People are different from each other in many ways. They belong to different regional, cultural or religious backgrounds. All these different people, who come from all kinds of backgrounds, and belong to all kinds of religions and cultures make India diverse.

Diversity in India

India is a country of many diversities. People speak different languages, have various types of food, celebrate different festivals, practise different religions.

Historical and geographical factors influence the diversity of a region

A little more than two hundred years ago, people travelled from one part of the world to another in search of new lands, or new places to settle in, or for people to trade with. Because it took so long to travel, once they got to a place, people stayed there, often for a long time. Many others left their homes because there were famines and drought and they could not get enough to eat. Some went in search of work while others left because there was a war.

The history of many places shows how many different cultural influences have helped to shape life and culture there. Thus regions became very diverse because of their unique histories.

Similarly diversity also comes about when people adapt their lives to the geographical area in which they live. For example living near the sea is quite different from living in a mountainous area. People have different clothing and eating habits, the kinds of work they do are different.

Unity in Diversity

India's diversity has always been recognised as a source of its strength. When the British ruled India, women and men from different cultural, religious and regional backgrounds came together to oppose them. India's freedom movement had thousands of people of different backgrounds in it.

Diversity and Discrimination

Sometimes people who are different from others are teased, laughed at or not included in a certain activity or group.

Prejudice

Prejudice means to judge other people negatively or see them as inferior. When you think that only one particular way is the best and right way to do things you often end up not respecting others, who may prefer to do things differently.

People can be prejudiced about many things: people's religious beliefs, the colour of their skin, the region they come from, the accent they speak in, the clothes they wear, and so on. Often, prejudices about others are so strong that people don't want to form friendships with them. At times, they may even act in ways that hurt them.

Stereotype

When people say that those who belong to a particular country, religion, sex, race or economic background are "stingy," "lazy," "criminal" or "dumb," they are using stereotypes. There are stingy and generous people everywhere, in every country, in every religion, in every group whether rich or poor, male or female. Just because some people are like that it is not fair to think that everyone will be the same. When we fix people into one image we create a stereotype.

Stereotypes stop people from looking at each person as a unique individual with his or her own special qualities and skills that are different from others. They fit large numbers of people into only one pattern or type. Stereotypes affect all of us as they prevent us from doing certain things, that we might otherwise be good at.

Inequality and Discrimination

Discrimination happens when people act on their prejudices or stereotypes. Diversity can also be a source of discrimination. Groups of people who may speak a certain language, follow a particular religion, live in specific regions,  may be discriminated against as their customs or practices may be seen as inferior.

Caste System

People are engaged in different kinds of work like teaching, carpentry, pottery, weaving, fishing, farming to earn a livelihood. However, certain kinds of work are valued more than others. Activities like cleaning, washing, cutting hair, picking garbage are seen as tasks that are of less value and people who do this work are seen as dirty or impure. This belief is an important aspect of the caste system.

Diversity of Gender

The gender division is natural and unchangeable. However, it is not based on biology but on social expectations and stereotypes. Boys and girls are brought up to believe that the main responsibility of women is housework and bringing up children. This is reflected in a Sexual Division of Labour in most families: women do all work inside the home such as cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, tailoring, looking after children and men do all the work outside the home.

The result of this division of labour is that although women constitute half of the humanity, their role in public life, especially politics, is minimal in most societies. Earlier, only men were allowed to participate in public affairs, vote and contest for public offices. Gradually the gender issue was raised in politics.

Diversity of Religion

This division is not as universal as gender, but religious diversity is fairly widespread in the world. Many countries including India have in their population, followers of different religions.

People should be able to express in politics their needs, interests and demands as a member of a religious community. The problem begins when religion is seen as the basis of the nation. The problem becomes more acute when religion is expressed in politics in exclusive and partisan terms, when one religion and its followers are pitted against another. This happens when beliefs of one religion are presented as superior to those of other religions, when the demands of one religious group are formed in opposition to another and when state power is used to establish domination of one religious group over the rest. This manner of using religion in politics is communal politics.

Equality

When India became a nation in 1947, leaders were concerned about the different kinds of inequalities that existed. Those who wrote the Constitution of India, were aware of the ways in which discrimination had been practised in Indian society and how people had struggled against this.

So, these leaders set out a vision and goals in the Constitution to ensure that all the people of India were considered equal. Everyone has equal rights and opportunities. Untouchability is seen as a crime and has been legally abolished by law. People are free to choose the kind of work they wish to do. Government jobs are open to all people. In addition, the Constitution also placed responsibility on the government to take specific steps to realise this right to equality for poor and other such marginal communities.

Democracy and Equality in India

Equal right to vote: In a democratic country, like India, all adults irrespective of what religion they belong to, how much education they have had, what caste they are, or whether they are rich or poor are allowed to vote. This is called universal adult franchise and is an essential aspect of all democracies. 

The Indian Constitution recognises every person as equal. This means that every individual in the country, including male and female persons from all castes, religions, tribes, educational and economic backgrounds are recognised as equal.

This recognition of equality includes:

  1. Every person is equal before the law. Every person has to obey the same laws.
  2. No person can be discriminated against on the basis of their religion, race, caste, place of birth or whether they are female or male.
  3. Every person has access to all public places including playgrounds, hotels, shops and markets.
  4. Untouchability has been abolished.

The two ways in which the government has tried to implement the equality that is guaranteed in the Constitution is first through laws and second through government programmes or schemes to help disadvantaged communities.

Secularism

The Indian Constitution allows individuals the freedom to live by their religious beliefs and practices as they interpret these. In keeping with this idea of religious freedom for all, India also adopted a strategy of separating the power of religion and the power of the State. Secularism refers to this separation of religion from the State.

Almost all countries of the world will have more than one religious group living in them. Within these religious groups, there will most likely be one group that is in a majority. If this majority religious group has access to State power, then it could quite easily use this power and financial resources to discriminate against and persecute persons of other religions. The majority could quite easily prevent minorities from practising their religions.

Secularism in India

The Indian Constitution mandates that the Indian State be secular. According to the Constitution, only a secular State can realise its objectives to ensure the following:

  1. One religious community does not dominate another.
  2. Some members do not dominate other members of the same religious community.
  3. The State does not enforce any particular religion nor take away the religious freedom of individuals.

The Indian State works in various ways to prevent the above domination. First, it uses a strategy of distancing itself from religion. The Indian State is not ruled by a religious group and nor does it support any one religion. In India, government spaces like law courts, police stations, government schools and offices are not supposed to display or promote any one religion.

The second way in which Indian secularism works is through a strategy of noninterference. This means that in order to respect the sentiments of all religions and not interfere with religious practices, the State makes certain exceptions for particular religious communities.

The third way is through a strategy of intervention. The State intervenes in religion in order to end a social practice that it believes discriminates and excludes, and that violates the Fundamental Rights.