Diversity in Indian Society

Defining Diversity

The term diversity originated from the Latin word ‘diversus’ which indicates differences. diverse means ‘differing from each other’ and ‘made up of distinct characteristics, qualities, or elements’.

being a large country with a large population, India presents endless varieties of physical features and cultural patterns. It is a land of diversity in race, religion, caste, language, and so on.

Major factors affecting diversity in India

  • Race 
  • Ethnicity
  • Linguistic diversity
  • Religious diversity


Race is the division of humankind on the basis of physical features like height, weight, colour of eye, skin etc. as well as also on the basis of social behaviours, norms, customs and practices.

  • It is a classification system that is used to categorise humans into distinct populations or groups by anatomical features related to body structure or physique.
  • These are mostly hereditary, passed on from parents to their children.
  • These variations are due to geographical, historical, linguistic, or religious belongingness.

Indian nation-state is socially and culturally one of the most diverse countries.

Racial Diversity

India is a racially diversified country. Major racial elements of India are as follows:

1. Negrito (Kerala, Andaman & Nicobar)

2. Proto-Australoid (Central India)

3. Mongoloid (Ladakh and Northeast)

4. Paleo-Mediterranean (Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nādu)

5. Nordic (Indo-Gangetic plains)

Picture racial diversity

Race vs Ethnicity

Ethnicity is an identity based upon shared identities like culture, language, religion, and common past.Cultural elements of an ethnic group are taught, not inherited. So, unlike race groups boundaries between ethnic groups are to some extent fluid, allowing for individuals to move between groups
Race is a closed group and members from one race can’t join another raceCultural elements of an ethnic group are taught, not inherited. So, unlike race groups boundaries between ethnic groups are to some extent are fluid, allowing for individuals to move between groups
Ex: White/ Caucasian, black/ Afro-American, Hispanic etc.Ex: American, Punjabi, Tamilian etc.

Linguistic Diversity

  • In India, people speak about 1,632 different languages and dialects. As many as 22 of these languages have been officially recognised and placed under the 8th Schedule of the Constitution, thus guaranteeing their legal status.
  • The languages spoken in our country vary according to geographical areas and play a crucial role in building regional identities. These regional identities emotionally stimulated people to fight for the creation of states on a linguistic basis, and Andhra Pradesh is the first state formed including Telugu-speaking regions.
  • In 1956, the State Reorganization Commission was set up and helped to create many states on a linguistic basis

Linguistic Nationalism: Sense of belongingness based on a common language. It cuts across religious, regional and political boundaries.

Linguistic States vs National Unity

  • Far from undermining Indian unity, linguistic states have helped strengthen it. The formation of linguistic states prevented separatist tendencies. There would be no trade-off between linguistic identities and National identities if adequate recognition is given to all languages.
  • Ex. Undermining the Tamil language led to civil war in Sri Lanka
  • Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971, which led to the birth of Bangladesh, had arisen from conflict between Punjabi and Urdu speakers of west Pakistan with the Bengali speakers of the east
  • Linguistic demands often have hidden agendas, which go beyond the issue of identity.

Ex: Language movements in the South were partly reactions to caste domination and exploitation. Similarly, the Punjabi Suba movement had its roots in Sikh identity. Tribal linguistic movements are also located in the ethnicity, identity, and survival debate.

Advantages of preserving Linguistic diversity

  • National integration: Providing recognition to various regional languages would contain linguistic regionalism.
  • Preservation of traditional knowledge: Preserving endangered languages of ethnic tribes would help in conserving rich intangible heritage and traditional knowledge it has been carrying for generations. Tribal languages are a treasure trove of knowledge about a region’s flora, fauna and medicinal plants. Usually, this information is passed on to the next generations orally. When a language declines, that knowledge system will be completely gone.
  • Social inclusion: Linguistic diversity ensures equal opportunities for various language groups in education, social life and economic development.
  • Good governance: Conducting administration in native languages would promote people’s participation in governance.
  • Diaspora network: Rich linguistic diversity of India would enhance the diaspora network across the borders and help India accumulate soft power.
  • Effective education: Primary education in the mother tongue leads to more effective learning outcomes. Multilinguistic abilities have been linked to cognitive abilities.

Threats to Linguistic Diversity in India

According to the People’s Linguistic Survey of India (PSLI) report, more than half of India’s languages may die out in 50 years. Around 190 languages are in various stages of endangerment in our country, more than any other country in the world. The reasons are:

  • Globalization: The influence of transnational corporations has resulted in a central common language mainly English, which dominates regional dialects, and minority languages.
  • Nuclear family culture: Grants fewer opportunities for youngsters to learn their mother tongue, especially when both parents work and grandparents live separately.
  • Inter-culture, caste, and race marriages: Where a couple is from different cultural backgrounds, the language of communication is often not the mother tongue, which impacts the next generation’s exposure to the native language.
  • Migration: Towards metropolitans for accessing better education and employment opportunities, is a preference for cosmopolitan language.
  • Increased use of the Internet: Nowadays, most communications and business are carried out online forcing people to consume digital content in English as cyber presence regional languages is negligible.
  • Lack of Education in the Mother-tongue results in neglecting many languages
  • Lack of script for tribal languages spoken by fringe groups: Only 6 tribal languages — Santali, Ho, Soura, Munda and Kui — have a written script. The lack of script makes it difficult to pass the language from generation to generation
  • Assimilation policies of Government: States often try to assimilate linguistic minorities by imposing majority language upon them. Example: Compulsory Bengali in Gorkhaland.
  • Prescribing a high standard of proficiency in the state’s official language for entry into state services.

Steps to conserve linguistic diversity

  • Constitutional provisions: Rights to linguistic minorities (Art 29 & 30), Office of Linguistic Commissioner, Provisions of State Languages.
  • Schemes & Programs: Ek Bharat Shrestha Bharat, Bhasha Sangam, Emphasis on education in mother tongue in New Education Policy.

Linguistic minorities

The linguistic minority has not been defined in Constitution. The term ‘Minority’ has been defined in Section 2 of the National Commission for Minorities Act with reference to religious minorities only. However, in TMA Pai vs the state of Kerala, SC held that the unit of the linguistic or religious minority should be the state, not the whole of India. According to a report of the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities, the linguistic minority status of a community is determined by numerical inferiority, non-dominant status in a state, and possessing a distinct identity. 

Though there is no justification for making language as basis to determine the socioeconomic backwardness of people, it is argued that, in a multi-lingual society like ours, exclusive adherence to a minority language, which may be the mother tongue of a section of the population, does affect socio-economic and educational development of that linguistic minority, especially in the initial years.

Issues with linguistic minorities

  • Division of States on a linguistic basis resulted in the gaining of prominence for regional languages which eventually became the official language of the State. Other languages which are the mother tongue of minority communities living in the State, naturally did not get equal prominence or status.
  • States try to assimilate linguistic minorities by imposing the majority language upon them. Ex: Compulsory Bengali in Gorkhaland.
  • Lack of instruction in the mother tongue for linguistic minority children in schools is the reason for the diminishing numbers of minority tongues. Linguistic minorities had to opt for the dominant language of the area/state in which the school is located. For instance, a Gond in Telangana gets an education in Telugu, a Gond in Chhattisgarh gets an education in Hindi, and those in Maharashtra in Marathi.

State governments set strict requirements for proficiency in the state’s official language for applicants to state civil services, which has the unintended consequence of discriminating against linguistic minorities.

Constitutional protection is given to Linguistic minorities
Article 29: Any section of citizens having a distinct language, script or culture of its own shall have right to conserve the same.No citizen shall be denied admission into any educational institution maintained by the State or receiving aid out of State funds on grounds only of religion, race, caste, language or any of them.

Article 30: All minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice. The state shall not, in granting aid to educational institutions, discriminate against any educational institution on the ground that it is under the management of a minority, whether based on religion or language.

Article 345: The legislature of a State may by law adopt any one or more of the languages in use in the State.Article 347: President may demand any state govt to officially recognise any language, on which popular demand is made by the language speakers.

Article 350 A & B: It shall be the endeavour of every State to provide adequate facilities for instruction in the mother tongue at the primary stage of education to children belonging to linguistic minority groups.Special officer for linguistic minorities
Demand for official language status-Tulu
Tulu speakers, mainly in coastal Karnataka and Kerala, have been requesting the government to give it official language status and include it in the 8th schedule of the Constitution.
Tulu would get recognition from Sahitya Akademi.
Tulu books would be translated into other recognised Indian languages.
MPs and MLAs could speak in Tulu in Parliament and State Assemblies, respectively.
Candidates could write all-India competitive examinations like the Civil Services exam in Tulu.

Growth of Hindi Hindi is the most widely spoken, with 52.8 crore individuals, or 43.6% of the population, declaring it as their mother tongue. The next highest is Bengali, the mother tongue for 97 lakh (8%).

Hindi has been India’s predominant mother tongue over the decades, its share in the population rising in every succeeding census. In 1971, 37% of Indians had reported Hindi as their mother tongue, a share that has grown over the next four censuses to 38.7%, 39.2%, 41% and 43.6% at the last count.

Between 1991 and 2011, the number of Hindi native speakers in South India has nearly doubled. This is when the total population in these states has only gone up by 28%.

Explanation of this rise in the Hindi-speaking population:
Population growth in native Hindi-speaking states such as Uttar Pradesh (20%), Bihar (25%), Madhya Pradesh (20%), Rajasthan (21%), and Jharkhand (22%) is above national average growth rate of 17%.

The increasing migration of Hindi speaking population to other states. According to the census, four states, UP, Bihar, Rajasthan & Madhya Pradesh accounted for 50% of India’s total inter-state migrants.

Keeping in view the needs arising from increasing inter-state migration and strengthening national integration, National Education Policy 2020 suggested strict implementation of a three language formula.
Three Language formula under NEP 2020
National Education Policy-2020 recommends that all students will learn three languages in their school under the ‘formula’. At least two of the three languages should be native to India. Ex: If a student in Mumbai is learning Marathi and English, he/she will have to choose to learn another Indian language. NEP says that the three-language formula will be implemented while keeping in mind the need to promote Multilingualism as well as promote national unity.

There will be greater flexibility in the three-language formula, and no language will be imposed on any State. The three languages learned by children will be choices of States, regions, and of course the students themselves, so long as at least two of the three languages are native to India.

Concerns with three language formula
The cognitive burden on young children: Surveys, like ASER, have shown that a vast majority of children are failing to learn to read with comprehension even in one language and script. It is completely unrealistic to expect children to acquire oral fluency and reading skills in three different languages.

Poor Implementation: The earlier three-language formula was not implemented properly anywhere.

Back Door Entry for Hindi: Tamil Nadu has two language systems. The introduction of the new policy creates a fear among them that this would lead to the entrance of Hindi into the state from the back door.

Shortage of Non-Hindi teachers: a scarcity of non-Hindi language teachers throughout the country

Religious Diversity

India is a land of multiple religions. Apart from tribal societies, many of whom still live in the pre-religious state of animism and magic, As per the 2011 census Indian population consists of Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains.

Moreover, these religions are further divided into many sects

Ex: Hinduism –Shaiva, Shakta and Vaishnava etc.

Islam – Shia and Sunni etc.

Sikhism – Namdhari and Nirankari etc.

Jainism – Digambar and Svetambara etc.

Buddhism – Hinayana and Mahayana etc.

Picture religious diversity

Caste and Religion: Caste is a feature of Hinduism and other religions such as Christianity, Islam, and Sikhism, in principle, do not recognise hierarchical systems like caste. However, in real life, none of these religions is free from the existence of caste-like groups, hierarchically arranged in terms of social status and prestige.

  • Muslims have caste-like divisions in India. Muslims were divided into Ashrafs (meaning ‘noblemen’ in Arabic) and Non-Ashrafs (Ajlaf (backward Muslims) and Arzals (Dalit Muslims)). Ashrafs claim a superior status derived from their foreign ancestry and were further classified as Sayyids, Sheikhs, Pathans, and Mughals. Non-ashrams are Teli, Faquir, Nai (Hajjam), Darzi, Dhobi, and Qassab among the lower castes. Upper Muslim castes belonged to landlord families or were in the profession of learning. Lower castes had occupations and families. These castes observe Endogamy and socio-cultural distance from each other based on hierarchy. (Ex. Pasmanda Muslims is an umbrella identity used by backward, dalit and tribal Muslims against caste-based discrimination against them within the community, many of them are recognised as OBC Muslims).
  • Christianity in India has not been able to get itself free from the caste system. Even after conversion, most caste disabilities of former castes continue to persist.
  • Caste distinctions can be found among Sikhs also.

Since most castes are linked with hereditary occupations, they tend to share commonalities of customs, folkways, and beliefs with members of the same occupational caste in other religions. This led to inter-religious interactions.

  • Ex: Jats (peasant community) of different religions (Hindu, Sikh and Muslim) share a common culture.
  • Vaisakhi, a harvesting festival, is celebrated by Hindu and Sikh peasants alike.

Language and Religious Pluralism

India is a land of diverse languages. Religious differentiation exists within the setting of these linguistic divisions.

  • Traditionally religions are associated with a particular language.
  • Ex: Sanskrit is the traditional ritual language of Hinduism, Arabic for Islam and Hebrew for Judaism.
  • But in Modern society, most Religions spread across different linguistic groups. People from a linguistic community share many common values, cultural styles and ways of life. Linguistic variations among followers of the same religion made it possible for most people in India to take a broader and more liberal view of the relationship between religion and socio-cultural life. This reinforced religious tolerance leading to peaceful co-existence.
  • Ex: A Malayali Hindu has similar dietary habits to a Malayali Muslim rather than a Hindu of North India.
  • Onam, a Harvesting festival, is celebrated by all the communities of Kerala.

Despite having so much diversity India follows the concept of Unity in diversity.

Factors Leading to Unity Amidst Diversity in India

Constitutional identity: The entire country is governed by one single Constitution. Even, most of the states follow a generalised scheme of a 3-tier government structure, thus imparting uniformity in the national governance framework. Further, the Constitution guarantees certain fundamental rights to all citizens regardless of age, gender, class, caste, religion, etc.

Religious co-existence: Religion tolerance is the unique feature of religions in India due to which multiple religions co-exist in India. Freedom of religion and religious practice is guaranteed by the Constitution itself. Moreover, there is no state religion and all religions are given equal preference by the state.

Inter-State mobility: The Constitution guarantees freedom to move throughout the territory of India under Article 19 (1) (d), thus promoting a sense of unity and brotherhood among the masses. Other factors such as the uniform pattern of law, penal code, and administrative works (eg. All India services) lead to uniformity in the criminal justice system, policy implementation etc.

Economic integration: The Constitution of India secures the freedom of Trade, Commerce and Intercourse within the Territory of India under Article 301. Further, the Goods and Service Tax (GST) have paved the way for ‘one country, one tax, one national market’, thus facilitating unity among different regions.

Institution of pilgrimage and religious practices: In India, religion and spirituality have great significance. . From Badrinath and Kedar Nath in the north to Rameswaram in the south, Jagannath Puri in the east to Dwarika in the west the religious shrines and holy rivers are spread throughout the length and breadth of the country. Closely related to them is the age-old culture of pilgrimage, which has always moved people to various parts of the country and fostered in them a sense of geo-cultural unity.

Tolerant rulers: kings like Ashoka and Akbar promoted secular ideas and the peaceful coexistence of people of various faiths.

Freedom struggle: it was the freedom struggle of India that led to creating the India of India mass movements under Mahatma Gandhi led to unite the people of various regions to form a nation called India.

Fairs and festivals: They also act as integrating factors as people from all parts of the country celebrate them as per their own local customs. Eg. Diwali is celebrated by Hindus in the country, similarly, Id and Christmas are celebrated by Muslims and Christians, respectively. Celebration of inter-religious festivals is also seen in India.

Climatic integration via monsoon: The flora and fauna in the entire Indian subcontinent, agricultural practices, and life of people, including their festivities revolve around the monsoon season in India.

Sports and Cinema: These are followed by millions in the country, thus, acting as a binding force across the length and breadth of India.

Factors that threaten India’s unity

Regionalism: Regionalism tends to highlight the interests of a particular region/region over national interests. It can also adversely impact national integration. The law and order situation is hampered due to regional demands and ensuing agitation.

Divisive politics: Sometimes, ascriptive identities such as caste, religion etc. are evoked by politicians in order to garner votes. This type of divisive politics can result in violence, feeling of mistrust and suspicion among minorities.

Development imbalance: Uneven, pattern of socio-economic development, inadequate economic policies and consequent economic disparities can lead to the backwardness of a region. Consequently, this can result in violence, kickstart migration waves and even accelerate separatism demands. For instance, due to the economic backwardness of the North East region, several instances of separatist demands and secessionist tendencies have sprung up in the region.

Ethnic differentiation and nativism: Ethnic differentiation has often led to clashes between different ethnic groups especially due to factors such as job competition, limited resources, threat to identity etc. E.g. frequent clashes between Bodos and Bengali-speaking Muslims in Assam. This has been accentuated by the son of the soil doctrine, which ties people to their place of birth and confers some benefits, rights, roles and responsibilities on them, which may not apply to others.

Geographical isolation: Geographical isolation too can lead to identity issues and separatist demands. The North-East is geographically isolated from the rest of the country as it is connected with the rest of the country by a narrow corridor i.e the Siliguri corridor (Chicken’s Neck). The region has inadequate infrastructure and is more backward economically as compared to the rest of the country. As a result, history witnessed several instances of separatism and cross-border terrorism, among others.

Inter-religious conflicts: Inter-religious conflicts not only hamper relations between two communities by spreading fear and mistrust but also hinder the secular fabric of the country.

Inter-state conflicts: This can lead to the emergence of feelings related to regionalism. It can also affect trade and communications between conflicting states. For instance, the Cauvery River dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Influence of external factors: Sometimes external factors such as foreign organizations terrorist groups, and extremist groups can incite violence and sow feelings of separatism. E.g. Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has been accused of supporting and training mujahideen to fight in Jammu and Kashmir and sow separatist tendencies among resident groups.

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