Is Indian pluralism now at risk?


Noam Chomsky, an ever antagonist of all forms of establishment and a famous American philosopher, makes an utter afflicted remarks on Indian future democracy  in an interview with an Indian, Karthik Ramamathan, last week at the university of Arizona. Noam Chomsky taught at MIT for more than 50-years, is famously known as a critic of US-foreign policy and a generous to the distressed across the world. Chomsky dismayed on Indian socio-political development in recent decades particularly under BJP’s dominance as accusing of the fact that it has now been at the risky phase and supposed to lead to fascism. To remember, Chomsky is not alone in the world but many political or apolitical personalities in India and abroad frustrated on Indian socio-political shifting to a new direction. He also spokes on economic development in India and the inequality that spreads all along with some rough data. But, the main issue is to thwart Indian thousand year’s long paradigm that made the country a landmark of unique abode of all people. 

Recent move to grab absolute power in Kashmir by the central government and also the Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens ( NRC) have took many people to street saying that BJP-lead government is out to mar Indian pluralistic society  which is fundamentally based on multiculturalism. In Assam, the resident were asked to produce their valid documents whether their ancestors were the permanent citizens of India particularly before March 24, 1971. And, if any national fails to appear with the genuine documents he must face Foreigners’ Tribunal (FT). More than two-hundred FT has been set up in this connection. This issue becomes the bone of contention among the civilians fearing of massive nation disintegration in Indian society. Opposition political wing and intellectuals waggishly reject this sort of governments’ move because they believe that this will never be happened in India since it goes against the spirit of Indian constitution. I personally believe that it will never be feasible to stub out multicultural tradition of India which is the heart of Indian culture and society as well. 

To be sure, India is a wonderful country with exceedingly diversified history, a history of multilingual and multi believers. This is perhaps the only county where different people, anthropological, religious, political, cultural etc. live with their individual identities. Pluralism namely, cultural, political, social and religious have been the main cradles of Indian civilization. From pre-Vedic to a later date, the long route to civilization of India has plodded through the uneven track of mutual absorption and discordance. Indian pluralism thus has been the unity within diversity and harmony within inharmonious. For every case, this dialectics has prominently been into operation which finally shapes of Indian socio-cultural and political structure. And, thus, the notion of pluralism has been inculcated in the Indian heart. For obvious reason, Macnical calls it “omnivorous capacity” but, to remember, this is a certain trait of Indian civilization that it not only absorbs of all good elements coming outside but also eludes certain sorts of bad propensities that tried to intrude upon.   P. T. Raju marked it as an elastic nature of Indian civilization. This is, of course, a wonder, how Indian civilization succeeds after repeated invasion in the last four thousand years.  

Accordingly, Indian society which virtually comes out of pluralistic cobweb is exceedingly diversified. And this diversification is multifarious and multi-ethnic. The Vedas which is called to be the hub of the Indian pluralistic ethos is a wonderful place of debate and discussion that finally excels at its dialectical culmination. “It is true that since early medieval times the Vedas have been regarded as the source of all Indian wisdom, but this was possible only by interpreting the term Vedic elements to an earlier Dravidian civilization or the addition of Dravidian elements to an already existing Aryan or Vedic civilization “Rg-Veda ancient among four others possess monotheism that “represent the religion of an unsophisticated age” To be certain, monotheism of Vedic civilization never overshadows the pluralistic trend of Indian belief because there had been so many trends of ancient India  juxtaposed each other without making hindrance to others.       

Since the Aryan invasion of India, ancient society got a new shape following an admixture of invading Aryans with the early Dravidians. T. Burrow confirms that, “The classical civilization of India developed from the earlier Vedic civilization, and the Vedic civilization was the creation of the Aryans, an invading people, whose first arrival in the subcontinent is probably to be dated about 1500 B.C” As a result, society had been started to reopen with its multifarious track that essentially leads to cultural pluralism. 

Demographic diversity is the root of pluralism which has substantial form in Indian long-standing social structure. Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Jain, Sikh among many others happily chosen their land to live securely here; not only to live for a short time but to make their permanent abode in a bid to expend their cultural affiliations. So, obviously this pluralism interlocks almost all beliefs coming across together and even it absorbs alien form of lives with their optimum utility. Rabindranath Tagore in his famous and classical poem, The Indian Pilgrimage (Bhrat-Tirtha) says, “ Hethay Arya, hethay anarya, hethay Dravid, Cheen--/ Saka-hun dal, Pathan Mugal. Ek dehe holo leen/ Paschim aaji khuliachhey dwar, setha hotey sabey aane/ debe aar nibe, melabey milibey, jabe na phirey,/ ei Bharater mahamanaber sagarateerey” This is Tagore’s India, which is conceived to be secular, cosmopolitan, compassionate, liberal and philosophically adaptive. This is India which has a stupendous range of assimilative nature empowered by the confluence of western eastern stream of culture. Now, let’s turn to the original source of present pluralistic India which is supposed to be the absolute scripture of ancient world.  

In modern India, there has been a wave of the secular political culture in spite of some recent serious political limitations within its land. But, the historical background of India is much more solid which is substantially coming through pre-Vedic age.  At least two issues had been at work behind it: firstly, cross-cutting diversity in religion, language and caste-creed and secondly, political and cultural patience that invariably work in people’s mind. Statistic shows, “Hindus form a majority of the population, around 79.8% out of a total of 1.21 billion. With around 180 million Muslims (approximately 14.2% of the population), India is also the third-largest Muslim country in the world, due to become the largest Muslim country by 2050. The population of India’s other major religious communities is: Christian 2.3%, Sikh 1.7%, Buddhist 0.7% and Jain 0.4%. However, the followers of each religion speak different languages and belong to a variety of sects, castes and tribes. In terms of language, there are some 22 official languages and 122 major languages listed in the census. Hindi speakers constituted 41% of the population, followed by Bengali, Telugu, Marathi, Tamil and Urdu speakers, each constituting more than 5% of the population. Religious and caste divisions have been of enduring significance in national politics, with linguistic divisions becoming less contentious since the 1950s” Rochana Bajpai, (“Why Did India Choose Pluralism?” Lessons From a Post Colonial State,  University of London April 2017.)  Amartya Sen, strongly hopes that the pluralistic nature of India must be kept into operating and if it lost, Indian democracy and social integrity will come an end. Rising of religious fundamentalism becomes the threat of Indian pluralism. 

A bizarre but very common belief seems to sit that diversity thwarts development and these two terms might have been oddly related. It is also predisposed that the unilateral culture or the trend to make into the path that follows cultural egocentrism may ensure social progress. But, such convictions are mistakenly pondered. And, this belief essentially leads to a terrible social consequence. It makes us ascertained that multicultural diversity doesn’t slow down the pace of development; instead, it conduces  to create an atmosphere that fundamentally pulls through the society. Experience shows that the countries which are infected with cultural blindness have essentially been indisposed for huge number of problems including intolerances and bigotry. This has been fairly exemplified to the case of some Middle East countries namely Syria, Iraq, Egypt and also some other historical places of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, etc. All the countries are now shattered by civil war which is mostly propagated by interreligious conflict and annihilative hostility to the believers of different clan. These countries were in a good economic state a couple of decades back, but now their historical memory has been crucified. They have been suffering from cultural myopia.        

Certainly, people don’t like others who are in a different mental state particularly the ideology that goes against them. Hence, man by nature is a communal being loves the people with whom his ideology overlaps most. It is no exception to the case of religion, society, politics and state. So, ideology brings same people closer, yet it keeps other people off. In practice, extreme idealistic inclination wards off human rationality. Thereby, fanatical inducement grows within the mind and as a consequence humanity loses its spirit. People saturated with such sort of belief don’t hesitate to slay heterodox. Many countries of Africa including South Africa are the worst example of racial abhorrence. Scorning to other race is thought to be a heinous crime to the civil society.  

But, coexistence of different races is now at a distance, racial and religious harmony has been at the brink. And, the whole human race at a large part loses the route to humanity.  This is perhaps the worst enemy to  the present day world. To turn off these psychological instinct moral and ethical studies is urgently needed. 

Chomsky’s apprehension about India’s future is seemingly over-reactive but truly this can’t be denied that Indian government should recede from making it Unitarianism. 


Dr Siddhartha Shankar Joarder is a Professor at the Dept. of Philosophy, Jagannath University, Dhaka