Diversity in India: Basis; Reasons; Threats and Way Forward

By Ashutosh Yadav|Updated : January 19th, 2021

The Indian society is plural both in letter and spirit and it is rightly characterized by its unity and diversity. A grand synthesis of cultures, religions, race and languages of the people belonging to different castes and communities has upheld its unity and cohesiveness despite multiple foreign invasions in the past.

Diversity in India: Basis; Reasons; Threats and Way Forward

National unity and integrity have been maintained even though sharp economic and social inequalities have obstructed the emergence of egalitarian social relations. It is to be noted that The term ‘diversity’ emphasizes on differences rather than inequalities. It refers to collective differences, that is, the differences which mark off one group of people from another. These differences may be of any sort: biological, religious, linguistic, racial etc.

Unity refers to integration. It is a social psychological condition. It connotes a sense of oneness, a sense of we-ness among the people. It stands for the bonds that hold the members of a society together. The Unity in diversity essentially refers to “unity without uniformity” and “diversity without fragmentation”.

India is known across the world for its diversity. It is the home to the largest number of different socio-cultural groups based on race, religion, language, caste etc.

When India became independent, many political thinkers had commented that democracy in India will not be able to survive because it’s too diverse to be united as a single nation. However, they have been subsequently proven wrong. What distinguishes India from other diverse nations is its unity that has stayed with us despite the various conflicts that exist in society.

Basis of diversity and its distribution:

  1. Language

It is one of the most prominent features of India’s diversity and in the past has been a major source of unrest. There are more than 1700 language sand dialects spoken in India. Of those  22 are scheduled languages under 8th schedule of the constitution and about 197 are endangered.

the Indian languages are broadly classified under the following families:

  • The Indo-Aryan language family: Languages like Hindi, Sanskrit, Urdu, Bengali, Kashmiri, Marathi etc. are part of this family and are spoken in most of the part of Northern India
  • The Dravidian language family: Malayalam, Kannada, Tamil and Telugu are the prominent languages under this family spoken in the southern states of the country
  • Austro-Asiatic language family: most of the tribal languages spoken in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha are part of this family for e.g. Bhili, Santhali
  • The Sino-Tibetan language family: Languages of the north-eastern state like Assamese, Manipuri, Bodo etc. constitute this family of languages
  • Others: Other languages like Andamanese, Sentinelese are restricted to a small number of speakers and therefore face a high possibility of extinction

Language has been a major issue of conflict in the past like:

  • Demands for state reorganization after independence based on languages –which was finally accepted through State reorganization act 1956
  • Dravidian and anti-Hindi movements against the imposition of Hindi as the official language in the southern states
  • Recently, it was the basis for Gorkhaland agitation in West Bengal
  1. Race

Given below are the major racial groups of India :

  • Negritos: Found among the tribes of Andaman and Nicobar Islands
  • Proto-Australoids: They are Found mostly in the hills and forested tracts of central and southern India
  • Mongoloids: Located in the tribes of North-East India, Sikkim and Leh-Ladakh.
  • Aryans: Occupy the northern states of the country
  • Dravidians: Occupy the southern states of the country

Racial discrimination is often seen in India. While people from north-east are the common victims, discrimination against south Indians in north and vice-versa can also be seen in the country.

  1. Religion

India is represented by a diversity of religious beliefs and practices. According to the 2011 census, 79.8% of the population of India practices Hinduism, 14.2% adheres to Islam, 2.3% adheres to Christianity, 1.7% adheres to Sikhism, 0.7% adheres to Buddhism and 0.4% adheres to Jainism. Many of the states have Hindu majority however 7 states/UTs have Hindus in minority.

  1. Geography

India is divided into 5 major climatic groups based on moisture and temperature parameters. Monsoon acts as one of the binding factors for India since it is the main source of irrigation for agriculture. This geographic diversity, therefore, becomes the basis for diversity in festivals, cuisines, dresses, handicrafts, art, crop cultivation etc.

For example, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Western Ghats etc. have dense forests, they have predominantly a tribal culture as distinct from their adjoining areas.  Ladakh is separated from Jammu and Kashmir by Himalayan ranges and has Buddhist majority and the economy is based on animal rearing in contrast to Hindu/Muslim dominated agrarian society in other areas of the valley.

  1. Caste

The Hindu society in India is divided based on the caste system, a successor of the older varna system. This has been a source of division and separation within the Hindu religion leading to the emergence of diverse cultural groups within the Hindu community. Thus deities, food, attire and festivals vary across the caste groups. The system is sustained through endogamy which does not allows a person to marry outside the caste thus maintaining the perfect silos.

Reasons for the diversity in India:

  • Historically there has been mixing of the different religions, languages, races and ethnicities due to invasion by the foreigners who settled here like Mughals, trade routes (Silk Road), pilgrimage (major Buddhist sites located in India ) and travellers like Ibn Battuta, Hiuen Tsang etc.
  • Geographical divisions like Vindhya and Satpura range in India, the Himalayas in the north and northeast ensure that societies across these divisions developed their unique identity by limiting their inter-mixing for e.g. Aryan-Dravidian divide
  • Availability of the dense and isolated stretches of forests ensured the growth of tribal culture as distinct from the mainstream society
  • In past India had been divided into small kingdoms since the ancient time, many local languages and distinctive culture have developed under the patronage of their rulers e.g. Malayalam under the Cheras and Bengali under the Palas.

Advantages of diversity:

  • It helps in strengthening the compassion, love and tolerance promoting amity and unity and openness to other diverging views
  • Diversity of culture translates into a diversity of ideas which is reflected in literature, art, cinema, etc.
  • The rich heritage and culture as a result of this diversity has enormous potential for tourism capable of creating large scale employment opportunities
  • Geographical diversity creates a rich reserve of flora and fauna and mineral resources benefiting the environment, tourism, pharmaceutical etc.
  • It is the identity that India had asserted for long in the international forums

Disadvantages of diversity:

  • The social tension and conflicts arising from this diversity sometimes lead to the growth of divisive tendencies like communalism, regionalism, linguism etc. is a major threat to the social fabric, economic development and survival of Indian democracy

What has ensured Unity in diversity?

  • The Historical factors have helped strengthen and sustain the values of mutual existence
  • Freedom struggle united India politically and economically (railways, post offices) and created the basis for social unity
  • The following provisions of the constitution have helped rein in the divisive tendencies:
    • Fundamental rights (equality, against exploitation, religion, cultural and educational freedom, freedom of movement and residence, of minorities)
    • Directive principle (provisions related to SC/STs, protection of Heritage, socio-economic justice, Panchayati raj institutions etc.)
    • Fundamental duties (to uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity, promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood)
    • The Freedom of inter-state trade and commerce
  • Following are the government measures to ensure unity and integrity of india:
    • Laws such as prevention on atrocities against SC and ST Act, protection of civil rights act, forest rights act
    • The policy of reservation to ensure political and economic and social justice to the downtrodden
    • Schemes like standup India, Padho Pardesh, Nai Manzil etc. for minorities and oppressed sections of the society
    • Events that celebrate this unity and diversity such as republic day parade, Bharat parv, Adi Mahotsav
    • Cultural schemes like Ek Bharat Sreshtha Bharat, HRIDAY, PRASAD, sister-state concept etc.
  • An Independent judiciary which has successfully reined in the divisive tendencies of the governments.
  • The goods and services tax has brought about economic unity

Threats to Indian Diversity:

Disputes are inevitable in a diverse society and when not managed properly it can turn into conflict thus threatening the very survival of society as was the case in Balkan Peninsula. Similarly, the Indian society faces the following challenges which endanger its ‘unity in diversity’.

  • Communalism: the rising majoritarian tendencies such as the call for a ‘Hindu rashtra’, cow vigilantism, love jihad claims against inter-religion marriages threaten the secular fabric of the Indian society
  • Regionalism: the demands of new states and even secession based on language (Gorkha land, Dravidnaad), Religion (Khalistan), Ethnicity (Nagalim) continue to hamper the unity and integrity of the nation
  • Linguism: perceived threats to the local language and attempts to impose hindi on non-willing sections have in the past led to movements like Dravidian movement
  • Casteism: caste oppression had continued for over a long period of time with scant attempts to challenge it. With access to opportunities, increasing literacy rate and economic reforms and excessive politicisation, caste identities are becoming more pronounced than before. While some use it to challenge the oppression they have historically faced (Bhima-Koregaon), others use it to claim the benefits of reservation (Jat, Patidar, Maratha)
  • Racism: Discrimination against people of North-east, people of the south in northern states and vice versa threatens a whole section of the Indian society
  • Separatist movements: The ongoing separatist movements in J&K and North-East along with Naxalism have for long and continue to pose significant risks to India’s unity and integrity

Way Forward

A society that is based on justice, liberty, equality and fraternity only can stay united for long, especially society as diverse as India. As the Sachar committee report had pointed out, minorities continue to fare poorly on socio-economic indicators as compared to the majority. Similar is the case with tribals and Dalits where high GDP growth has not translated into development and improvement in the quality of life.

It is, therefore, necessary that principles espoused in directive principles are realised in letter and spirit. Investments in the social sector including health and education, electoral reforms had to carried out on war footing to keep out the divisive tendencies, providing for development needs of deprived sections of the society. Inclusive and Equitable Urbanization and curbing the majoritarian tendencies through appropriate legal measures is the way forward to ensure a united and integrated India.

More from Us:

IAS 2021: A comprehensive course for Prelims (English)

IAS 2021 comprehensive course for CSAT

UPSC EPFO 2020- A Comprehensive Course

To boost the preparation of all our users, we have come up with some free video (Live Class) series.

Here are the links:

Daily Current Affairs

Daily Editorial Analysis

IAS 2021 Ranker's Series- Complete Roadmap for Prelims & Main

Lakshya EPFO 2020

Gist of Rajya Sabha TV for UPSC Exams

Daily PIB Summary for UPSC Exams

More from us

Get Unlimited access to Structured Live Courses and Mock Tests- Online Classroom Program

Get Unlimited access to 60+ Mock Tests-BYJU'S Exam Prep Test Series


write a comment

Follow us for latest updates