“If you can’t see past my name, you can’t see me.” – DaShanne Stokes
Unity in diversity has been a recurring age-old theme in public discourses in our country. I think most of us would remember writing essays on it in school. The theme is faithfully repeated and emphasized upon in every Independence Day and Republic day function by assorted politicians, national leaders and celebrities. Many others also speak about it at cultural festivals, fancy dress competitions and other such functions.
There is no doubt that some diversity is a good thing but it cannot be the defining virtue of our country. No nation was ever founded on the differences it contains. Celebrating our diversity doesn’t mean much apart from empty sloganeering and feel good factor. We must seek, instead, to celebrate what we have in common. Diversity is not static. It can turn on itself in no time. The single biggest reason behind most social conflicts is diversity itself. As recent events in Karnataka and other parts of the country have shown, identity politics thrives on particularity of differences – linguistic, ethnic, religious etc.
Many people give the example of America as a melting pot nation full of diversity. Often, we are told – America is a nation of immigrants. While that is true since most Americans can trace back their ancestry to atleast 30 different geographical regions where their families resided before immigration, however, the general emphasis in that statement is on “immigrants” and not on “nation”. But America is not just a nation with a collection of people from random nationalities. America is defined by a common culture, a core set of beliefs, principles and a language. Though English is still not the official language of the country, it is the de facto national language and a full 96% of Americans speak English. The most influential movie industry, Hollywood, churns out cinema almost entirely in English language. Education system in the US follows a standardized testing and grading scale whichever part of the country one might be in. Same set of National holidays are observed throughout. Traditional American food and beverages are available everywhere.
Renowned political scientist and Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University, Robert Putnam conducted a massive study on diversity and found that greater the diversity in a community fewer people vote, less they volunteer, less they trust their neighbours, fewer close friends they have and less they work on community projects. The things that go up in diverse societies are: more TV watching, more protest marches and more choices of cuisine. The message was loud and clear: our differences make us weaker.
Infact, there is overwhelming evidence that nations comprised of people who do not share common core cultural values come apart, often violently. There are plenty of examples of countries being torn apart by irreconcilable differences of ethnic, sectarian, religious and linguistic groups who have failed to find a way to turn this mosaic into a melting pot.
There is also growing evidence that principle of equality (treating every human being as equal regardless of their ethnic, religious, linguistic backgrounds) is being replaced by principles of diversity where all cultural identities must be given public and government recognition. This leads to people being treated differently which fuels a sense of exclusion which in turn triggers a competition for resources, wealth, jobs etc on the basis that their group is more vulnerable and excluded than others. There is a perverse incentive to assert one’s victimisation by others, rather than build alliances.
New age diversity politics is the mirror image of old age racial thinking. We see people’s ethnicity and cultural background first and foremost and their often diverse talents and interests, last.
So is culture as divisive as it is made out to be by the proponents of diversity politics?
Most people when asked what is culture will mention things like music, art, literature, festivals, sports etc. All these, in my opinion, bring people together and are not inherently divisive then why is there so much talk about “disrespecting the culture”, “my culture vs your culture”?
When two cultures share the same solution to the same set of problems, there is no conflict but when the solutions are different, one culture may resist, sometimes be even openly hostile to the solutions offered by another culture. Such disparate solutions within the realm of economics, politics and ethnicities crystallize over a period to become incongruent ideologies. These differing ideologies which cause friction and divisiveness between cultures, at times are foolishly celebrated as diversity to be proud of and to be cherished.
Our goals should be to seek and celebrate a common national culture and values out of all the disparate elements, a culture that is dynamic but remains true to the core values of our nation. Through that cultural identity will lead a path to a more rewarding and richer goal of being an Indian first.
“You cannot be happy if your primary identity is that of a victim, even if you really are one.” ― Dennis Prager