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Mind the diversity

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It’s inherent to our nation’s character and defiling it will be counterproductive

Multiculturalism is part of the Indian society and any attempt to monochrome it will be self-defeating. It was on display recently in Kerala through two opposing developments — a ‘Modifest’ and many beef-eating festivals. One represented the illustration of a report card for development and the other the right to assert a personal choice.

Humans are an interesting species whose history is defined by greed in gaining and maintaining control over resources and sustaining power. Cultural identity has been a central tool in this. A cultural identity is a phenomenon which, among other things, comprises choices by individuals and communities that define aspects like religion, ethnicity and personal habits. However, these identities have also been repeatedly used by the power elite to serve their own interests.

Manipulation and politicisation of cultural symbols relating to these identities has resulted in chaos and destruction. The most glaring example relates to the debasement of the symbol of swastika — in its uncorrupted form a metaphor for the Sun representing time, good health, and positive energy.

Across the world, markers of cultural identity have aided individuals and communities in comprehending their interests, and forming a perception of themselves and that of the ‘other’. They remain a device for empowerment and influence as much as they are potent seeds to generate conflict.

An organic phenomenon

While in other countries such as Canada, multiculturalism is a recent phenomenon resulting from migration, in India it is organic and part of our DNA. Any kind of action to tamper with the idea of diversity will only result in conflicts and resistance, and will impede the country’s economic development, which characterises the aspiration of all Indians today.

Handling cultural diversity is a complex process. Seeing and projecting the country as a unidimensional monolith may seem to be an easy way out but will be both fruitless and counterproductive, hindering our peaceful and sustainable development. Diversity is also existent in the very idea of free markets, especially in the mental make-up of the youth of the country whose aspirations and impatience to ‘acquire’ socio-economic upward mobility is defined by their sense of entitlement to have multiple choices in what they eat, wear and believe in. The ambition and expectations of Indians are heightened by the multiple choices available and accessed through information technology.

The surge in confidence in individuals and communities in today’s India has resulted in a reinvention of identities and helped them express resistance to the emergent nationalism in innovative forms. Their expressions not just make us aware of the multicultural character of our country but also show that attempts to monochrome its composition will be a failure.

Navina Jafa is vice-president of the Centre for New Perspectives, a think tank on traditional knowledge skills and sustainable development

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2020 4:48:15 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/mind-the-diversity/article18718836.ece

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