Indian is a vast country and has a long history. Its society has evolved through the ages and has also been affected by foreign influences giving it extreme diversity and made unity amidst diversity a characteristic of the Indian society. However, to understand the process, we need to understand the meaning of diversity, unity and pluralism as well as their relevance to the Indian society
Unity amidst Diversity
In social context the meaning of diversity is more specific; it means collective differences among people, that is, those differences which mark off one group of people from another. These differences may be of any sort: biological, religious, linguistic etc.
On the basis of biological differences, for example, we have racial diversity. On the basis of religious differences, similarly, we have religious diversity. The term diversity is opposite of uniformity. Uniformity means similarity of some sort that characterizes a people. ‘So when there is something common to all the people, we say they show uniformity.
Uniformity is also a collective concept. When a group of people share a similar characteristic, be it language or religion or anything else, it shows uniformity in that respect. But when we have groups of people hailing from different races, religions and cultures, they represent diversity. Thus, diversity means variety.
However, diversity needs to be differentiated from fragmentation. Diversity means existence of differences in a whole. It does not mean separate parts. Fragmentation does not mean differences, it means different parts and in that situation each part would be a whole in itself. For all practical purposes it means variety of groups and cultures. We have such a variety in abundance in India. We have here a variety of races, of religions, of languages, of castes and of cultures. For the same reason India is known for its socio-cultural diversity.
Unity means integration. It is a social psychological condition. It connotes a sense of one-ness, a sense of we-ness. It stands for the bonds, which hold the members of a society together. There is a difference between unity and uniformity. Uniformity presupposes similarity, unity does not. Unity is of two types, first which may be born out of uniformity, and second which may arise despite differences.
In context of a society, pluralism can be seen in various aspects. It could be religious pluralism, cultural pluralism, linguistic pluralism or ethic pluralism or could be a combination of more than one kind. Thus pluralism can be said to be a diffusion of power among many special-interest groups, prevents any one group from gaining control of the government and using it to oppress the people.
Our pluralist society has many groups such as women, men, racial, ethnic groups as well as broad categories as the rich, middle class and poor. In such a scenario domination of political power by one group could lead to neglect of the others resulting in social tensions which may he harmful to society as well as the state.
Thus unity and diversity are the two states of the society and pluralism is the mechanism through which unity amidst diversity is achieved.
Inspite of diversities, Indian community shares certain bonds of unity.
The first bond of unity of India is found in its geo-political integration. India is known for its geographical unity marked by the Himalayas in the north and the oceans on the other sides. Politically India is now a sovereign state. The same constitution and same parliament govern every part of it. We share the same political culture marked by the norms of democracy and secularism.
Another source of unity of India lies in what is known as temple culture, which is reflected in the network of shrines and sacred places. From Badrinath and Kedarnath in the north to Rameshwaram in the south, Jagannath Puri in the east to Dwaraka in the west the religious shrines and holy rivers are spread throughout the length and breadth of the country.
As well as being an expression of religious sentiment, pilgrimage is also an expression of love for the motherland, a sort of mode of worship of the country. It has acted as an antithesis to the regional diversity and has played a significant part in promoting interaction and cultural affinity among the people living in different parts of India.
Indian culture, has a remarkable quality of accommodation and tolerance. There is ample evidence of it. The first evidence of it lies in the elastic character of Hinduism, the majority religion of India. It is common knowledge that Hinduism is not a homogeneous religion, that is, a religion having one God, one Book and one Temple. Indeed, it can be best described as a federation of faiths. Polytheistic (having multiple deities) in character, it goes to the extent of accommodating village level deities and tribal faiths.
For the same reason, sociologists have distinguished two broad forms of Hinduism:
sanskritic and popular.
Sanskritic is that which is found in the texts (religious books like Vedas, etc.) and
popular is that which is found in the actual life situation of the vast masses.
In a sense, each caste was a functional group in that it rendered a specified service to other caste groups. Furthermore, castes cut across the boundaries of religious communities. We have earlier mentioned that notions of caste are found in all the religious communities in India.
Caste is the most important social concept in the Indian society. It has continued since thousands of years and has not confined itself to Hinduism and has percolated itself to other more egalitarian religions like Islam, Christianity and Sikhism. We can find castes among the Muslim, Christian, Sikh as well as other communities. Muslims are divided into classes of Ashraf and Ajlaf. Ashraf are in turn divided into Shaikh, Saiyed, Mughal, Pathan while Ajlaf consist of various other castes like teli (oil pressure), dhobi (washerman), darjee (tailor), etc. among the Muslim. Similarly, caste consciousness among the Christian in India is not unknown. Since a vast majority of Christians in India are converted from Hindu fold, the converts have carried the caste system into Christianity. Among the Sikh again we can hear of a number of castes including Jat Sikh and Majahabi Sikh. Caste system is a closed system. Entry in a caste is only through birth in the system while exit is impossible. The system is discriminatory as it allows certain privileges to the high castes while the lower castes face disabilities. It is maintained by enforcing the notions of pollution and purity which are enforced through elaborate rules governing touch, dining and marriage.
Caste as a regional reality can be seen in the different patterns of caste-ranking, customs and behaviors, marriage rules and caste dominance found in various parts of India. Caste structure and kinship; caste structure and occupation; and caste structure and power are three important aspects which are discussed as under:
Caste structure is intimately related to the kinship system amongst the Hindus in India. The sole reason for this relationship lies in the endogamous nature of caste system. Caste is basically a closed system of stratification, since members are recruited on the criteria of ascribed status. Kinship is a method or a system by which individuals as members of society relate themselves with other individuals of that society.
The hereditary association of caste with an occupation used to be a very striking feature of the caste system.In the association of caste structure with a hereditary occupation the “jajmani system” forms the framework. The jajmani system is a system of economic, social and ritual ties between different caste groups in the villages. Under this system some castes are patrons and others are service castes.
Central to caste system are caste panchayats and leadership. These power structures are highly formalized in certain caste groups and informal in others. The panchayat literally means a group or council of five. In a village it refers to a group that presides over, and resolves conflict, punishes people transgressing customs and launches group enterprises. It must be remembered that the village panchayat is quite different from the legislative use of the term panchayat. The usage, after the Constitution (73rd Amendment) Act 1922, refers to a statutory local body, formed through elections, vested with legal powers and charged with certain governmental responsibilities. In certain villages traditional caste panchayats and leaders are still a powerful means of control. The democratic panchayat with legislative powers and traditional panchayat may overlap in certain regions.
Geographically, the tribes are concentrated in five regions namely, Himalayan region (with tribes like the Gaddi, the Jaunsari, the Naga etc.), Middle India (with tribes like the Munda, the Santal etc.), Western India (with tribes like the Bhil, the Grasia), South Indian Region (with tribes like the Toda, the Chenchu etc,) and the Islands Region (with tribes like the Onge in Bay of Bengal, the Minicoyans in Arabian Sea).