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EMBRACE THE DIVERSITY: Diversity of India is a deep-rooted reality that can’t be wished away or engineered into a homogenous mass

– Shafaat Shahbandari

Diversity is the essence of all creation. Among humans it is reflected in the diversity of cultures and communities that is the hallmark of societies across the world.

Globally, humanity is known by its diverse and distinct cultural identities, each forming out of their shared beliefs, customs, traditions and social practices.

The natural, social and religious environments in which a group of people lives, play crucial roles in forming the distinct cultural identities. Engagement between groups also plays a role in influencing practices and shaping cultures.

Among the great nations of the world, India has historically been at the forefront of cultural, ethnic and natural diversity, easily qualifying as the capital of human confluence.

Historically, migration has played a massive role in forming societies and synthesising cultures.

Being home to one of the oldest continuously inhabited civilisations on earth, India has always been among the most culturally, spiritually and intellectually richest nations in the world. This also means it has always been a melting pot of thriving traditions.

Being strategically located and having attracted large waves of migrations throughout history, India has absorbed various cultures, traditions and talents like a great ocean.

This ability to absorb various strands of humanity and bring them out in forms unimaginable, makes India truly unique.

This amalgamation of trends and traditions regularly gave birth to new identities, adding new strands to the already rich tapestry of Indian cultural heritage.

The confluence of cultures added new layers to the landscape of India, giving new dimensions to the expression of Indian art, craft, architecture as well as customs and languages.

Languages are great vehicles of cultural expression and there is no dearth of languages, tongues and dialects in India.

Indian constitution officially recognises 22 major languages, but according to Government data, newspapers and magazines are published in 35 Indian languages. Across different parts of this vast and multifarious nation, 72 languages are taught in schools, while radio channels beam their programmes to the remotest parts of the country in as many as 146 languages and dialects.

It is mind-boggling for a nation to have these many languages, but the story doesn’t end there.

Apart from the major languages that are recognised through newspapers, schools and radio, Indian census has recorded 1,576 languages and 1,796 mother-tongues. That makes up more than half of all the world languages.

Another major marker of cultural diversity is the food habits and cuisines of various communities. Food habits in India are as diverse as the languages spoken here. In fact, it could be more diverse, as the culinary expressions vary significantly even within a region that speaks the same language.

In India, every household is a fortress of a unique taste and it is this taste that helps neighbours, relatives and friends bond with each other.

From dosa and dal to biryani and pulav, from kulcha and paratha to chapati and naan, from halwa and laddoo to peda and burfi, from samosa and pakoda to bhelpuri and poha, from kebabs and kormas to tikka and tandoori, the range of food items in India is endless. The taste not only changes from region to region or town to town, but even within different parts of a city.

To dress is an intrinsically human experience, as no other creature is known to dress.

Apart from being a tool of protection from the elements and a defender of modesty, clothing is also an expression of class, grace and status.

Dress has always been a great symbol of cultural expression from the earliest times and the sartorial expressions of India are as diverse as the country itself.

From lungies and lehngas to sarees and sarongs, from cholis and chudis to shararas and sherwanis, from kamees and kurtas to ghunghat and ghagras, from dhoti and topi to pajama and pagdi, not only does India have a treasure of countless attires, but the way each garment is worn also varies from place to place.

Art is another intrinsic part of cultural expression, generally demonstrated by people in the way they work, create or celebrate.

Artistic expression of communities vary immensely in India in the way they weave their fabric, build their homes, create their paintings, compose their folklore, mould their utensils, shape their furniture and carve their sculptures.

Communities across the length and breadth of India have unique craft traditions that are greatly influenced by their local environment and naturally available material. They have also been influenced by exchange of ideas that have happened throughout history, with skilled migrants bringing their own techniques and traditions from different parts of the world.

No nation comes even close to India in the range of communities it holds together. Every corner of this vibrant nation throws a pleasant surprise at you.

Just when you thought you knew India like you should know your home, it opens up new vistas of its myriad shades to you.

The distinction of Indian communities come in the way they dress and speak, what they eat and produce, what they believe in and practise; and how they live and celebrate. Yet, there is a common thread of humanity and national identity that keeps us together and helps us appreciate each other.

Whether we are living in the remotest of forests; or in a tiny, little-known village on the edge of the map; or in a heaving, jostling metropolis, every citizen stands out.

The people of India are not the faceless masses, rather they are part of thriving communities whose aspirations and resilience bring hope and joy to the nation.

Over the last few decades, the diverse cultural fabric of India has been under constant attack of aggressive assimilation. It is the responsibility of every community and citizen of India to hold on to their distinction.

The true prosperity of our nation is in preserving the assortment that is India. This can be done only when we embrace each other despite our differences. This can be done only when we celebrate our differences and find commonalities within those differences.

The key to initiating and consolidating this process is through dialogue and engagements between various cultures. This has been done before and there is no reason why it can’t be done again.

Our diversity is not our weakness, rather it is our strength and a source of unity. Our differences shouldn’t pull us apart, rather they should help us weave together a rich tapestry of life and livelihood.

A nation as diverse as India cannot be under the siege of homogeneity for too long. With sustained exposure to multi-chromatic expression, the monochrome will fade away.

[Shafaat Shahbandari is an independent journalist based in Bengaluru. He is the founder of Thousand Shades of India, an alternative media initiative that is founded on the values of hope, empathy and diversity.]


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