diversity? Yes, if diversity is taken to mean and allow casteism, sexism, and so on even when these are to be ended says the Indian constitution. Citizens need to revisit the role of diversity that India holds in the national identity politics and construction of a national identity. The political ideology of a cohesive nation and national integration will not go far unless diversity based on the principles of equality and equity is given true meaning by the practice of it.

Diversity is a complex reality in India as a deconstruction of this reality will reveal innumerable sects, social groups and socio-economic segmentation by end number of castes, sub-castes, religious, regional and linguistic groups apart from further division and of these by sex. With this layered and amazingly complex reality of diversity within the nation-state, the concept of ‘one nation’ was and continues to be thrown away every time an effort is made to silence certain voices against discrimination, state led violence, caste and religion led violence and gender based violence. Or, the concept is thrown off by the unethical and unscrupulous political actors who use the issues raised by the voices to serve their vested ends. Demands for separate states and autonomous districts, mosques for women and so on are the symptoms of one or the other form of rejection of the notion of ‘one nation’.

The architects of the Indian Constitution were far-sighted enough to recognize this and sought to bring about a sense of an overarching Indian identity by ending the discrimination, inequality and violence and by recognizing the reality of diversity through inclusion of the fundamental rights and protection of dalits and religious, cultural and ‘habitation’ minorities (the last terms means certain forest habitats and those citizens who inhabit those habitats). The overarching national or unified identity has to bear the imprint of myriad political, social, religious, gender, and culture based lives in the country. It cannot be the other way round that these give way to accept national unity at whatever cost.

The notion and reality of an identity coming from Diversity is necessary not just from a patriotic sense of belonging to one geo-entity but also from the point of view of a mass of people being protected from the exploitative globalized forces, for the sake of economic advancement of a considerable chunk of humanity consisting of both women and men, for ensuring that identities of some do not swallow the identities of all, and for recognizing that diversity exists at all levels and in every social strata and segment.

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