India is the land of diversity. Since childhood, we have learned about various religious beliefs, ethnic diversity, festivals and languages. I can think of those essay writing contests on topics such as “unity in diversity”, or the Annual day functions where we would dress up in order to represent different states of our country and perform folk songs and dances. To evoke a sense of pride in our culture, we celebrated every festival during class assemblies. Our differences were easy to understand.According to Dr. Debiprasanna Pattanayak’s‘Multilingual and Multicultural India’, Indian diversity consists of 3000 mother tongues, 4600 castes and communities, 4000 faiths and beliefs, 45000 plants and biological species, and 65000 animal varieties. Our constitution gives equal rights to everyone regardless of gender, caste, class, community, language and religious beliefs.
How different are we?
Our differences are not precisely confined to culture or behavior. There are others including gender, age and education, and socio-economic status. These all are macro-level factors that shape an individual and distinguish them from the rest. It binds human beings with certain patterns to form a society. These differences not only change the way we perceive things but also the way we experience life. Moreover, we are a result of micro-level diversity, i.e. emotional diversity which persists within each individual. The love of a mother for her child remains unaltered in any culture. Our ability to bond, share, be kind and grateful remain the same. However, the amount of these emotions may vary from person to person, making each individual different from another.
No two people from the same cultural background, of same age and gender, with similar upbringing and family values could be identical in nature. This is the beauty of diversity that brings so much variety in our existence.
What unites us all?
In spite of all the differences, there are two goals of mankind that connect us:
- To be able to provide best for their families, and
- To live in a peaceful and harmonious world
I could picture myself as a young tribal girl, who would do anything to go far away from her home, out of choice, just to enjoy her freedom. It is beautiful to see the determination of a father who would do anything possible to make ends meet for his family or save money for his daughter’s wedding, even if it includes taking huge debts; and how a mother just like mine is always concerned about her daughter’s safety and would fight with anyone for her, if required. The desire of people to live happily is common.
Positive aspects of differences
Without knowing sadness and disappointment, one can never appreciate happiness and joy. Likewise, “Without the intervention of differences, humans cannot appreciate what each of us has in common.” says LouisMacpherson, in his article ‘Value of Multiculturism’. Multiculturalism helps us to step out of our little cocoon and look beyond our existence. It gives us a medium to reason and question rules that society has created, and broadens the scope of dialogue between two cultures that have distinct perspectives. It dilutes the friction that gets created because of ignorance, and helps us ask “Why?”. What’s the “Why” of our existence? Why is there pride associated with our beliefs due to which we have little space to tolerate others and accept variety that forms the basis of innovation and evolution?
Negative aspects of differences
Before India got independent, some areas in Rajasthan experienced severe drought; so much that people were hardly left with anything to eat. The tribal communities I’m working with, being the poorest and dependent for livelihood directly on forests, were severely affected. Christian missionaries reached out to aid and provided them with food at the time of crisis. In return, they asked them to convert their religion. People were glad to accept the offer. All the rituals and ceremonies were customized for the tribes. For instance, if a tribal Christian marries in a home turned church, the bride would wear a white sari and would take seven vows in the form of what we call “Saat Pheras” in the Hindu culture. All other ways to celebrate a wedding, before the main ceremony, remained same.
There were cases when people converting into Christians were attacked by the Hindus of their community and were asked to leave the villages. Now times have changed. There are no such attacks, but during festivals, these people feel a bit unsafe. Interestingly, there are many other factors which influenced them to adopt Christianity. They were culturally more progressive and liberal as compared to other communities here in Kushalgarh. People were not judged based on their habits of drinking alcohol or eating non- vegetarian food.
The trend of marriage is new as they largely used to practice live-in relationships. Women and men could have as many relationships as they desire. There is still no restriction on who one wants to marry and age is not a factor to determine the compatibility between two people.
The evolution of “Adivasi” culture
As they watched Christian tribals getting an identity of their own, Hindus started following their religion quite seriously to show that they are better. Just then the struggle of non-Christians to fit into the society, started. As “being civilized” is when you abide by certain rules and regulations, they adopted a few methods known to be superior and respectful. For example, some refrained from having alcohol and meat. They tagged themselves as “Bhagats”, complementing Brahmins in Hindu culture. A few changed their last names or added “Singh” to get a sense of pride in their community as Rajputs.
Traditionally, they do not believe in idol worship and rather, consider natural resources equivalent to God. But since in Hinduism, if you don’t have a tangible face of God to worship, it is not acceptable. Hence, they started visiting temples as well. Now one may ask, what’s the problem with people changing their belief or faith if it’s not forced upon. Is evolution bad? Change is the only constant, we all agree. It’s true that these people found another culture more interesting and therefore, there is no harm in adapting. But the desire to fit in someone else’s concept of right and wrong can come at the cost of ignorance and with that, you become more vulnerable to the hidden motives of other people. Not only that, sticking to our beliefs and taking pride in those to an extent that it affects our mind sub-consciously results in us not being able to look at other people as human beings. I remember my grandparents telling stories about their refuge from Pakistan.
The Partition of India in 1947 made them see the sudden shift in the mindset of people they used to call their brothers, sisters and friends; living in harmony and taking care of each other to becoming the one who were after their lives and would even resort to killing in the name of religion. The situation was same on both sides of the border. Things became normal with time but their home was lost. They struggled hard to create their identity and to be looked as someone beyond a refugee. Sometimes, the fight is not about survival but acceptance.
We, the so-called “cultured, educated intellectuals” are nowhere less in understanding our differences. We see these as big issues and certainly take a step back/ahead to do something about it. But the root cause is us not acknowledging our differences. If not culture, we divide ourselves in other ways. Today, for instance, the reference point of women empowerment is men. In the name of feminism, we compare ourselves with men in order to show that we are equals or superior or someone who needs to be respected just for the sake of it. The funny bit is that we often do not respect our differences as women. We are living in a world where one is judged for being a housewife. Being financially independent and career oriented is not bad but making it a parameter of success is wrong. For us to prove our caliber, we need to be super-humans and nothing less. Do a great job at work, be a perfect mother, a good wife and take care of the family. If we are different from men, then our needs are different too. It should be a choice to be a housewife, to become a mother, to marry, to appear graceful or be wild.
Let others see what varieties of human traits we have and only then, they will be able to accept us. It might seem a small issue today, but if not checked, could become a big one tomorrow. Someone once asked me, “Why can’t we see people just as humans and shrug off all the differences we have made as a society?”. I still wonder! Maybe, we will never be able to do so. But what we can possibly do is, acknowledge them and be rational while taking pride in our beliefs. Appreciate that the diversity and human existence is enough for us to sustain together. Why should we restrict ourselves to just one thought/belief if we have so much around us to learn?