Unity in Diversity, eh?

I am not very good at history.

Suddenly one day, this is what struck me:

The genesis of the Great Indian Mutiny of 1857 lay, not in love and affection for the fellow Indian brethren, but which animal’s fat the cartridges be made of, which were to be used for killing, maiming, threatening, exploiting and subjugating the very same fellow Indian brethren.

Though I had known the above fact for long, I had never seen it from above perspective, and when I finally did, it did not shock me, just mildly amused me. For I had already turned quite cynical of the idea that people of such a large geographical territory, with diverse cultural backgrounds and most important, resource scarcity that makes us see each other as rivals and much worse, parasites, could be truly united into one nation beyond the rhyming rhetoric of Unity in Diversity.

On a related note, I had published a comment (click) on Dilip D’Souza’s blog – ‘Death Ends Fun’ and I reproduce it here with slight modification:

I agree that given the diversity and size of populace, no other country is more united than India. But the question that I am asking is: even the current degree of unity among Indians is an outcome of some form of coercion or peer pressure?

Is there a margin for individual territories to be more stable politically, if India were to be divided? The last thing is not a rhetorical question, but more of a thought experiment.

I do not believe, someone living close to Arunachal Pradesh-China border would feel greater solidarity for a Gujarati or a Keraliite living thousands of kilometers away than for a ‘Chinese’ living just a few kilometers across the ‘border’. Likewise, a Tamil living in Tamil Nadu is more likely to feel loyalty for a Sri Lankan Tamil than for a Kashmiri. And if I am correct, why should we hold their chosen loyalty against the said Arunachali or ‘Indian’ Tamil?

Under such circumstances (of sectarian divides), are arbitrary lines drawn on paper, and a heady dose of patriotism sufficient to channelize our loyalties & energies in one direction and instill a feeling of oneness?

I have come to conclude that cultural heterogeneity interferes with unification of citizens. Pointing this out has become a taboo of sorts, and is immediately dismissed as anti-national. I am worried, that possibly people suffer from a deep guilt complex in this regard, and hence in their attempt to overcompensate do not even want to dwell on the issue.

I was amazed by how a friend of mine could befriend and extract discounts out of certain shopkeepers simply by mentioning he was a Marwari-Jain. Till that point, my belief had been shopkeepers are profit-minded people, and they could not be swayed by communal (click) sentiments! But I was wrong! [This is not an adverse comment against Marwaris or Jains because such sentiments are prevalent amongst almost all birth-based communities in India].

But there is a flip side, too, to such affinity shown by Marwari-Jain people that you must easily recognize, and that is a xenophobia of ‘not Marwari-Jain’.

This generic example can be extended to all communities in India and how they interact with each other and within themselves, and hence you will better appreciate why I feel India is several countries in one jostling with each for space, resources, attention and ‘supremacy’.

I hope at least a few readers will understand what I am trying to say.

19 thoughts on “Unity in Diversity, eh?

  1. Yes I agree..this happened to me when I was to search for a flat in Ahmedabad and people kept asking me which “caste” do you belong to, and which place exactly and to my amazement only bank officials were allowed !!!! a small incident has been quoted in my book,”Trapped Wings Open Sky”

    • Thanks, Nisha! And welcome to my blog as this is the first comment you have made here. 🙂

      I wish to ask a much more fundamental question, except for a very small fraction of people, do people really place the country above all other kinds of affiliations? If India were to a prosperous nation, such ‘sub-affiliations’ would not matter. But because that is not the case, people of one affiliation sort of ‘gang up’ against people of other affiliations, out of insecurity of losing out resources to them and also that of the other communities seeming superior. Of course, this ganging up need not be violent, but happens in a very organized fashion, and most frequently, against Muslims.

      But I am not as such ‘blaming’ any person here. Because, we are conditioned from our childhood to be in some sort of ‘group’. Many of these groups are based on birth-based affiliations, like caste, religion and language, but there are others, too – ‘rich’ v/s ‘poor’, e.g. It is not uncommon to find affluent parents asking their kids to not play with kids of poor parents.

      All I’m trying to ask is, is India really united in the truest sense or are we united only because of some kind of majburi and nobody wants to point this out because of political correctness?

      Take care.

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  3. We aren’t united. sorry… I don’t feel so..its just few achievements and the politics( which affect us) brings us together varna where is the unity. do you see it, feel it…. and its rampant in all classes with all kind of people. there are plethora of groups which goes on multiplying….

  4. In the history of humankind Nation States are a relatively new concept . It came into being during the transformation phase of society from feudal kingdoms to capitalist democracies and was a necessisity for economic development If India was not under the rule of British, a superior economic and military power during that period of transformation most probably there could have more Nations in Indian sub continent …

    • Charakan,

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Yes, you’re right that that of nation-states is a relatively newer concept. It is also true that had the British not been in India, perhaps, this kind of unification would have not been possible. In fact, I would also go on to state that had India not been ‘colonized’, perhaps India would’ve been lot more feudal than it currently is, and either at many democracy would not have come or would have come only after lot of blood-shed.

      My issues were two-pronged: first, trying to point out that cultural heterogeneity does indeed interfere with proper unification. Second, that most of the political boundaries are quite arbitrary.

  5. In the end, India is an idea. An idea or experiment that no one believed would work. In 1965, a BBC correspondent covering the elections said that it would be the last. China still seems to hold some belief that India isn’t really a country. Economists said that democracy can only work when people are educated, relatively well off, have a similar culture, speak the same language and aren’t too huge in number.

    India fails every single idea.

    It’s nothing short of a miracle that we’ve survived so far. And believe you me – in spite of all our problems and cribbing, we lose sight of the fact that we’ve accomplished herculean tasks in just 63 years.

    The last state in the US to decriminalize homosexuality was texas in 2003 – 225 years after the formation of the US with its egalitarian constitution. State based racial discrimination was last (legally) removed in 1965 in the US. In India, the state has never officially endorsed racial discrimination and the fact that our SC decriminalized homosexuality in spite of the majority of Indians being against it solely on the basis of the constitution is remarkable.

    The more I look at India from the eyes of an outsider, the more I’m amazed. In the words of Morpheus from the Matrix Reloaded “We are still here!

    P.S. After all this, people doubt whether or not I love India just because I’m not pro hindu and because I want to look at what India is now instead of how she was hundreds of years ago.

    • Bhagwad,

      My point is not whether India is more liberal than other countries or not.

      Question is entirely different, that whatever ‘unity’ we see, is has it been spontaneously embraced by people in general, or has it been imposed either through coercion or peer pressure? Also, the second related issue is what is the basis of the ‘idea’ called India ‘stopping’ at the international border, where it does? Could those boundaries have been pushed further beyond, or shifted inwards, with the idea of India remaining intact? Imagine, had Pakistan not become a separate country, would you also have been proud of the ‘India’ that would have resulted? What is the difference between Maharashtrians seeing hating Hindi-speaking people as ‘outsiders’ v/s Indians seeing Pakistanis as ‘enemies’?

      Thirdly, though sort of unrelated, I actually feel that smaller nations are much better managed, provided they do not wage war against each other. Plus, the governance must not be so much ‘bottom-down’ as it is. The Union government must not have access to the humongous amounts of funds it has access to.

      And, I do not even consider myself a patriot. Though, I am lot more skeptical of media’s motives, do see current form of Islam as major threat to global peace and do not think that violence against majority community is any more acceptable than violence against minority community. I think these might be the three major issues, where you differ from me, and people conflate your stance to be anti-India/anti-Hindu. That is of course, kind of unfortunate.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  6. Bhagwad Jal Park – I liked your comment very much. If I am not wrong, similar dialogue was in the movie Mumbai Meri Jaan 😛
    KP – What you think of change? A process or directly from one end point to another?

    • Tarun,

      There is something called evolution, yes! The changes are gradual. My question was more fundamental. The idea of India that we’re selling, is it being assimilated by people whole-heartedly or is there covert and/or coercive persuasion involved? And if it is involved, how is it any different from religious brain-washing? If we have no qualms considering a person living one km across the international border an ‘intruder’ or an ‘enemy’, how fundamentally is it different from a Maharashtrian considering a Bihari an ‘outsider’?

      Plus, there are other issues related to ease and effectiveness of governance that I have discussed in my response to Charakan above.

      And lastly, that the mutiny of 1857 is hailed as some sort of great ‘unification’ is something nauseating. I find it an utter falsehood. The mutineers had no qualms hurting people from the same neighborhood where they had grown up. The revolting King/Queen/Princes/Princesses were not fighting for common people, but simply because under the then prevailing circumstances of feudalism, they felt they had been wronged, because the taxes collected from hard work and exploitation of common people were going to the Britishers instead of to them. That revolt, in my understanding, was just a culmination of ulterior motives. Why do we need to see it in such glowing light?

      Unification should be of people and not territories. Former is largely missing, and to whatever degree it is happening, is based on arbitrary constraints of international boundary.

  7. Ketan, the first para amused me as well. Yeah, I do remember reading my history book where it says something like the cartridge was smeared with so-and-so animal’s fat which was taboo for Hindus. So was this why the revolt started?
    Interesting!! In one way, I am tending to think were NCERT text books manipulated? I dont know!

    Unity in diversity? Nah! We are the state where you will find discrimination in every walk of life. Language, food, culture, borders, gender, religion, caste, creed, community, race, color…………………..

    • Insignia,

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      While I’m myself not a fan of media and historians, I have not come across any substantial rebuttals of the theory that the mutiny had fundamentally started because the Indian soldiers were unhappy with ‘working conditions’ (including, having to bite the cartridges made of cow fat-thing). I’ve never come across a version that claims that mutineers were unhappy with having to be cruel to fellow Indians.

      In fact, there is one more event – Jalianwala Bagh massacre – how many of those who had fired were Indians? I do not know the exact answer, but I believe it was a major fraction. Can you believe, Indians killing Indians just like that without any provocation? These were not even inter-religion riots, where one might assume that though highly misplaced, there might have been some passion driving the assailants.

      Anyway, I leave it at that. This obfuscation of history, and trying to fit it into a perspective that best suits our ‘purpose’ of unified India makes me sick.

  8. agree. there are circles of affinity, mostly concentric and the tightest bunch gets treated differently from the next ring. there are overlapping circles I guess which get defined across national boundaries like your example abt SL tamilians but I dont know how far this could stretch.


    • Jai,

      I must say you’ve put most precisely what I had meant to say, here. 🙂

      Question is: what are the bases to determine the radii of various circles? 🙂

      I feel more homogeneous the population, longer can those radii be. But, my saying that would go against the idea of ‘Unity in diversity’. 🙂


  9. It truly sounds more like a slogan which has lost its meaning .

    Aapas hee main lad -kat marenege ek din
    na rahega is jahan mein namo nisha hamara
    sabit to faslon se kuch aur ho raha hai
    kahne ko kah rahe hain ‘hindustan hamara’

    • Sunil

      Actually, I feel, with passage of time, Indians are becoming more integrated then in the past (in that sense I very much agree with Bhagwad above), but I do not think the slogan had any meaning in the past also. Hence, the example of 1857 mutiny.

      BTW, whose lines were you quoting? 🙂


  10. I agree with the insight of your comment and somewhat with the conclusion.Unity in diversity is as big a farce as equality is.

    On the other hand, I have an additional viewpoint when it comes to the interpretation of the diversity. It is not essential that diversity mean separation of components. With this logic, you couldn’t stop at a final unit of a locality even, because who can say how many differences are to be absorbed, and how many require a separate identity? Sure, some rationale could be provided, and stopping it at what seems to be a “state level” of similarity is where you would draw yours. The districts would still be different, if not as much. This is the logic that gave birth to Pakistan, and they aren’t done dividing yet, from the sound of it. They can’t integrate, because their identity is based on differences being irreconcilable.

    The way I see it, a political enitity need not be based on emotions or loyalty, as long as it can function enough to offer administration to all the territory it covers. There is no need for someone in Assam to feel an affinity with a Keralite in terms of culture, though they may have other affinities, like political inclinations, interests in activism, shared #facepalm at red tape to do some things, etc.

    I think the point is not to look for differences and organize them, but to look for similarities and stop requiring differences to conform. In that case, a united India makes perfect sense. The more diverse, the better.

    Don’t know if this is clear.

    • Vidyut,

      I’m replying to your comment ‘out of turn’, in the sense, there are other comments published much before yours to which I have not replied yet. 😀

      Anyway, I think you and I are saying similar things from opposite perspective, and that is the arbitrariness of any territorial boundaries that would be erected. Where you and I (perhaps) differ is in our preference respectively for ‘larger’ v/s ‘smaller’. My above post was not to dwell on the size issue, though I did sort of commit my preference there, it was more to point out how trying to unite a big nation such as India – on sentimental grounds is a foolish idea, and reeks of hypocrisy. It only leads to cognitive dissonance

      Yes, you’re right that however small we make the territory, there would be smaller sub-groups, but I believe the intensity of conflict would be much lesser. Also, I believe one advantage with smaller territories (and economies) is lesser interest in wanting to enter armed conflicts, but I don’t have any strong logic to back up that belief. Another thing that unfortunately has happened with large size of our nation is the phenomenon of ‘statism’. Delhi gobbles up lot of collected funds and then disburses them back with little accountability and lot of siphoning off happening in the process. I believe, most of the funds collected from a locality should directly go to the local authorities, with the Center having little say in how to use them. But of course, such issues would be sort of out of the ‘scope’ of present post, which was more of an emotional outburst against people’s stupidity and hypocrisy. 🙂

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

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