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Multiculturalism in India as a template for Kashmir’s future

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Multiculturalism helps to balance the sociopolitical environment of a state. It encourages inclusion and reduces alienation within and outside communities


In recent decades, as a result of the new world order, the world has become a global village. The emergence of regional/international organizations, economic corridors, and communication technologies have brought people much closer. The processes of globalization while undermining borders have simultaneously created cross-cultural, religious, linguistic and ethnic ties between people. Thus, it manifests the cultural diversity within a state as well as outside the same. Moreover, many countries have adopted the policies of assimilation and integration and maintain the cultural diversity within their borders. The term ‘multiculturalism’ has thus gained importance over the past few decades. It has emerged as an essential characteristic of the modern states. The template of multiculturalism considers diversity, hierarchy, religion, culture, ethnicity, gender and other aspects of human life for the achievement of equal rights, recognition, and social respect. In other words, multiculturalism is a broad concept promoting cultural diversity and the politics of coexistence based on ethnicity, religion, and gender, language and so on.

It has been observed that multiculturalism serves to highlight a range of issues that we face in our life. One of the most important contexts for this role of multiculturalism that offers us an insight into root causes of issues emerges from the fact that human life is profoundly shaped by the culture in which one lives, and every culture has a different lens of interpretation for viewing life in terms of priorities. It is interesting to note that every culture is somewhere internally plural. To deal with the plural societies in general and minorities in specific, multicultural policies have achieved greater prominence in present times.  Even though multicultural practices in many parts of the world have tilted towards discriminatory practices along religious lines in the recent past, however, it is embedded in the broader philosophy of encouraging unity in diversity underlying constitutional ethics like that of the Indian State amongst many others.

Multiculturalism, a boon for the State?

Multiculturalism helps to balance the sociopolitical environment of a state. It encourages inclusion and reduces alienation within and outside communities. Multicultural policies seek to enable multi-level management both at macro and micro levels. It also encourages minorities to preserve their culture while exercising equal rights and promotes coexistence with the goal of rooting out racial or ethnic hatred.

Various countries have adopted multicultural policies that extensively vary from each other in the way they play out in application within different political setups. Thus, multiculturalism is itself a controversial term with diverse meanings, depending upon the country where it is followed. The multicultural movements first emerged in Canada, Australia and then America and the United Kingdom. There are various perspectives of multicultural policies followed and ranging from the Netherland, U K, France, Canada, and India.

Multiculturalism in India can be traced from the 16th century. Indian Mughal emperor Jalal-u-Din Akbar practiced multicultural policies during his regime. His policies were entirely based on the principle of religious tolerance and harmony (sulh-i-kul). Akbar not only gave equal status to religious communities but also reformed unjust religious practices. Hence, Kenan Malik has rightly pointed out that multicultural policies have individual and unique pathways.

India is a perfect example of a multicultural society with its diversity in unity. It is a multicultural society and has one of the most diverse cultural and religious identity templates in the world which is of subcontinental scope and mirrors the various cultures that are closely tied to it in what are now neighboring countries. Culture and religion are closely linked with each other. Religious interpretation is often considered but is mostly seen through the prism of culture associated with it. Thus, it is impossible to understand a culture without considering its religious connotation. Besides, India is a secular country that has assimilated its minorities under the umbrella of multiculturalism. India has diverse cultures, languages, religions, regions, tribes, races, ethnicities and traditions at its subnational levels even within its multiple states. Moreover, in recent times, the existence of ‘many’ has become a sign of democracy according to Gurpreet Mahajan. Hence, the concept of multiculturalism and democracy bears a stark resemblance to some extent.

Multiculturalism in Kashmir, an evolving discussion.

Multiculturalism and an inclination to preserve pluralism in narratives of coexistence has played a significant role in Kashmir’s history over the centuries. This tendency had led to a deep and close cultural bond to evolve between the different religious communities in Kashmir. This fact in turn tends to neutralize the feelings of otherness in every day cultural life of the different communities within Kashmiri society. The stability of multicultural societies is primarily based on the sense of commonness and belongingness rather than individualistic approach. The identity of being Kashmiri most often gains more prominence over the identities based on religious or caste considerations. This fact has served to somewhere help Kashmiris hold on to a distinct ethno-linguistic identity that binds the diverse people of the stated geographical region uniquely preserving their sense of identity as Kashmiri over other broader overlapping identities with people from across the subcontinent like the Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, etc.

To deal with the plural societies in general and minorities in specific, multicultural policies have achieved greater prominence in present times. It advocates for equal respect for all cultures, ethnic and religious groups or differences in the public sphere by asserting that many cultural communities that are in our society must live as equals in the public domain. The main agenda or focus of multiculturalism in this context is all about equality. The formulation of such an integrated society where different identities working together would not only accomplish political goals but also help to tackle a new set of inevitable challenges like climatic issues, pandemic diseases, natural calamities, and socioeconomic and transnational issues remains the goal of such an arrangement. In a more globalized world, most of the more prominent issues which are gaining focus in the development agenda happen to be borderless issues and challenge global societies rather than individual ones.

As great powers like America, China, and Russia remain busy competing with one another over resource sharing measures and trade, the geopolitics of the approach still somewhere seems to disregard the natural advantage of taking up a more multicultural approach to leverage collective strengths for the development of one and all. It is worth exploring how the naturally multicultural template of the Indian subcontinent can possibly be a model for Kashmir as well as the rest of the world to consider using common, overlapping identities to forge collaborations that encompass a broader vision for development. It is imperative to look at the emergent issues as more than region-specific issues as they barely stay limited to individual societies. Multiculturalism can strengthen societies in new relationships and partnerships that can factor in national interests while promoting the overall interests of multiple communities across the world as they negotiate their cultural priorities to come together to face the most pertinent challenges of their times. Kashmir, caught in a decades old conflict sits at the brink of a defining moment in its history where it has an important choice to make; one that rises above regional identity to embrace the relationships that would bring it in a position of finding community with other diverse communities of the global village in an empowering and enriching way.

  • The author is Senior Research Fellow, JK Policy Institute. jkpi.org

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