NCERT Class XII Sociology: Chapter  6 – The Challenges of Cultural Diversity

National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) Book for Class XII
Subject: Sociology (Indian Society)
Chapter: Chapter  6 – The Challenges of Cultural Diversity

Class XII NCERT Sociology (Indian Society) Text Book Chapter  6  The Challenges of Cultural Diversity is given below

Different kinds of social institutions, ranging from the family to the market,can bring people together, create strong collective identities and strengthensocial cohesion, as you learnt in Chapters 3 and 4. But, on the other hand, asChapters 4 and 5 showed, the very same institutions can also be sources ofinequality and exclusion. In this chapter, you will learn about some of thetensions and difficulties associated with cultural diversity. What precisely does‘cultural diversity’ mean, and why is it seen as a challenge?

The term ‘diversity’ emphasises differences rather than inequalities. Whenwe say that India is a nation of great cultural diversity, we mean that there aremany different types of social groups and communities living here. These arecommunities defined by cultural markers such as language, religion, sect, raceor caste. When these diverse communities are also part of a larger entity like anation, then difficulties may be created by competition or conflict between them.

This is why cultural diversity can present tough challenges. The difficultiesarise from the fact that cultural identities are very powerful – they can arouseintense passions and are often able to moblise large numbers of people.Sometimes cultural differences are accompanied by economic and socialinequalities, and this further complicates things. Measures to address theinequalities or injustices suffered by one community can provoke oppositionfrom other communities. The situation is made worse when scarce resources –like river waters, jobs or government funds – have to be shared.

If you read the newspapers regularly, or watch the news on television, youmay often have had the depressing feeling that India has no future. Thereseem to be so many divisive forces hard at work tearing apart the unity andintegrity of our country – communal riots, demands for regional autonomy,caste wars… You might have even felt upset that large sections of our populationare not being patriotic and don’t seem to feel as intensely for India as you andyour classmates do. But if you look at any book dealing with the history ofmodern India, or books dealing specifically with issues like communalism orregionalism (for example, Brass 1974), you will realise that these problems arenot new ones. Almost all the major ‘divisive’ problems of today have been thereever since Independence, or even earlier. But in spite of them India has notonly survived as a nation, but is a stronger nation-state today.

As you prepare to read on, remember that this chapter deals with difficultissues for which there are no easy answers. But some answers are better thanothers, and it is our duty as citizens to try our utmost to produce the bestanswers that are possible within the limitations of our historical and socialcontext. Remember also that, given the immense challenges presented by avast and extremely diverse collection of peoples and cultures, India has on thewhole done fairly well compared to most other nations. On the other hand, wealso have some significant shortcomings. There is a lot of room for improvementand much work needs to be done in order to face the challenges of the future …

CULTURAL COMMUNITIES AND THE NATION-STATE

Before discussing the major challenges that diversity poses in India – issuessuch as regionalism, communalism and casteism – we need to understand therelationship between nation-states and cultural communities. Why is it soimportant for people to belong to communities based on cultural identities likea caste, ethnic group, region, or religion? Why is so much passion arousedwhen there is a perceived threat, insult, or injustice to one’s community? Whydo these passions pose problems for the nation-state?

THE IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNITY IDENTITY

Every human being needs a sense of stable identity to operate in this world.Questions like — Who am I? How am I different from others? How do othersunderstand and comprehend me? What goals and aspirations should I have?– constantly crop up in our life right from childhood. We are able to answermany of these questions because of the way in which we are socialised, ortaught how to live in society by our immediate families and our community invarious senses. (Recall the discussion of socialisation in your Class XI textbooks.)The socialisation process involves a continuous dialogue, negotiation and evenstruggle against significant others (those directly involved in our lives) like ourparents, family, kin group and our community. Our community provides usthe language (our mother tongue) and the cultural values through which wecomprehend the world. It also anchors our self-identity.

Community identity is based on birth and ‘belonging’ rather than on someform of acquired qualifications or ‘accomplishment’. It is what we ‘are’ ratherthan what we have ‘become’. We don’t have to do anything to be born into acommunity – in fact, no one has any choice about which family or communityor country they are born into. These kinds of identities are called ‘ascriptive’ –that is, they are determined by the accidents of birth and do not involve anychoice on the part of the individuals concerned. It is an odd fact of social lifethat people feel a deep sense of security and satisfaction in belonging tocommunities in which their membership is entirely accidental. We often identifyso strongly with communities we have done nothing to ‘deserve’ – passed noexam, demonstrated no skill or competence… This is very unlike belonging to,say, a profession or team. Doctors or architects have to pass exams anddemonstrate their competence. Even in sports, a certain level of skill andperformance are a necessary pre-condition for membership in a team. But ourmembership in our families or religious or regional communities is withoutpreconditions, and yet it is total. In fact, most ascriptive identities are very hardto shake off; even if we choose to disown them, others may continue to identifyus by those very markers of belonging.

Perhaps it is because of this accidental, unconditional and yet almostinescapable belonging that we can often be so emotionally attached to our community identity. Expanding and overlapping circles of community ties(family, kinship, caste, ethnicity, language, region or religion) give meaning toour world and give us a sense of identity, of who we are. That is why peopleoften react emotionally or even violently whenever there is a perceived threat totheir community identity.

ACTIVITY 6.1

To get a clearer understanding of the expanding circles of community ties which shape oursense of identity, you can do a small survey designed as a game. Interview your schoolmates or other friends: each interviewee gets four chances to answer each of two questions:‘Who am I?’ and ‘Who do others think I am?’. But the answers must be in a single word orshort phrase; they cannot include any names (your own or your parents’/guardians’ names;cannot include your class/school, etc.). Interviews must be done singly and in private,i.e., other potential interviewees should not be able to hear what is said. Each person shouldonly be interviewed once (i.e., different interviewers cannot interview the same person).You can record the answers and analyse them later. Which types of identities predominated?What was the most common first choice? Which was often the last choice? Were thereany patterns to the answers? Did the answers for ‘who am I’ differ greatly, somewhat, or notat all from answers to ‘who do others think I am’?

A second feature of ascriptive identities and community feeling is that theyare universal. Everyone has a motherland, a mother tongue, a family, a faith…This may not necessarily be strictly true of every individual, but it is true in ageneral sense. And we are all equally committed and loyal to our respectiveidentities. Once again it is possible to come across people who may not beparticularly committed to one or the other aspect of their identity. But thepossibility of this commitment is potentially available to most people. Becauseof this, conflicts that involve our communities (whether of nation, language,religion, caste or region) are very hard to deal with. Each side in the conflictthinks of the other side as a hated enemy, and there is a tendency to exaggeratethe virtues of one’s own side as well as the vices of the other side. Thus, whentwo nations are at war, patriots in each nation see the other as the enemyaggressor; each side believes that God and truth are on their side. In the heatof the moment, it is very hard for people on either side to see that they areconstructing matching but reversed mirror images of each other.

It is a social fact that no country or group ever mobilises its members tostruggle for untruth, injustice or inequality – everyone is always fighting for truth,justice, equality… This does not mean that both sides are right in every conflict,or that there is no right and wrong, no truth. Sometimes both sides are indeedequally wrong or right; at other times history may judge one side to be the aggressorand the other to be the victim. But this can only happen long after the heat of theconflict has cooled down. Some notion of mutually agreed upon truth is veryhard to establish in situations of identity conflict; it usually takes decades,sometimes centuries for one side to accept that it was wrong (See Box 6.1).

When ‘Victors’ Apologise

It is not uncommon for the losing side in a war to be forced to apologise for the badthings that it did. It is only rarely that the winners accept that they were guilty ofwrong doing. However, in recent times there have been many such examples from aroundthe world. Nations or communities that were on the ‘winning’ side, or that are still in a dominantposition, are beginning to accept that they have been responsible for grave injustices in thepast and are seeking to apologise to the affected communities.

In Australia, there has been a long debate on an official apology from the Australian nation(where the majority of the population today is of white-European origin) to the descendants ofthe native peoples who were the original inhabitants of the forcibly colonised land. Most stategovernments in Australia have passed some variant of the following apology resolution:

We, the peoples of Australia, of many origins as we are, make a commitment to goon together in a spirit of reconciliation. We value the unique status of Aboriginaland Torres Strait Islander peoples as the original owners and custodians of landsand waters.

We recognise this land and its waters were settled as colonies without treaty orconsent. […] Our nation must have the courage to own the truth, to heal the woundsof its past so that we can move on together at peace with ourselves. As we walkthe journey of healing, one part of the nation apologises and expresses its sorrowand sincere regret for the injustices of the past, so the other part accepts theapologies and forgives. […] And so, we pledge ourselves to stop injustice, overcomedisadvantage, and respect that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples havethe right to self-determination within the life of the nation.

In the United States of America there has been a longstanding debate about apologies tothe Native American community (the original inhabitants of the land driven out by war) andto the Black community (brought as slaves from Africa). No consensus has been reached yet.

In Japan, official policy has long recognised the need to apologise for the atrocities of warand colonisation during the periods when Japan occupied parts of East Asia including Koreaand parts of China. The most recent apology is from a 15th August 2005 speech by PrimeMinister Junichiro Koizumi:

In the past, Japan, through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendousdamage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those ofAsian nations. Sincerely facing these facts of history, I once again express my feelingsof deep remorse and heartfelt apology, and also express the feelings of mourningfor all victims, both at home and abroad, in the war. I am determined not to allowthe lessons of that horrible war to erode, and to contribute to the peace andprosperity of the world without ever again waging a war.

Similar debates have gone on in South Africa, where a white minority was in power and brutallyoppressed the black majority consisting of the native population. In Britain as well, there hasbeen public discussion on whether the nation should apologise for its role in colonialism, or inpromoting slavery. Interestingly, the latter issue has also been taken up by cities – for example,the port city of Bristol debated whether the city council should pass a resolution apologisingfor the role that Bristol played in the slave trade.

ACTIVITY 6.2

Read Box 6.1 carefully. What purpose do you think such apologies serve? After all, theactual victims and the actual exploiters or oppressors may be long dead – they cannot becompensated or punished. Then for whom and for what reason are such apologies offeredor debated?

Can you think of other examples where anonymous ordinary people (i.e., people who arenot famous or powerful) who are no longer living are remembered, celebrated or honouredin a public way? What purpose is served by memorials and monuments like, for example,the India Gate monument in Delhi? (To whom is this monument dedicated? If you don’tknow, try to find out.)

Think about the kind of apology mentioned in Box 6.1 in the Indian context. If you wereasked to propose such a thing, which groups or communities do you think we as a nationshould ‘apologise’ to? Discuss this in class and try to reach a consensus. What are thearguments and counter-arguments given for various candidate groups? Did your opinion on such ‘apologies’ change after the class discussion?

COMMUNITIES, NATIONS AND NATION-STATES

At the simplest level, a nation is a sort of large-scale community – it is acommunity of communities. Members of a nation share the desire to be part ofthe same political collectivity. This desire for political unity usually expressesitself as the aspiration to form a state. In its most general sense, the term staterefers to an abstract entity consisting of a set of political-legal institutionsclaiming control over a particular geographical territory and the people living init. In Max Weber’s well-known definition, a state is a “body that successfullyclaims a monopoly of legitimate force in a particular territory” (Weber 1970:78).

A nation is a peculiar sort of community that is easy to describe but hard todefine. We know and can describe many specific nations founded on the basisof common cultural, historical and political institutions like a shared religion,language, ethnicity, history or regional culture. But it is hard to come up withany defining features, any characteristics that a nation must possess. For everypossible criterion there are exceptions and counter-examples. For example,there are many nations that do not share a single common language, religion,ethnicity and so on. On the other hand, there are many languages, religions orethnicities that are shared across nations. But this does not lead to the formationof a single unified nation of, say, all English speakers or of all Buddhists.

How, then, can we distinguish a nation from other kinds of communities,such as an ethnic group (based on common descent in addition to othercommonalities of language or culture), a religious community, or a regionally-defined community? Conceptually, there seems to be no hard distinction – anyof the other types of community can one day form a nation. Conversely, noparticular kind of community can be guaranteed to form a nation.

ACTIVITY 6.3

aspiringIs it really true that there is no characteristic that is common to each and every nation?Discuss this in class. Try to make a list of possible criteria or characteristics that could definea nation. For each such criterion, make a list of examples of nations that meet the criterion,and also a list of nations that violate it.In case you came up with the criterion that every nation must possess a territory in the formof a continuous geographical area, consider the cases mentioned below. [Locate eachcountry or region on a world map; you will also need to do a little bit of prior research oneach case… ]

  • Alaska and the United States of America
  • Pakistan before 1971 (West Pakistan + East Pakistan)
  • Malvinas/Falkland Islands and the United Kingdom
  • Austria and Germany
  • Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela
  • Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates

[Hint: The first three cases are examples of geographically distant territories belonging tothe same nation; the last three cases are examples of countries with contiguous territory,shared language and culture but separate nation-states.]Can you add to this list of examples?

The criterion that comes closest to distinguishing a nation is the state. Unlikethe other kinds of communities mentioned before, nations are communitiesthat have a state of their own. That is why the two are joined with a hyphen toform the term nation-state. Generally speaking, in recent times there has been aone-to-one bond between nation and state (one nation, one state; one state, onenation). But this is a new development. It was not true in the past that a singlestate could represent only one nation, or that every nation must have its ownstate. For example, when it was in existence, the Soviet Union explicitly recognisedthat the peoples it governed were of different ‘nations’ and more than one hundredsuch internal nationalities were recognised. Similarly, people constituting a nationmay actually be citizens or residents of different states. For example, there aremore Jamaicans living outside Jamaica than in Jamaica – that is, the populationof ‘non-resident’ Jamaicans exceeds that of ‘resident’ Jamaicans. A differentexample is provided by ‘dual citizenship’ laws. These laws allow citizens of aparticular state to also – simultaneously – be citizens of another state. Thus, tocite one instance, Jewish Americans may be citizens of Israel as well as the USA;they can even serve in the armed forces of one country without losing theircitizenship in the other country.

In short, today it is hard to define a nation in any way other than to say thatit is a community that has succeeded in acquiring a state of its own. Interestingly,the opposite has also become increasingly true. Just as would-be or aspiringIs NCERT Class XII Sociology Chapter 6 - The Challenges of Cultural Diversity

nationalities are now more andmore likely to work towards forminga state, existing states are alsofinding it more and more necessaryto claim that they represent anation. One of the characteristicfeatures of the modern era (recallthe discussion of modernity fromChapter 4 of your Class XI textbook,Understanding Society) is theestablishment of democracy andnationalism as dominant sources ofpolitical legitimacy. This meansthat, today, ‘the nation’ is the mostaccepted or proper justification fora state, while ‘the people’ are theultimate source of legitimacy of the nation. In other words, states ‘need’ thenation as much or even more than nations need states.

But as we have seen in the preceding paragraphs, there is no historicallyfixed or logically necessary relationship between a nation-state and the variedforms of community that it could be based on. This means that there is nopre-determined answer to the question: How should the ‘state’ part of thenation-state treat the different kinds of community that make up the ‘nation’part? As is shown in Box 6.2 (which is based on the United Nations DevelopmentProgram (UNDP) report of 2004 on Culture and Democracy), most states havegenerally been suspicious of cultural diversity and have tried to reduce oreliminate it. However, there are many successful examples – including India –which show that it is perfectly possible to have a strong nation-state without havingto ‘homogenise’ different types of community identities into one standard type.

Threatened by community identities, states try to eliminatecultural diversity

Historically, states have tried to establish and enhance their political legitimacy throughnation-building strategies. They sought to secure … the loyalty and obedience oftheir citizens through policies of assimilation or integration. Attaining these objectiveswas not easy, especially in a context of cultural diversity where citizens, in addition totheir identifications with their country, might also feel a strong sense of identity withtheir community – ethnic, religious, linguistic and so on.Most states feared that the recognition of such difference would lead to socialfragmentation and prevent the creation of a harmonious society. In short, suchidentity politics was considered a threat to state unity. In addition, accommodatingthese differences is politically challenging, so many states have resorted to eithersuppressing these diverse identities or ignoring them on the political domain.

Policies of assimilation – often involving outright suppression of the identities of ethnic,religious or linguistic groups – try to erode the cultural differences between groups.Policies of integration seek to assert a single national identity by attempting to eliminateethno-national and cultural differences from the public and political arena, whileallowing them in the private domain. Both sets of policies assume a singular nationalidentity.

Assimilationist and integrationist strategies try to establish singular national identitiesthrough various interventions like:

  • Centralising all power to forums where the dominant group constitutes a majority,and eliminating the autonomy of local or minority groups;
  • Imposing a unified legal and judicial system based on the dominant group’straditions and abolishing alternative systems used by other groups;
  • Adopting the dominant group’s language as the only official ‘national’ languageand making its use mandatory in all public institutions;
  • Promotion of the dominant group’s language and culture through nationalinstitutions including state-controlled media and educational institutions;
  • Adoption of state symbols celebrating the dominant group’s history, heroes andculture, reflected in such things as choice of national holidays or naming of streetsetc.;
  • Seizure of lands, forests and fisheries from minority groups and indigenous peopleand declaring them ‘national resources’…

Box 6.2 speaks of ‘assimilationist’ and ‘integrationist’ policies. Policies thatpromote assimilation are aimed at persuading, encouraging or forcing all citizensto adopt a uniform set of cultural values and norms. These values and normsare usually entirely or largely those of the dominant social group. Other,non-dominant or subordinated groups in society are expected or required to giveup their own cultural values and adopt the prescribed ones. Policies promotingintegration are different in style but not in overall objective: they insist that thepublic culture be restricted to a common national pattern, while all ‘non-national’cultures are to be relegated to the private sphere. In this case too, there is thedanger of the dominant group’s culture being treated as ‘national’ culture.

You can probably see what the problem is by now. There is no necessaryrelationship between any specific form of community and the modern form ofthe state. Any of the many bases of community identity (like language, religion,ethnicity and so on) may or may not lead to nation formation – there are noguarantees. But because community identities can act as the basis fornation-formation, already existing states see all forms of community identityas dangerous rivals. That is why states generally tend to favour a single,homogenous national identity, in the hope of being able to control and manageit. However, suppressing cultural diversity can be very costly in terms of thePolicies alienation of the minority or subordinated communities whose culture is treatedas ‘non-national’. Moreover, the very act of suppression can provoke theopposite effect of intensifying community identity. So encouraging, or at leastallowing, cultural diversity is good policy from both the practical and theprincipled point of view.

CULTURAL DIVERSITY AND THE INDIAN NATION-STATE – AN OVERVIEW

The Indian nation-state is socially and culturally one of the most diversecountries of the world. It has a population of about 1029 million people,currently the second largest – and soon to become the largest – nationalpopulation in the world. These billion-plus people speak about 1,632 differentlanguages and dialects. As many as eighteeen of these languages have beenofficially recognised and placed under the 8th Schedule of the Constitution,thus guaranteeing their legal status. In terms of religion, about 80.5% of thepopulation are Hindus, who in turn are regionally specific, plural in beliefsand practices, and divided by castes and languages. About 13.4% of thepopulation are Muslims, which makes India the world’s third largest Muslimcountry after Indonesia and Pakistan. The other major religious communitiesare Christians (2.3%), Sikhs (1.9%), Buddhists (0.8%) and Jains (0.4%).Because of India’s huge population, these small percentages can also add upto large absolute numbers.

In terms of the nation-state’s relationship with community identities, theIndian case fits neither the assimilationist nor the integrationist model describedin Box 6.2. From its very beginning the independent Indian state has ruledout an assimilationist model. However, the demand for such a model hasbeen expressed by some sections of the dominant Hindu community. Although‘national integration’ is a constant theme in state policy, India has not been‘integrationist’ in the way that Box 6.2 describes. The Constitution declaresthe state to be a secular state, but religion, language and other such factorsare not banished from the public sphere. In fact these communities have beenexplicitly recognised by the state. By international standards, very strongconstitutional protection is offered to minority religions. In general, India’sproblems have been more in the sphere of implementation and practice ratherthan laws or principles. But on the whole, India can be considered a goodexample of a ‘state-nation’ though it is not entirely free from the problemscommon to nation-states.

National unity with cultural diversity – Building a democratic “state-nation’’

An alternative to the nation-state, then, is the “state nation”, where various“nations”— be they ethnic, religious, linguistic or indigenous identities— can co-exist peacefully and cooperatively in a single state polity. Case studies and analyses demonstrate that enduring democracies can beestablished in polities that are multicultural. Explicit efforts are required to end theBOX

cultural exclusion of diverse groups … and to build multiple and complementaryidentities. Such responsive policies provide incentives to build a feeling of unity in diversity— a “we” feeling. Citizens can find the institutional and political space to identify withboth their country and their other cultural identities, to build their trust in commoninstitutions and to participate in and support democratic politics. All of these are keyfactors in consolidating and deepening democracies and building enduring “state-nations”.

India’s constitution incorporates this notion. Although India is culturally diverse,comparative surveys of long-standing democracies including India show that it hasbeen very cohesive, despite its diversity. But modern India is facing a grave challengeto its constitutional commitment to multiple and complementary identities with the riseof groups that seek to impose a singular Hindu identity on the country. These threatsundermine the sense of inclusion and violate the rights of minorities in India today.Recent communal violence raises serious concerns for the prospects for social harmonyand threatens to undermine the country’s earlier achievements.

And these achievements have been considerable. Historically, India’s constitutionaldesign recognised and responded to distinct group claims and enabled the polity tohold together despite enormous regional, linguistic and cultural diversity. As evidentfrom India’s performance on indicators of identification, trust and support (Chart 1), itscitizens are deeply committed to the country and to democracy, despite the country’sdiverse and highly stratified society. This performance is particularly impressive whencompared with that of other long-standing—and wealthier—democracies.

The challenge is in reinvigorating India’s commitment to practices of pluralism,institutional accommodation and conflict resolution through democratic means. Criticalfor building a multicultural democracy is a recognition of the shortcomings of historicalnation-building exercises and of the benefits of multiple and complementary identities.Also important are efforts to build the loyalties of all groups in society throughidentification, trust and support. National cohesion does not require the imposition of asingle identity and the denunciation of diversity. Successful strategies to build “state-nations” can and do accommodate diversity constructively by crafting responsivepolicies of cultural recognition. They are effective solutions for ensuring the longer termsobjectives of political stability and social harmony.

NCERT Class XII Sociology Chapter 6 - The Challenges of Cultural Diversity

NCERT Class XII Sociology Chapter 6 - The Challenges of Cultural Diversity

REGIONALISM IN THE INDIAN CONTEXT

Regionalism in India is rooted in India’s diversity of languages, cultures, tribes,and religions. It is also encouraged by the geographical concentration of theseidentity markers in particular regions, and fuelled by a sense of regionaldeprivation. Indian federalism has been a means of accommodating theseregional sentiments. (Bhattacharyya 2005).

After Independence, initially the Indian state continued with theBritish-Indian arrangement dividing India into large provinces, also called‘presidencies’. (Madras, Bombay, and Calcutta were the three major presidencies;incidentally, all three cities after which the presidencies were named have changedtheir names recently). These were large multi-ethnic and multilingual provincialstates constituting the major political-administrative units of a semi-federal state

NCERT Class XII Sociology Chapter 6 - The Challenges of Cultural Diversity

called the Union of India. For example, the old Bombay State (continuation ofthe Bombay Presidency) was a multilingual state of Marathi, Gujarati, Kannadaand Konkani speaking people. Similarly, the Madras State was constituted byTamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam speaking people. In addition to thepresidencies and provinces directly administered by the British Indiangovernment, there were also a large number of princely states and principalitiesall over India. The larger princely states included Mysore, Kashmir, and Baroda.But soon after the adoption of the Constitution, all these units of the colonialera had to be reorganised into ethno-linguistic States within the Indian unionin response to strong popular agitations. (See Box 6.4 on the next page).

Linguistic States Helped Strengthen Indian Unity

The Report of the States Reorganisation Commission (SRC) which wasimplemented on November 1, 1956, has helped transform the political andinstitutional life of the nation.

The background to the SRC is as follows. In the 1920s, the Indian National Congresswas reconstituted on lingusitic lines. Its provincial units now followed the logic oflanguage – one for Marathi speakers, another for Oriya speakers, etc. At the sametime, Gandhi and other leaders promised their followers that when freedom came,the new nation would be based on a new set of provinces based on the principle oflanguage.

However, when India was finally freed in 1947, it was also divided. Now, when theproponents of linguistic states asked for this promise to be redeemed, the Congresshesitated. Partition was the consequence of intense attachment to one’s faith; howmany more partitions would that other intense loyalty, language, lead to? So ran thethinking of the top Congress bosses including Nehru, Patel and Rajaji.

On the other side, the rank and file Congressmen were all for the redrawing of themap of India on the lines of language. Vigorous movements arose among Marathiand Kannada speakers, who were then spread across several different political regimes– the erstwhile Bombay and Madras presidencies, and former princely states such asMysore and Hyderabad. However, the most militant protests ensued from the verylarge community of Telugu speakers. In October 1953, Potti Sriramulu, a formerGandhian, died seven weeks after beginning a fast unto death. Potti Sriramulu’smartyrdom provoked violent protests and led to the creation of the state of AndhraPradesh. It also led to the formation of the SRC, which in 1956 put the formal, final sealof approval on the principle of linguistic states.

In the early 1950s, many including Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru feared thatstates based on language might hasten a further subdivision of India. In fact, somethinglike the reverse has happened. Far from undermining Indian unity, linguistic stateshave helped strengthen it. It has proved to be perfectly consistent to be Kannadigaand Indian, Bengali and Indian, Tamil and Indian, Gujarati and Indian…

To be sure, these states based on language sometimes quarrel with each other. Whilethese disputes are not pretty, they could in fact have been far worse. In the sameyear, 1956, that the SRC mandated the redrawing of the map of India on linguisticlines, the Parliament of Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was then known) proclaimed Sinhala thecountry’s sole official language despite protests from the Tamils of the north. Oneleft-wing Sinhala MP issued a prophetic warning to the chauvinists. “One language,two nations”, he said, adding: “Two languages, one nation”.

The civil war that has raged in Sri Lanka since 1983 is partly based on the denial by themajority linguistic group of the rights of the minority. Another of India’s neighbours,Pakistan, was divided in 1971 because the Punjabi and Urdu speakers of its westernwing would not respect the sentiments of the Bengalis in the east.

It is the formation of linguistic states that has allowed India to escape an even worsefate. If the aspirations of the Indian language communities had been ignored, whatwe might have had here was – “One language, fourteen or fifteen nations.”

Language coupled with regional and tribal identity – and not religion – hastherefore provided the most powerful instrument for the formation of ethno-national identity in India. However, this does not mean that all linguisticcommunities have got statehood. For instance, in the creation of three newstates in 2000, namely Chhatisgarh, Uttaranchal and Jharkhand, languagedid not play a prominent role. Rather, a combination of ethnicity based ontribal identity, language, regional deprivation and ecology provided the basisfor intense regionalism resulting in statehood. Currently there are 28 States(federal units) and 7 Union territories (centrally administered) within the Indiannation-state.

NOTE: In this chapter, the word “State” has a capital S when it is used to denotethe federal units within the Indian nation-state; the lower case ‘state’ is usedfor the broader conceptual category described above.

NCERT Class XII Sociology Chapter 6 - The Challenges of Cultural Diversity

ACTIVITY 6.4

Find out about the origins ofyour own State. When was itformed? What were themain criteria used to defineit? – Was it language, ethnic/tribal identity, regionaldeprivation, ecologicaldifference or other criterion?How does this compare withother States within the Indiannation-state?Try to classify all the States ofIndia in terms of the criteriafor their formation.Are you aware of anycurrent social movementsthat are demanding thecreation of a State? Try tofind out the criteria beingused by these movements.[Hint: Check the Telenganaand Vidarbha movements,and others in your region…]

Respecting regional sentiments is not just a matter ofcreating States: this has to be backed up with aninstitutional structure that ensures their viability asrelatively autonomous units within a larger federalstructure. In India this is done by Constitutionalprovisions defining the powers of the States and the Centre.There are lists of ‘subjects’ or areas of governance whichare the exclusive responsibility of either State or Centre,along with a ‘Concurrent List’ of areas where both areallowed to operate. The State legislatures determine thecomposition of the upper house of Parliament, the RajyaSabha. In addition there are periodic committees andcommissions that decide on Centre-State relations. Anexample is the Finance Commission which is set up everyten years to decide on sharing of tax revenues betweenCentre and States. Each Five Year Plan also involvesdetailed State Plans prepared by the State PlanningCommissions of each state.

 

 

On the whole the federal system has worked fairly well,though there remain many contentious issues. Since theera of liberalisation (i.e., since the 1990s) there is concernamong policy makers, politicians and scholars aboutincreasing inter-regional economic and infrastructuralinequalities. As private investment (both foreign and Indian)is given a greater role in economic development,considerations of regional equity get diluted. This happensbecause private investors generally want to invest in alreadydeveloped States where the infrastructure and other facilities are better. Unlikeprivate industry, the government can give some consideration to regional equity(and other social goals) rather than just seek to maximise profits. So left to itself,the market economy tends to increase the gap between developed and backwardregions. Fresh public initiatives will be needed to reverse current trends.

THE NATION-STATE AND RELIGION-RELATEDISSUES AND IDENTITIES

Perhaps the most contentious of all aspects of cultural diversity are issuesrelating to religious communities and religion-based identities. These issuesmay be broadly divided into two related groups – the secularism–communalismset and the minority–majority set. Questions of secularism and communalismare about the state’s relationship to religion and to political groupings thatinvoke religion as their primary identity. Questions about minorities andmajorities involve decisions on how the state is to treat different religious, ethnic
or other communities that are unequal in terms of numbers and/or power(including social, economic and political power).

MINORITY RIGHTS AND NATION BUILDING

In Indian nationalism, the dominant trend was marked by an inclusive anddemocratic vision. Inclusive because it recognised diversity and plurality.Democratic because it sought to do away with discrimination and exclusionand bring forth a just and equitable society. The term ‘people’ has not beenseen in exclusive terms, as referring to any specific group defined by religion,ethnicity, race or caste. Ideas of humanism influenced Indian nationalists andthe ugly aspects of exclusive nationalism were extensively commented upon byleading figures like Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore.

Rabindranath Tagore on the evils of exclusive nationalism

where the spirit of the Western nationalism prevails, the whole people isbeing taught from boyhood to foster hatreds and ambitions by all kinds ofmeans — by the manufacture of half-truths and untruths in history, by persistentmisrepresentation of other races and the culture of unfavourable sentiments towardsthem…Never think for a moment that the hurt you inflict upon other races will notinfect you, or that the enemities you sow around your homes will be a wall of protectionto you for all time to come? To imbue the minds of a whole people with an abnormalvanity of its own superiority, to teach it to take pride in its moral callousness and ill-begotten wealth, to perpetuate humiliation of defeated nations by exhibiting trophieswon from war, and using these schools in order to breed in children’s minds contemptfor others, is imitating the West where she has a festering sore…

To be effective, the ideas of inclusive nationalism had to be built into theConstitution. For, as already discussed (in section 6.1), there is a very strongtendency for the dominant group to assume that their culture or language orreligion is synonymous with the nation state. However, for a strong anddemocratic nation, special constitutional provisions are required to ensure therights of all groups and those of minority groups in particular. A brief discussionon the definition of minorities will enable us to appreciate the importance ofsafeguarding minority rights for a strong, united and democratic nation.

The notion of minority groups is widely used in sociology and is more thana merely numerical distinction – it usually involves some sense of relativedisadvantage. Thus, privileged minorities such as extremely wealthy peopleare not usually referred to as minorities; if they are, the term is qualified insome way, as in the phrase ‘privileged minority’. When minority is used withoutqualification, it generally implies a relatively small but also disadvantaged group.

NCERT Class XII Sociology Chapter 6 - The Challenges of Cultural Diversity

The sociological sense of minority alsoimplies that the members of the minorityform a collectivity – that is, they have astrong sense of group solidarity, a feeling oftogetherness and belonging. This is linkedto disadvantage because the experience ofbeing subjected to prejudice anddiscrimination usually heightens feelings ofintra-group loyalty and interests (Giddens2001:248). Thus, groups that may beminorities in a statistical sense, such aspeople who are left-handed or people bornon 29th February, are not minorities in the sociological sensebecause they do not form a collectivity.

However, it is possible to have anomalous instances where aminority group is disadvantaged in one sense but not in another.Thus, for example, religious minorities like the Parsis or Sikhsmay be relatively well-off economically. But they may still bedisadvantaged in a cultural sense because of their small numbersrelative to the overwhelming majority of Hindus. Religious orcultural minorities need special protection because of thedemographic dominance of the majority. In democratic politics, itis always possible to convert a numerical majority into politicalpower through elections. This means that religious or culturalminorities – regardless of their economic or social position – arepolitically vulnerable. They must face the risk that the majoritycommunity will capture political power and use the state machineryto suppress their religious or cultural institutions, ultimately forcingthem to abandon their distinctive identity.

Relative size and distribution of religious minorities

As is well known, Hindus constitute an overwhelming majority in India: theynumber about 828 millions and account for 80.5% of the total populationaccording to the 2001 Census. The Hindu population is four times larger than the combinedpopulation of all other minority religions, and about six times larger than the largest minoritygroup, the Muslims.However, this can also be misleading because Hindus are not a homogenous group andare divided by caste – as indeed are all the other major religions, albeit to different extents.The Muslims are by far the largest religious minority in India – they numbered 138 millionsand were 13.4% of the population in 2001. They are scattered all over the country,constitute a majority in Jammu and Kashmir and have sizeable pockets in West Bengal,Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Rajasthan.Christians constitute around 2.3% of the population (24 million) and are scattered allover, with sizeable pockets in the north eastern and southern states. The three Christian-majority states are all in the North East – Nagaland (90%), Mizoram (87%) andMeghalaya (70%). Sizeable proportions of Christians are also found in Goa (27%) andKerala (19%).The Sikhs constitute 1.9% of the population (19 million) and although they are foundscattered across the country, they are concentrated in Punjab where they are in amajority (60%).There are also several other small religious groups – Buddhists (8 million, 0.8%), Jains (4 million,0.4%), and ‘Other Religions and Persuasions’ (under 7 million, 0.7%). The highest proportionof Buddhists is found in Sikkim (28%) and Arunachal Pradesh (13%), while among the largerstates Maharashtra has the highest share of Buddhists at 6%. The highest concentrations ofJains are found in Maharashtra (1.3%), Rajasthan (1.2%) and Gujarat (1%).

In the long years of struggle against British colonialism, Indian nationalistsunderstood the imperative need to recognise and respect India’s diversity.Indeed ‘unity in diversity’ became a short hand to capture the plural and diversenature of Indian society. Discussions on minority and cultural rights markmany of the deliberations of the Indian National Congress and find finalexpression in the Indian Constitution (Zaidi 1984).

Dr. Ambedkar on protection of minorities

To diehards who have developed a kind of fanaticism against minorityprotection I would like to say two things. One is that minorities are an explosiveforce which, if it erupts, can blow up the whole fabric of the state. The history of Europebears ample and appalling testimony to this fact. The other is that the minorities inIndia have agreed to place their existence in the hands of the majority. In the historyof negotiations for preventing the partition of Ireland, Redmond said to Carson “Askfor any safeguard you like for the Protestant minority but let us have a United Ireland.”Carson’s reply was “Damn your safeguards, we don’t want to be ruled by you.” Nominority in India has taken this stand. [John Redmond, catholic majority leader; Sir Edward Carson, protestant minority leader]

NCERT Class XII Sociology Chapter 6 - The Challenges of Cultural Diversity

NCERT Class XII Sociology Chapter 6 - The Challenges of Cultural Diversity

The makers of the Indian Constitution were aware that astrong and united nation could be built only when all sectionsof people had the freedom to practice their religion, and todevelop their culture and language. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, thechief architect of the Constitution, made this point clear inthe Constituent Assembly, as shown in Box 6.7.

In the last three decades we have witnessed hownon-recognition of the rights of different groups of peoplein a country can have grave implications for national unity.One of key issues that led to the formation of Bangladeshwas the unwillingness of the Pakistani state to recognisethe cultural and linguistic rights of the people of Bangladesh.

 

 

The Indian Constitution on minorities and cultural diversityArticle 29:

(1) Any section of the citizens residing in the territory of India or any part thereofhaving a distinct language, script or culture of its own shall have the right to conservethe same.

(2) No citizen shall be denied admission into any educational institution maintainedby the State or received out of State funds on grounds only of religion, race, caste,language or any of them.

Article 30:

(1)All minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right toestablish and administer educational institutions of their choice.

(2)The State shall not, in granting aid to educational institutions, discriminateagainst any educational institution on the ground that it is under themanagement of a minority, whether based on religion or language.

ACTIVITY 6.5

There are many instances ofa ‘majority’ in one contextbeing converted into a‘minority’ in another context(or the other way around).Find out about concreteexamples of this, and discussthe implications.Remember that thesociological concept of aminority involves not justrelative numbers but alsorelative power.[Suggestions: Whites in SouthAfrica before and after theend of apartheid; Hindus inKashmir; Muslims in Gujarat;Upper castes among Hindus;Tribals in North Easternstates;]

One of the many contentious issues that formed thebackdrop of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka was theimposition of Sinhalese as a national language. Likewiseany forcible imposition of a language or religion on anygroup of people in India weakens national unity which isbased upon a recognition of differences. Indiannationalism recognises this, and the Indian Constitutionaffirms this (Box 6.8).

Finally, it is useful to note that minorities existeverywhere, not just in India. In most nation-states, theretend to be a dominant social group whether cultural,ethnic, racial or religious. Nowhere in the world is therea nation-state consisting exclusively of a singlehomogenous cultural group. Even where this was almosttrue (as in countries like Iceland, Sweden or South Korea),modern capitalism, colonialism and large scale migrationhave brought in a plurality of groups. Even the smalleststate will have minorities, whether in religious, ethnic,linguistic or racial terms.

COMMUNALISM, SECULARISM ANDTHE NATION-STATE

COMMUNALISM

NCERT Class XII Sociology Chapter 6 - The Challenges of Cultural Diversity

In everyday language, the word ‘communalism’ refers to aggressive chauvinismbased on religious identity. Chauvinism itself is an attitude that sees one’sown group as the only legitimate or worthy group, with other groups being seen– by definition – as inferior, illegitimate and opposed. Thus, to simplify further,communalism is an aggressive political ideology linked to religion. This is apeculiarly Indian, or perhaps South Asian, meaning that is different from thesense of the ordinary English word. In the English language, “communal” meanssomething related to a community or collectivity as different from an individual.The English meaning is neutral, whereas the South Asian meaning is stronglycharged. The charge may be seen as positive – if one is sympathetic tocommunalism – or negative, if one is opposed to it.

NCERT Class XII Sociology Chapter 6 - The Challenges of Cultural Diversity

It is important to emphasise that communalism is about politics,not about religion. Although communalists are intensely involved withreligion, there is in fact no necessary relationship between personalfaith and communalism. A communalist may or may not be a devoutperson, and devout believers may or may not be communalists. However,all communalists do believe in a political identity based on religion.The key factor is the attitude towards those who believe in other kindsof identities, including other religion-based identities. Communalistscultivate an aggressive political identity, and are prepared to condemnor attack everyone who does not share their identity.

One of the characteristic features of communalism is its claim thatreligious identity overrides everything else. Whether one is poor or rich,whatever one’s occupation, caste or political beliefs, it is religion alonethat counts. All Hindus are the same as are all Muslims, Sikhs and soon. This has the effect of constructing large and diverse groups assingular and homogenous. It is noteworthy that this is done for one’sown group as well as for others. This would obviously rule out thepossibility that Hindus, Muslims and Christians who belong to Kerala,for example, may have as much or more in common with each otherthan with their co-religionists from Kashmir, Gujarat or Nagaland. Italso denies the possibility that, for instance, landless agriculturallabourers (or industrialists) may have a lot in common even if theybelong to different religions and regions.

Communalism is an especially important issue in India because ithas been a recurrent source of tension and violence. During communalriots, people become faceless members of their respective communities.They are willing to kill, rape, and loot members of other communities inorder to redeem their pride, to protect their home turf. A commonlycited justification is to avenge the deaths or dishonour suffered by theirco-religionists elsewhere or even in the distant past. No region has beenwholly exempt from communal violence of one kind or another. Everyreligious community has faced this violence in greater or lesser degree, althoughthe proportionate impact is far more traumatic for minority communities. To theextent that governments can be held responsible for communal riots, nogovernment or ruling party can claim to be blameless in this regard. In fact, thetwo most traumatic contemporary instances of communal violence occurred undereach of the major political parties. The anti-Sikh riots of Delhi in 1984 took placeunder a Congress regime. The unprecedented scale and spread of anti-Muslimviolence in Gujarat in 2002 took place under a BJP government.

India has had a history of communal riots from pre-Independence times,often as a result of the divide-and-rule policy adopted by the colonial rulers.But colonialism did not invent inter-community conflicts – there is also a longhistory of pre-colonial conflicts – and it certainly cannot be blamed for post-Independence riots and killings. Indeed, if we wish to look for instances of

 

Kabir Das – A Lasting Symbol of Syncretic Traditions

The poems of Kabir, synthesising Hindu and Muslim devotion arecherished symbols of pluralism:Moko Kahan Dhundhe re Bande Where do you search for me?Mein To Tere Paas Mein I am with youNa Teerath Mein, Na Moorat Mein Not in pilgrimage, nor in iconsNa Ekant Niwas Mein Neither in solitudeNa Mandir Mein, Na Masjid Mein Not in temples, nor in mosquesNa Kabe Kailas Mein Neither in Kaaba nor in KailashMein To Tere Paas Mein Bande I am with you o manMein To Tere Paas Mein… I am with you …

ACTIVITY 6.6

6.9Talk to your parents and theelders in your family andcollect from them poems,songs, short stories whichhighlight issues such asreligious pluralism, syncretismor communal harmony.When you have collected allthis material and presentedthem in class, you may bepleasantly surprised to learnhow broad based ourtraditions of religious pluralismare, and how widely they areshared across differentlinguistic groups, regions andreligions.

religious, cultural, regional or ethnic conflict they can befound in almost every phase of our history. But we shouldnot forget that we also have a long tradition of religiouspluralism, ranging from peaceful co-existence to actualinter-mixing or syncretism. This syncretic heritage isclearly evident in the devotional songs and poetry of theBhakti and Sufi movements (Box 6.9). In short, historyprovides us with both good and bad examples; what wewish to learn from it is up to us.

SECULARISM

As we have seen above, the meanings of the terms communaland communalism are more or less clear, despite the bittercontroversies between supporters and opponents. Bycontrast, the terms ‘secular’ and ‘secularism’ are very hardto define clearly, although they are also equally controversial.In fact, secularism is among the most complex terms insocial and political theory. In the western context the mainsense of these terms has to do with the separation of churchand state. The separation of religious and political authoritymarked a major turning point in the social history of thewest. This separation was related to the process of “secularisation”, or theprogressive retreat of religion from public life, as it was converted from a mandatoryobligation to a voluntary personal practice. Secularisation in turn was related tothe arrival of modernity and the rise of science and rationality as alternatives toreligious ways of understanding the world.

The Indian meanings of secular and secularism include the western sensebut also involve others. The most common use of secular in everyday languageis as the opposite of communal. So, a secular person or state is one that doesnot favour any particular religion over others. Secularism in this sense is theopposite of religious chauvinism and it need not necessarily imply hostility toreligion as such. In terms of the state-religion relationship, this sense ofKabir secularism implies equal respect for all religions, rather than separation ordistancing. For example, the secular Indian state declares public holidays tomark the festivals of all religions.

One kind of difficulty is created by the tension between the western sense ofthe state maintaining a distance from all religions and the Indian sense of thestate giving equal respect to all religions. Supporters of each sense are upsetby whatever the state does to uphold the other sense. Should a secular stateprovide subsidies for the Haj pilgrimage, or manage the Tirupati-Tirumala templecomplex, or support pilgrimages to Himalayan holy places? Should all religiousholidays be abolished, leaving only Independence Day, Republic Day, GandhiJayanti and Ambedkar Jayanti for example? Should a secular state ban cowslaughter because cows are holy for a particular religion? If it does so, shouldit also ban pig slaughter because another religion prohibits the eating of pork?If Sikh soldiers in the army are allowed to have long hair and wear turbans,should Hindu soldiers also be allowed to shave their heads or Muslim soldiersallowed to have long beards? Questions of this sort lead to passionatedisagreements that are hard to settle.

Another set of complications is created by the tension between the Indianstate’s simultaneous commitment to secularism as well as the protection ofminorities. The protection of minorities requires that they be given specialconsideration in a context where the normal working of the political systemplaces them at a disadvantage vis-à-vis the majority community. But providingsuch protection immediately invites the accusation of favouritism or‘appeasement’ of minorities. Opponents argue that secularism of this sort isonly an excuse to favour the minorities in return for their votes or other kindsof support. Supporters argue that without such special protection, secularismcan turn into an excuse for imposing the majority community’s values andnorms on the minorities.

These kind of controversies become harder to solve when political partiesand social movements develop a vested interest in keeping them alive. In recenttimes, communalists of all religions have contributed to the deadlock. Theresurgence and newly acquired political power of the Hindu communalists hasadded a further dimension of complexity. Clearly a lot needs to be done toimprove our understanding of secularism as a principle and our practice of itas a policy. But despite everything, it is still true that India’s Constitution andlegal structure has proved to be reasonably effective in handling the problemscreated by various kinds of communalism.
The first generation of leaders of independent India (who happened to beoverwhelmingly Hindu and upper caste) chose to have a liberal, secular stategoverned by a democratic constitution. Accordingly, the ‘state’ was conceivedin culturally neutral terms, and the ‘nation’ was also conceived as an inclusiveterritorial-political community of all citizens. Nation building was viewed mainlyas a state-driven process of economic development and social transformation.

The expectation was that the universalisation of citizenship rights and theinduction of cultural pluralities into the democratic process of open andcompetitive politics would evolve new, civic equations among ethnic communities,and between them and the state (Sheth:1999). These expectations may nothave materialised in the manner expected. But ever since Independence, thepeople of India, through their direct political participation and election verdictshave repeatedly asserted their support for a secular Constitution and state.Their voices should count.

STATE AND CIVIL SOCIETY

You may have noticed that much of this chapter has been concerned with thestate. The state is indeed a very crucial institution when it comes to themanagement of cultural diversity in a nation. Although it claims to representthe nation, the state can also become somewhat independent of the nation andits people. To the extent that the state structure – the legislature, bureaucracy,judiciary, armed forces, police and other arms of the state – becomes insulatedfrom the people, it also has the potential of turning authoritarian. Anauthoritarian state is the opposite of a democratic state. It is a state in whichthe people have no voice and those in power are not accountable to anyone.Authoritarian states often limit or abolish civil liberties like freedom of speech,freedom of the press, freedom of political activity, right to protection fromwrongful use of authority, right to the due processes of the law, and so on.Apart from authoritarianism, there is also the possibility that state institutionsbecome unable or unwilling to respond to the needs of the people because ofcorruption, inefficiency, or lack of resources. In short, there are many reasonswhy a state may not be all that it should be. Non-state actors and institutionsbecome important in this context, for they can keep a watch on the state, protestagainst its injustices or supplement its efforts.

Civil society is the name given to the broad arena which lies beyond theprivate domain of the family, but outside the domain of both state and market.Civil society is the non-state and non-market part of the public domain in whichindividuals get together voluntarily to create institutions and organisations. It isthe sphere of active citizenship: here, individuals take up social issues, try toinfluence the state or make demands on it, pursue their collective interests orseek support for a variety of causes. It consists of voluntary associations,organisations or institutions formed by groups of citizens. It includes politicalparties, media institutions, trade unions, non-governmental organisations (NGOs),religious organisations, and other kinds of collective entities. The main criteriafor inclusion in civil society are that the organisation should not be state-controlled,and it should not be a purely commercial profit-making entity. Thus, Doordarshanis not part of civil society though private television channels are; a carmanufacturing company is not part of civil society but the trade unions to whichits workers belong are. Of course these criteria allow for a lot of grey areas. For example, a newspaper may be run like a purely commercial enterprise, or anNGO may be supported by government funds.

The Indian people had a brief experience of authoritarian rule during the‘Emergency’ enforced between June 1975 and January 1977. Parliament wassuspended and new laws were made directly by the government. Civil libertieswere revoked and a large number of politically active people were arrested andjailed without trial. Censorship was imposed on the media and governmentofficials could be dismissed without normal procedures. The government coercedlower level officials to implement its programmes and produce instant results.The most notorious was the forced sterilisation campaign in which large numbersdied due to surgical complications. When elections were held unexpectedly inearly 1977, the people voted overwhelmingly against the ruling Congress Party.

The Emergency shocked people into active participation and helped energisethe many civil society initiatives that emerged in the 1970s. This period saw theresurgence of a wide variety of social movements including the women’s,environmental, human rights and dalit movements. Today the activities of civilsociety organisations have an even wider range, including advocacy and lobbyingactivity with national and international agencies as well as active participation

NCERT Class XII Sociology Chapter 6 - The Challenges of Cultural Diversity

Forcing the State to Respond to the People:

The Right to Information Act

The Right to Information Act 2005 (Act No. 22/2005) is a law enacted by the Parliament of Indiagiving Indians (except those in the State ofJammu and Kashmir who have their own speciallaw) access to Government records. Under theterms of the Act, any person may requestinformation from a “public authority” (a body ofGovernment or instrumentality of State) which isexpected to reply expeditiously or within thirtydays. The Act also requires every public authorityto computerise their records for wide dissemination and to proactively publish certaincategories of information so that the citizens need minimum recourse to request forinformation formally.This law was passed by Parliament on 15 June 2005 and came into force on 13 October2005. Information disclosure in India was hitherto restricted by the Official Secrets Act1923 and various other special laws, which the new RTI Act now overrides.The Act specifies that citizens have a right to:

  • request any information (as defined)
  • take copies of documents
  • inspect documents, works and records
  • take certified samples of materials of work.
  • obtain information in form of printouts, diskettes, floppies, tapes, videocassettes or in any other electronic mode or through printouts.

ACTIVITY 6.9

Find out about the civilsociety organisations orNGOs that are active inyour neighbourhood.What sorts of issues dothey take up? Whatsort of people work inthem? How and towhat extent are theseorganisations differentfroma)governmentorganisations;b)commercialorganisations?

in various movements. The issues taken up are diverse, rangingfrom tribal struggles for land rights, devolution in urbangovernance, campaigns against rape and violence againstwomen, rehabilitation of those displaced by dams and otherdevelopmental projects, fishermen’s struggles againstmechanised fishing, rehabilitation of hawkers and pavementdwellers, campaigns against slum demolitions and for housingrights, primary education reform, distribution of land to dalits,and so on. Civil liberties organisations have been particularlyimportant in keeping a watch on the state and forcing it toobey the law. The media, too, has taken an increasingly activerole, specially its emergent visual and electronic segments.

Among the most significant recent initiatives is the campaignfor the Right to Information. Beginning with an agitation in ruralRajasthan for the release of information on government fundsspent on village development, this effort grew into a nation-widecampaign. Despite the resistance of the bureaucracy, thegovernment was forced to respond to the campaign and pass anew law formally acknowledging the citizens’ right to information(Box 6.10). Examples of this sort illustrate the crucial importance of civil societyin ensuring that the state is accountable to the nation and its people.

Questions

1.What is meant by cultural diversity? Why is India considered to be a verydiverse country?

2.What is community identity and how is it formed?

3.Why is it difficult to define the nation? How are nation and state related inmodern society?

4.Why are states often suspicious of cultural diversity?

5.What is regionalism? What factors is it usually based on?

6.In your opinion, has the linguistic reorganisation of states helped or harmedIndia?

7.What is a ‘minority’? Why do minorities need protection from the state?

8.What is communalism?

9.What are the different senses in which ‘secularism’ has been understoodin India?

10.What is the relevance of civil society organisations today?

REFERENCES

Bhargava, Rajeev. 1998. ‘What is Secularism for?’, in Bhargava, Rajeev. ed.Secularism and its Critic. Oxford University Press. New Delhi. Bhargava, Rajeev. 2005. Civil Society, Public Sphere and Citizenship. SagePublications. New Delhi. Bhattacharyya, Harihar. 2005. Federalism and Regionalism in India: InstitutionalStrategies and Political Accommodation of Identities. working paper No. 27, SouthAsia Institute, Dept of Political Science. University of Heidelberg.

Brass, Paul. 1974. Language, Religion and Politics in North India. Vikas PublishingHouse. Delhi. Chandra, Bipan. 1987. Communalism in Modern India. Vikas Publishing House. NewDelhi. Miller, David. 1995. On Nationality. Clarendon Press, Oxford. Sheth, D.L. 1999. ‘The Nations-State and Minority Rights’, in Sheth, D.L. andMahajan, Gurpreet. ed. Minority Identities and the Nation-State. Oxford UniversityPress. New Delhi.

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