Multiculturalism in Contemporary India

Harihar Bhattacharyya

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Multicultural concerns have long informed India’s history and traditions, constitution and political arrangements. Much of the writings on Indian history, culture and politics are marked by some kind of multicultural concern. The central question addressed in this paper is how a vast multi-ethnic country – in terms of religion, language, community, caste and tribe – has survived as a state in conditions of underdevelopment, mass poverty, illiteracy and extreme regional disparities. Placed in relation to the failures of many less diverse and plural post-colonial and “socialist” states, India’s record of relative political unity and stability seems remarkable indeed. It is argued that at the heart of the resolution of many ethnic conflicts in India lies a set of multicultural state policies. The Indian Constitution as the source of these policies can be said to be a basic multicultural document, in the sense of providing for political and institutional measures for the recognition and accommodation of the country’s diversity. In the post-independence period, the major form of political recognition of territorially based ethnic identity of the people has remained statehood within the Indian federation, although other forms, most notably, sub-statehood, in the form of Regional or Tribal District Councils, have often served similar purposes for small ethnic communities. The paper also points out that the recent Indian debate on multiculturalism has yet to take cognisance of the rationale behind the institutional measures for the political accommodation of identity, difference and community, which has been responsible for India’s survival as a state. The three recent cases of statehood in India are cited in support of this argument.

Suggested bibliographic reference for this article:

Bhattacharyya, Harihar. Multiculturalism in Contemporary India. IJMS: International Journal on Multicultural Societies. 2003, vol. 5, no.2, pp. 148-161. UNESCO. ISSN 1817-4574.

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