Picture a beautiful mosaic with each unique tile adding a new dimension to the masterpiece. A mosaic requires heterogeneous features. For without the dissimilarity, one could not label it a mosaic. The diversity is exactly what unites it. The same is true for India. India is home to a pluricultural civilization whose polity is organized around the founding belief of unity in diversity.
A quick look at a map reveals some of the basic geographic differences that represent India’s overall uniqueness. There are 28 states, 6 union territories, and the national capital territory. Within and across these state and territory boarders, people of numerous ethnicities, cultures, customs, foods, architecture, festivals, medicinal practices, religions, and languages flourish.
According to the 2001 census, 80.5% of the population is Hindu, 13.4% is Muslim, 2.3% is Christian, 1.9% is Sikh, 0.8% is Buddhist, and 0.4% is Jain. In addition, there are 18 official languages, and over 16,000 dialects across the country.
Here are some examples of of the religious diversity I have experienced in India.
Diversity is everywhere, yet India stays united. This paradox raises many questions. People have been left wondering if India is a country or a continent because of all of its multicultural elements. The world is baffled at how India remains a nation. Although conflicts inevitably arise, India stands united amidst diversity due to the idea of nationalism, Indian traditional philosophy, and state governance. These three factors allow India to remain a cohesive whole.
India’s history and strong nationalism promote unity within the country. Outside powers have been invading India for centuries. When the British came, they were following in the footsteps of the previous empires that ruled over the land. The years of constant oppression brought Indians together. Through Gandhi’s nationalism and focus on non-violent non-cooperation, the country gained independence in 1947. During fear and oppression, people generally come together to fight a greater enemy. Indians saw past their diversity and united as a nation to overcome the British Raj. People felt free to have their own identity, but a piece of that identity included being Indian.
“Nationalism is greater than sectarianism. And in that sense, we are Indians first and Hindus, Musalmans, Parsis and Christians after.”- Gandhi
India’s history has left a nationalistic taste in Indian society, and even though Gandhi’s principals are not always followed, people still hold his values dearly. He is on most banknotes, and one can see quotations about unity and tolerance in most public spaces. Though divisions arise, the ideology of nationalism that Gandhi instilled in the Indian people remains part of society and is one of the reasons India continues to stand united.
Traditional Indian philosophy forms the framework of values that each Indian holds. Though these principals can be tied to religion, each individual has a different motivation for upholding these values. Chakravarti Rajgopalachari, an Indian politician and independence activist, argued that all good that is left in India is “due to whatever remains of the old faith and the old culture,” which is rooted in tolerance and unity. Traditional Indian philosophy stems from Hinduism and strives to co-exist with different sections of society. “The principals of Varna, Dharma, and Karma have contributed to the growth of Indian society as a whole in a systematic way.” Hinduism is an individualistic religion in practice. People worship different gods in different ways depending on what region of India you are in. People are free to worship and pray in the ways they desire as little or as often as they feel. Even though not every Indian is Hindu, the philosophy and traditions are familiar to every individual. Hinduism emphasizes human diversity, but it also focuses on the paradox, in which we are all the same because we are human. Indian philosophical traditions that stem from Hinduism remain tenants of Indian ideology that unite people despite heterogeneity.
Indian states and territories have power of their own, much more power than the states in the US. Each state has its own local language, culture, food, etc.
“The political structures of the constituent states share basic legal and institutional features, with some elements of asymmetry devised to protect fragile diversity.”
The Indian government, when acting properly, allows the states to regulate themselves. Each state can govern itself the way in which fits best for its people. An example of this is the drinking age. The legal age varies from state to state, with some regions allowing eighteen year-olds to drink, others forcing people to wait until twenty-five, and still others banning alcohol all together. Because of the individuality of the states, just like the individuality within nationalism and traditional Indian philosophy, the country stays in tact. India is the farthest thing from homogenous, but the recognition of and freedom to be diverse, especially in state governance, continues to hold India together.
While India remains an enduring nation, there have been many instances where it is not united. The most well known instance is India’s feud with Pakistan. The national divide due to religious differences has cause many problems between the countries and within India itself. India still runs into issues today that deal with religious, educational, ideological, ethnical, environmental, and political disagreements. Some current disorderliness has been due to the national beef ban and arguments about national testing.
In conclusion, although India struggles balancing its diversity, it still stands united. The acceptance of the diversity is what keeps the country alive; when one power discriminates against the rest is when problems surface. The ideological individualism that can be seen in nationalism, religion, and government allow all Indians to add to the mosaic that makes the country so elaborate.