ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Case for Multiculturalism in India

In any attempts to place multiculturalism on the agenda, the public sphere must be made more conducive to the expression of cultural diversity, rather than protecting religious and cultural practices of the private sphere.

The term multiculturalism has become popular in the west over the past two decades. It reflects a concern to make the liberal democracies of the west more sensitive to the existence of cultural pluralism within the boundaries of the nation state, which had till then been considered to be culturally homogeneous. This assumption about the cultural homogeneity of the nation state was to seriously disadvantage the numerous minority communities that existed within them. It thus represents the extension of liberal principles to those sections of the society which had been disadvantaged and thereby excluded from the polity. It is a significant moment in the extension of liberal principles towards the end of the 20th century, and can be considered a further development after the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s in the US.

These developments in the west should draw our attention, in India, to the importance of recognising, protecting and promoting cultural difference. This, of course, is a suggestion that can only be made with the danger of inviting accusations from the Sangh parivar of aping the west, much the same as the rejection of Nehruvian secularism as being an alien construct, unsuited to conditions in India. However, the concept of multiculturalism can prove to be an effective counter to the homogenising project of hindutva and there exists, on account of this very reason, a strong case for its promotion and encouragement in this country. The interesting thing to note in this regard is that multiculturalism is not so alien to this country. This becomes quite obvious if one considers certain provisions of the Constitution which are intended to protect the cultural distinctness of the minorities, the relevant provisions being, articles 29 and 30. If one considers the fact that these were put into the Constitution in the period between 1946 and 1949, one realises that the concern for cultural difference in India significantly presaged later liberal concerns in the west with cultural pluralism and diversity. One could argue that multiculturalism, rather than being a concept imported from the west is, in fact, very much Indian, and thereby beat the Sangh parivar at its own game of accepting only those political concepts which it feels are indigenous.

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