Unity in diversity has been one of the most overused topics for essay writing competitions in schools. The idea of diversity or ‘difference’ is fed to us from formative years. We are taught to accept people who look and live differently than us, to ensure that when we grow up as citizens we will have a positive feeling of brotherhood and solidarity towards people coming from diverse parts of the country.
The political unification of modern India took place under the British rule. This unification resulted in variety of people coming together and living under one flag. We are diverse in the truest sense of the word. In contrast to Europe, where language is the basis for the formation of modern nation (and the basis for the definition of diversity) states, in India diversity is not just limited to linguistics. It expands into how we dress, what we eat, how we eat, how we dance, how we celebrate the same festivals in different manners etc. Language in India is a basis for the formation of provinces only! (Read about political unification of India by clicking here)
When we attained independence in 1947. Experts from across the world said, “India will never survive as a unified democratic nation due to the diversity of the people living within her common borders.” Yet, 70 years later we continue to exist, democratic and unified. Unfortunately, an incident took place which made me question the latter.
However, the question which arises out of the mentioned incident, “Do we accept or tolerate our differences?“
The primary objective of education is to make us better human beings. The above incident took place in one of India’s top educational institutions. Isn’t the purpose of education being defeated here? By judging the credibility of a person by simply asking them, “where are they from?” stands opposite to the idea of India. What it also highlights is that we are simply tolerating people who are different (in some cases termed as, outsiders) instead of accepting them.
Acceptance and tolerance are often used interchangeably, but have meanings which distinguish it from each other. Acceptance goes beyond a step from tolerance. If tolerance is, “I can live with this person ABC” then acceptance would be, “ABC has the right to live here regardless of how different he/she is from me.” We can tolerate without accepting but not vice versa.
How do we achieve it? Mentioning a few things which I feel can be fulfilled on a priority basis to increase acceptance.
Increased interaction between people from various parts of the country is imperative for the feeling of oneness and acceptance to develop. Equal attention must be paid to the various states of India. E.g. The North East is often neglected when it comes to social, economic and political development of the people. This results in exclusion, which is bad for a diverse country like India.
In educational institutions, students should be encouraged to interact with everyone, regardless of where they are from or what language do they speak. It is psychologically proven that, the more we interact with the group or people, the more we will feel the ‘stereotype’ against them fading away. Furthermore, institutions like schools, the curriculum should be changed to include textbooks which have positive factors and ideas about diversity.
Therefore, our aim as a society and as a nation should not be towards achieving “tolerance” in the society; it will be half-hearted and will not have the desired result. Whereas, aiming for “acceptance” is where the heart should be. When we accept differences, we start looking beyond them and look towards the bigger picture. The next step for the Indian society is to accept and not tolerate.