UPSC IAS exam preparation - Post-Independence India - Lecture 2


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Diversity of India

[हिंदी में पढ़ें ]

1.0 Introduction

One of the most striking aspects, apparently visible to an external and impartial observer of India would be the contrasting features of Unity and Diversity at the same time.

Indian is a vast country and has a long history. Its society has evolved through the ages and has also been affected by foreign influences giving it extreme diversity and making unity amidst diversity a characteristic of the Indian society. However, to understand the process, we need to understand the meaning of diversity, unity and pluralism as well as their relevance to the Indian society.

2.0 Key Concepts

2.1 Diversity

In a social context the meaning is more specific than mere differences; it means collective differences among people, that is, those differences that distinctly mark off one group of people from another. These differences may be biological, religious, linguistic etc. Biological and physiological differences are the basis of racial diversity. On the basis of religious differences, similarly, we have religious diversity. The point to note is that diversity refers to collective differences.

Diversity, however, is different from fragmentation. Diversity means existence of differences in a whole. It does not mean separate parts. Fragmentation does not mean differences, it means different parts and in that situation each part would be a whole in itself. For all practical purposes it means variety of groups and cultures. We have such a variety in abundance in India. We have here a variety of races, of religions, of languages, of castes and of cultures. For the same reason India is known for its socio-cultural diversity. However diversity, if not managed properly, does tend to result in fragmentation, as has happened at times in parts of India.

2.2 Unity

Unity is a socio-psychological condition. It connotes a sense of one-ness, a sense of we-ness. It stands for the bonds, which hold the members of a society together. There is a difference between unity and uniformity. Uniformity presupposes similarity, unity does not. Unity is of two types, first which may be born out of uniformity, and second which may arise despite differences. 

Mechanical solidarity is generally found in less advanced societies and characterized by being based on resemblance, segmentation (clan or territorial type), ruling with repressive sanctions and prevalence of penal law, highly religious and transcendental and attaching supreme value to the society and interests of the society as a whole. 

Organic solidarity on the other hand is generally found in more advanced societies and is based on division of labour, characterized by the fusion of markets and growth of cities, rules with recitative sanctions and prevalence of cooperative law. This results in an increasingly secular, human oriented approach and attaches supreme value to individual dignity, equality of opportunity and social justice.

2.3 Pluralism

In a societal context, pluralism can be understood in many ways. It can be religious pluralism, cultural pluralism, linguistic pluralism or ethic pluralism. But these are not mutually exclusive. There may exist a combination of more than one kind.  Pluralism recognizes diverse groups and seeks to provide a mechanism in which no one group dominates the state and in which interests of all groups are reasonably taken care of. Thus pluralism can be said to be a diffusion of power among many special-interest groups, prevents any one group from gaining control of the government and using it to oppress the people. Our pluralist society has many groups such as women, men, racial, ethnic groups as well as broad categories as the rich, middle class and poor. In such a scenario domination of political power by one group could lead to neglect of the others resulting in social tensions which may he harmful to society as well as the state.

Authoritarian regimes do not have much scope for political pluralism. For example, China does not tolerate any line other than that of the official Communist Party (though it allows political parties to exist). Hence we find a large number of instances of pogroms, ethnic cleansing and purges in such regimes. Benevolent rulers through history, however, tried to maintain a balance among various social groups. In a democratic form of Government, political power depends on the number of votes. In such a case, biggest group could usurp political power and use it to much disadvantage against minority groups. Such a situation exists in countries where domination is based on religion. In such countries, minorities have been suffering from various disabilities. Pluralism, due to being inclusive, is capable of avoiding such situations. When pluralism prevails in a society, no group dominates. Rather as each group pursues its own interests, other groups that are pursuing theirs, balances it. To attain their goals, groups must negotiate with one another and make compromises. This minimizes conflict. These groups have political muscle to flex at the polls; politicians try to design policies that please as many groups as they can. This makes the political system responsive to the people and no one-group rules.

Thus unity and diversity are the two states of the society and pluralism is the mechanism through which unity amidst diversity is achieved.

3.0 Diversity: The Indian Context

India is a large country with different geopolitical conditions in different parts of the country. This has brought differences in social evolution of the groups living in different parts of the country. Apart from the geo-political diversity, interactions with foreigners due to invasions, trade and missionary activities have also led to foreign influences and social groups coming to India. All these have impacted the Indian society in one way or the other. A large number of foreign invader communities like the Greeks, Kushans, Sakas and Huns settled in India and were in due course assimilated in Hinduism, while retaining some of their characterstics and hence formed different social groups. Muslims maintained their separate religious identity but adapted themselves to Indian conditions creating yet another category of social groups. Presently, Indian society is highly diverse. Almost every major religion is represented in India. Institution of caste has added one more dimension to the diversity and every geographical region has developed its own language and culture. Some of the traits of diversity are as under:

3.1 Diversity of physical features

India is a vast country with great diversity of physical features. Certain parts in India are so fertile that they are counted amongst the most fertile regions of the world while others are so unproductive and barren that hardly anything grows there.

The unique feature about India is the extreme range of mountains covered with snow almost throughout the year - The Himalayas or the adobe of snow - which are the source of the mighty rivers like the Indus, Ganga and Yamuna. These perennial rivers irrigate extensive areas in the North to sustain the huge population of the country. At the same time Northern India contains arid zones and the desert of Rajasthan where nothing grows accept a few shrubs.

The regions of Indo-Gangetic Valley belong to the first category, while certain area of Rajasthan falls under the later category. From the point of view of climate, there is sharp contrast. As Minoo Massani (Swatantra Party) said, "India has every variety of climates from the blazing heat of the plains, as hot in places as hottest Africa - Jacobabad in Sindh - to freezing point (the Arctic cold of the Himalayas)”.

The Himalayan ranges which are always covered with snow are very cold while the deserts of Rajasthan are well known for their heat. The country also does not get uniform rainfall. There are certain areas like Cherrapunji in Meghalaya (locally known as Sohra) which get almost 460" of rain-fall per year which is considered to be world's highest record. On the other hand, Sindh and Rajasthan get hardly 3 inches of rainfall per year. This variety in climate has also contributed to a variety of flora and fauna. In fact, India possesses the richest variety of plants and animals known in the world.

3.2 Racial diversity

“From the human point of view India has been often described as an ethnological racial museum in which numberless races of mankind may be studied”.

A race is a group of people with a set of distinctive physical features such set skin, colour, type of nose, form of hair etc. A.W. Green says, “A race is a large biological human grouping with a number of distinctive, inherited characteristics which vary within a certain range”.

The Indian sub-continent received a large number of migratory races mostly from the Western and the Eastern directions. Majority of the people of India are descendants of immigrants from across the Himalayas. Their dispersal into sub-continent has resulted in the consequent regional concentration of a variety of ethnic elements. India is thus an ethnological museum. Dr.B.S. Guha identifies the population of India into six main ethnic groups, namely 
  1. the Negritos
  2. the Proto-Australoids
  3. the Mongoloids 
  4. the Mediterranean or Dravidian 
  5. the Western Brachycephals and 
  6. the Nordic.
People belonging to these different racial stocks have little in common either in physical appearance or food habits. The racial diversity can be very perplexing to an outsider, but to an Indian it is a regular affair, at times not even to be noticed.

Herbert Risley had classified the people of India into seven racial types. These are
  1. Turko-Iranian 
  2. Indo-Aryan
  3. Scytho-Dravidian
  4. Aryo-Dravidian
  5. Mongolo-Dravidian
  6. Mongoloid, and 
  7. Dravidian
These seven racial types can be reduced to three basic types - the Indo-Aryan, the Mongolian and the Dravidian. In his opinion the last two types would account for the racial composition of tribal India.

Other administrative officers and anthropologists like J.H. Hutton, D.N. Majumdar and B.S.Guha have given the racial classification of the Indian people based on further researches in this field. Hutton's and Guha's classifications are based on 1931 census operations.

3.3 Caste diversity

The caste system is one of the oldest institutions in India. Caste or Jati refers to a hereditary, endogamous status group practicing a specific traditional occupation. There are more than 3,000 Jatis in India. These are hierarchically graded in different ways in different regions. A sample image to the right for a particular region is reflective of this localised reality.

It may also be noted that the practice of caste system is not confined to Hindus alone. We find castes among the Muslims, Christians, Sikhs as well as other communities. For example, among the Muslims, there is a hierarchy of Shaikh, Saiyed, Mughal, and Pathans. Caste consciousness even among the Christians in India is not unknown. Since a vast majority of Christians in India were converted from the Hindu fold, the converts have carried the caste system into Christianity. Among the Sikhs again we have so many castes including Jat Sikh and Majahabi Sikh (lower castes). 

Caste system now has become a closed system which is a complete paradox from what it originally intended to be. Entry in a caste is only through birth in the system while exit is impossible. The system is discriminatory as it allows certain privileges to the high castes while the lower castes face disabilities. It is maintained by enforcing the notions of pollution and purity which are enforced through elaborate rules governing touch, dining and marriage. Caste as a regional reality can be seen in the different patterns of caste-ranking, customs and behaviors, marriage rules and caste dominance found in various parts of India. Three important aspects are caste structure and kinship, caste structure and occupation, and caste structure and power and these are discussed now.

3.3.1 Caste structure and kinship

Caste structure is intimately related to the kinship system amongst the Hindus in India. The sole reason for this relationship lies in the endogamous nature of caste system. Caste is basically a closed system of stratification, since members are recruited on the criteria of ascribed status. Kinship is a method or a system by which individuals as members of society relate themselves with other individuals of that society. There are two types of kinship bonds. One is consanguine and the other is affine. Consanguine ties are ties of blood such as, between mother-daughter, mother-son, father-daughter, etc. Affinely ties are ties through marriage, such as, between husband and wife, man and his wife's brother, etc.

Kinship in India is largely an analysis of the internal structure of the caste and its sub-caste, the gotra. A gotra is the lineage or clan assigned to a Hindu at birth. In most cases, the system is patrilineal and the gotra assigned is that of the person's father. Other names used to refer to it are Vansh, Vanshaj, Bedagu, Purvik, Purvajan, Pitru. An individual may decide to identify his lineage by a different gotra, or combination of gotras.

Kinship system found in various parts of India differ from each other in many respects. However, generally speaking, we can distinguish between the kinship system in the Northern region, the Central region and the Southern region. North India is in itself a very large region, having innumerable types of kinship systems. This region includes the region between the Himalayas in the North and the Vindhyas in the South. In this region a person marries outside the village since all the members of one's caste in a village are considered to be brothers and sisters, or uncles and aunts. Marriage with a person inside the village is forbidden. In fact, an exogamous circle of a few villages around a man's village is drawn. Hypergamy is practised in this region according to which a man takes a wife from a clan which is lower in status to his own clan. That is, a girl goes in marriage from a lower status group to a higher status group. The effect of this hypergamy and village exogamy is that it spatially widens the range of ties. Several villages become linked to each other through affinal and matrilateral links. 

The clans, lineages, and kutumbs are all part of the internal structure of the caste at the same time being part of the kinship organization. These groups are all the time increasing and branching off with time. The organization of family in the northern region is mainly patriarchal and patrilocal. The lineage is traced through the male, i.e. patrilineal system is followed in this region. It is patriarchal because authority lies with the male head of the family and it is patrilocal because after marriage the bride is brought to reside in the house of the bridegroom's father.

Generally, in most of the castes in the north such as the Jats, an agricultural caste of South Punjab, Delhi and Haryana the "four-clan" rule of marriage is followed. According to this rule, a man cannot marry in the clan 
  1. to which his father (and he himself) belongs; 
  2. to which his mother belongs; 
  3. to which his father's mother belongs; and
  4. to which his mother's mother belongs. 
Marriage with kins which are related to him or her five generations on the mother's side and seven generations on the father's side are ideally avoided. However, in reality these rules can be broken in some cases. In the northern region, therefore, marriage with cousins, removed even by two or three degrees is viewed as an incestuous union. In most parts of this region, as mentioned earlier, village exogamy is practised by most of the castes, especially the Brahman, Kshatriya and Vaishya castes. This rule is known in Delhi, Haryana and Punjab, as the rule of Sassan. In Central India which includes Rajputana, the Vindhyas, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Orissa we find the general practice of caste endogamy. Hypergamy is most characteristic of the Rajputs of this region and village exogamy is also found in this region. However, in this region especially in Gujarat and Maharashtra amongst some caste communities we find cross-cousin marriages being practised. Here there is a tendency for a man to marry his mother's brother's daughter. But marriage with the father's sister's daughter is taboo. The preference for a single type of cross-cousin marriage seems to move away from the taboo of marrying cousins of any class in the northern region. Thus, in many ways this preference suggests a closer contact with the practices of the southern region.

The Southern region comprising the modern day states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala where the Dravidian languages are spoken are distinct from the northern and central regions of India in the sense that here we find basically preferential rules of marriage. Here a man knows whom he has to marry while in most areas in the north a man knows whom he cannot marry. Most of the parts of the Southern region except some, like the Malabar, follow the patrilineal family system. Here also we find exogamous social groups called gotras. The difference between the exogamous clans in the north is that a caste in a village is held to be of one patrician and therefore, no marriage is allowed within a village. Sometimes even a group of villages are supposed to be settled by one patrilineage and marriage between them is prohibited.

In the South, there is no identification of a gotra with one village or territory. More than one inter-marrying clans may live in one village territory and practice inter-marriage for generations. Thus, the social groups, which are formed due to this kind of marriage pattern in the South shows a centripetal tendency (of moving towards a centre) as against the centrifugal (of moving away from the centre) tendency of social groups found in north Indian villages. In the South, a caste is divided into a number of gotras. The first marriage creates obligations about giving and receiving daughters. Hence, within exogamous clans, small endogamous circles are found to meet inter-family obligations and a number of reciprocal alliances are found in South Indian villages. Apart from castes, which are patrilineal in the southern region, we also find some castes, such as the Nayars of Malabar district who follow matrilineal system of kinship. A typical Nayar household is made up of a woman, her sisters and brothers, her daughters and sons and her daughter's daughters and sons. Amongst the Nayars, property passes from the mother to the daughter. But the authority even in this system lies with the brother, who manages the property and takes care of his sister's children. Husbands only visit their wives in this system. The relationship between the caste structure and the kinship system is so intertwined that we cannot understand one without understanding the details of the other.

3.3.2 Caste structure and occupation

The hereditary association of caste with an occupation used to be a very striking feature of the caste system. A caste is considered to be high if its characteristic way of life is high and pure and it is considered to be low if its way of life is low and polluting. By the term 'way of life' we mean whether its traditional occupation is ritually pure or polluting. In the association of caste structure with a hereditary occupation the "jajmani system" forms the framework. The jajmani system is a system of economic, social and ritual ties between different caste groups in the villages. Under this system some castes are patrons and others are service castes. The service castes offer their services to the landowning upper and intermediate castes and in turn are paid both in cash and kind. The patron castes differ from one region to another depending on the socio-economic and political status of the castes. For example, the Rajput, Bhumihar and Jat are the patron castes in the North and Kamma, Reddi and Lingayat in the South. The service castes comprise Brahman (Priest), Barber, Carpenter, Blacksmith, Water-carrier, Leather-worker, etc. Thus, to understand regional variations we have to know something about the ownership of land, the land tenure status and adherence to the jajmani system. These economic organizations depend a lot on the caste structure and regional topography and vice versa.

There is congruence between high caste status and land ownership. At the top of occupational hierarchy stands a group of families, which control and own most land rights in the village/region. They also belong to the caste occupying the highest rank. Next in the hierarchy would be estate managers, landowners of relatively smaller size who are drawn from the castes who occupy a position next to the highest ranking castes. Smaller tenants and subtenants occupy the middle ranking caste groups. Finally, laborers are drawn from the lowest ranking caste.  The tendency of land ownership by the high castes serves to maintain and re-impose the existing caste hierarchy. However, with the changing times, impact of colonial rule and the consequent introduction of western education, this general association of higher caste with higher class (in terms of ownership of land, wealth and power) has been disturbed. However, in spite of these changes the ritual criteria of caste ranking remain important. Although even in the ancient times it was not all-important, as secular criteria of wealth and power of which land ownership is an important aspect did determine the status of a caste. The early nineteenth century account of Abbe Dubois, a famous French philosopher, who travelled extensively in South India, exemplifies this aspect very clearly when Dubois stated, “thus the caste to which the ruler of a country belongs, however low it may be considered elsewhere, ranks amongst the highest in the ruler's own dominions, and every member of it derives some reflection of dignity from its chief”. When we observe the regional patterns, we find that in the plains of Uttar Pradesh, two or more cultivating castes coexist. There is also the presence of a large number of scheduled caste groups, which have a numerical preponderance in the population. They generally constitute the labour force in this region. Caste groups are many and are heterogeneous in nature. There is a lack of uniformity in ranking and therefore, the caste structure is not well defined as is found in the southern regions.

Traditional Bengal had five categories of Brahmans - Saptasati, Madhya deshi, Rarhi, Barendra, and Baidik. Of these the last three have had a recognizable and significant identity and an eminent position in the social hierarchy of Bengal. At the other end of the caste ladder were the sudras. Sudras were also in turn divided into 'clean' and 'unclean' castes based on their hereditary occupation. In Orissa, the Warrior castes owned most of the land and combined soldiering with farm management. The outcastes, referred to as 'praja', were their servants. The other castes, including the Brahmins, were in a position of economic dependence and political subordination to them.

Turning our attention to regions that are clearly dominated by the presence of one agricultural caste, we find the case of Haryana and Punjab. In these states we find the dominance of a single agricultural caste referred to as the 'Jats'. As compared to the north, in the district of Tanjore, we find a clear-cut hierarchy existing in the caste system with Brahmans as land-owners. The Hindu social structure is clearly demarcated between the Brahmans, the non-Brahmans and the Adi-Dravidas. The Brahmans are the landowners; the non-Brahmans are the tenants, sub-tenants service giving castes while the Adi-Dravidas generally constitute the category of landless agricultural laborers.

3.3.3 Caste structure and power

Central to the caste system are caste panchayats and leadership. These power structures are highly formalized in certain caste groups and informal in others. The panchayat literally means a group or council of five. In a village it refers to a group that presides over, and resolves conflict, punishes people transgressing customs and launches group enterprises. It must be remembered that the village panchayat is quite different from the legislative use of the term panchayat. The usage, after the Constitution (73rd Amendment) Act 1992, refers to a statutory local body, formed through elections, vested with legal powers and charged with certain governmental responsibilities. In certain villages traditional caste panchayats and leaders are still a powerful means of control. The democratic panchayat with legislative powers and traditional panchayat may overlap in certain regions.

Regional caste structures, in part, account for variations in their respective power structure. It is important to know what qualifies caste for regional dominance. According to Srinivas (1966), a caste is said to be dominant when it is numerically the strongest in the village or local area and economically and politically exercises a preponderating influence. The status of a dominant caste appears to rest on such criteria as:
  1. the control of land and economic resources
  2. numerical strength
  3. a relatively high ritual status in the caste hierarchy and
  4. the educational status of its members. 
The above factors combine to place a particular caste group in a position of political dominance. Near monopoly of management rights
in local resources (usually agricultural land) and control of the same gives the group an ability to control the lives of the others.
Numerical strength alone may not place a group in a bargaining position. It needs an economic power base to backup its strength.
Once economic rights are in possession, however the size of a group does become important. The control of resources by members
of a dominant caste leads in turn, to making decisions for others, which constitutes real dominance. Regional variations that account
for dominant caste can be explained by 
  1. the degree to which a single large land holding caste controls a set of dependent castes, 
  2. rigidity of caste ranking,  and
  3. the existence of two or more dominant caste groups in a region. 
Studies from various parts of India suggest that dominant castes do not exist everywhere. Areas where a landowning group has been
able to establish itself in proportionally large numbers, and yet maintain distinctive character (by strictly regulating marriage and
descent), that dominance has been possible.

Local power flows mainly from land, which is the main source of wealth. Power is safeguarded if it is confined to a unified and numerically preponderant caste group. Numbers alone do not guarantee power. Caste groups numerically preponderant, but with divided loyalties, creating disunity, may not wield power. It is only when a caste group becomes politically united that it becomes a political force. This is very important because in the new democratic political system where every vote counts the numerical preponderance of a caste group gains an additional meaning. Power may also accrue to a jati, when its members have effective connections with the power of the village panchayats. In regions where religious groups and tribals are intermixed and no single caste possesses enough land, power or numerical strength, there is bound to be dual or multiple domination in a region.

Karve (1953), in her study of the Malabar Coast has pointed out certain distinct features present in a region. The order of dominance among castes parallels the order of caste rank. The exclusive nature of high-ranking castes is further reinforced by ritual notions of purity and pollution. High ranking Brahman castes of this region possess landed wealth, power and control, besides the traditional right to perform rituals; they also have right to religious learning and worship at temples. Subordinate castes are obliged to worship according to their ritual prescriptions and they do not have the right to religious texts like, the Veda, Upanishad, etc. Their economic and political subordination further enhances the dominant position of high-ranking castes.

Organization of ritual and temple services, concentration of land holdings correlates caste rank with secular power and promotes consistency in the total hierarchy of inter-caste relations. In regions where caste and power hierarchy overlap there is a definite concentration of power, wealth and land invested with high ranking caste groups. Correspondingly ritual sanctions reinforced the super ordinate status of upper caste groups and subordinate status of the lower caste groups. Thus, this correlation leads to the minimizing of disputes. Regions, which do not reveal a major correlation between caste and power structures, are characterized by certain features very different from the earlier example. Caste ranking may not be clear-cut and may promote disputes about caste ranking and status within the hierarchy. Caste groups of equal rank may be constantly disputing over their mutual positions in the hierarchy, resulting in dissent and dispute over ranking. Such conflicts get consolidated over a period of time resulting in formalized factions within the caste groups. Factions may promote disputes between them. Lack of clarity in caste ranking results in a diffused power structure, with no single caste group wielding economic, political and ritual clout.

In the districts of Punjab, Haryana and parts of U.P., especially in the upper Ganges districts, so-called middle ranking castes such as the Jat, Ahir, Kurmi, etc. wield substantial amount of power and hold positions of dominance. The agricultural castes wield substantial power, and are numerically preponderant in some of these regions. Political and economic interaction among castes in this region, however, forms a somewhat imperfect hierarchy as political and economic power is diffused. Ritual and secular power may not coincide everywhere. The region is marked by a lack of rigid stratification of castes, lack of concentration of political and economic power in a single caste group, resulting in the diffusion of political power.

3.4 Tribe

Tribes have been defined as a group of indigenous people having a common name, language and territory, tied by strong kinship bonds, practicing endogamy, having distinct customs, rituals and beliefs, simple social rank and political organization, common ownership of resources and technology. However, in India many of these characteristics are shared by castes. 

This raises the problem as to how to distinguish them from castes. There have been other conceptual attempts to define tribes. They have been considered as a stage in the social and cultural evolution. Some others have considered that the production and consumption among the tribes are household based and unlike peasants they are not part of a wider economic, political and social network. Bailey (1960) has suggested that the only solution to the problem of definition of tribes in India is to conceive of a continuum of which at one end are tribes and at the other are castes. The tribes have segmentary, egalitarian system and are not mutually inter-dependent, as are castes in a system of organic solidarity. They have direct access to land and no intermediary is involved between them and land.

Geographically, the tribes are concentrated in five regions namely, Himalayan region (with tribes like the Gaddi, the Jaunsari, the Naga etc.), Middle India (with tribes like the Munda, the Santhal etc.), Western India (with tribes like the Bhil, the Grasia etc.), South Indian region (with tribes like the Toda, the Chenchu etc.) and the Islands region (with tribes like the Onge in Bay of Bengal, the Minicoyans in Arabian Sea). 

On the basis of racial features, Guha (1935) considers that they belong to the following three races:
  1. The Proto-Australoids - They are characterised by dark skin colour, sunken nose and lower forehead. These features are found among the Gond (Madhya Pradesh), the Munda (Chotanagpur), the Ho (Bihar) etc.
  2. The Mongoloids - This group is characterised by light skin colour; head and face are broad; the nose bridge is very low and their eyes are slanting with a fold on the upper eye lid. These features are found among the Bhotiya (Central Himalayas), the Wanchu (Arunachal Pradesh), the Naga (Nagaland), the Khasi (Meghalaya), etc.
  3. The Negrito - This group is characterised by dark skin colour (tending to look like blue), round head, broad nose and frizzle hair. These features are found among the Kadar (Kerala), the Onge (Little Andaman), the Jarwa (Andaman Islands), etc.
Linguistically, there is great diversity among these tribes. According to estimates, tribals speak 105 different languages and 225 subsidiary languages. These languages belong to
  1. Austro-Asiatic family with two subgroups namely, MonKhmer branch and Munda branch which are spoken by Khasi, Nicobari, Gonds and Santhals.
  2. Tibeto-Chinese family: There are two sub-families of this type, namely Siamese-Chinese sub-family and Tibeto-Burman sub-family. In extreme North-Eastern frontier of India Khamti is one specimen of the Siamese Chinese sub-family. The Tibeto-Burman sub-family is further sub-divided into several branches. Tribals of Nagaland and Lepcha of Darjeeling speak variants of Tibeto-Burman languages.   
  3. Indo-European family: Tribal languages such as Hajong and Bhili are included in this group.
  4. Dravidian family: Languages of Dravidian family are, for example, spoken by Yeruva of Mysore, Oraon of Chhotanagpur etc. 
These languages are a broad classification showing extreme diversity among them.  For example, among the Naga there are at least 50 different groups, each one of them has a speech of its own and quite often the speakers of one speech do not understand the speech of others.

Numerical strength of tribes also shows great variation. Big tribes like Gonds and Bhils number in millions while some like Great Andamanese number less than hundred.  These tribes also show great variety in their economic pursuits.  Some tribes like Cholanaicken depended on food collection and hunting; others like Khasi of Meghalaya practiced shilfing cultivation. Most of the tribes of middle, western and southern regions of the country  practiced settled agriculture while some like the Kota of the Nilgiris live on crafts. The craftwork is done at the family level but raw material may be collected at the community level. For example, the basket makers may go collectively for obtaining bamboos but basket making may be a family enterprise. Some tribes like the Toda in the Nilgiri and the Gujjar, the Bakarwal and Gaddi in Himachal Pradesh are pastoral. 

The economic scene in the tribal regions has been changing. The economic changes may be listed as follows:
  1. Forest resources have dwindled and forests have been increasingly brought under reservation. They are no more under the control of the tribal people except in certain areas of North-East India.
  2. Tribal people have lost a lot of land to more experienced agriculturists, to industries, and for big projects like hydro-electric reservoirs
  3. A number of big industries like steel plants have been established in their areas. So, on the one hand, they have been displaced by such projects and, on the other, they have been given employment as wage labourers.
  4. Penetration of market economy resulted in the tribal's producing for market rather than for meeting their own needs.
Many of these changes have now become a source of conflict with legal cases reaching upto the Supreme Court of India.

3.5 Religion

India is a land of multiple religions. Almost all of the major religions of the world have their presence in the country. Hinduism is the dominant religion of India, followed by Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism.  The religions with lesser following are Judaism, Zoroastrianism and Bahaism.  However these are not the only religions.

As per the data of Census, 2001, Hinduism is professed by the majority of population in India. The Hindus are most numerous in 27 states/UTs except in Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Lakshadweep, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Jammu & Kashmir and Punjab. The Muslims professing Islam are in majority in Lakshadweep and Jammu & Kashmir. The percentage of Muslims is sizeable in Assam (30.9%), West Bengal (25.2%), Kerala (24.7%), Uttar Pradesh (18.5%) and Bihar (16.5%).

Christianity has emerged as the major religion in three North-eastern states, namely, Nagaland, Mizoram, and Meghalaya. Among other states/UTs, Manipur (34.0%), Goa (26.7%), Andaman & Nicobar Islands (21.7%), Kerala (19.0%), and Arunachal Pradesh (18.7%) have considerable percentage of Christian population to the total population of the State/UT.  Punjab is the stronghold of Sikhism. The Sikh population of Punjab accounts for more than 75% of the total Sikh population in the country. Chandigarh (16.1%), Haryana (5.5%), Delhi (4.0%), Uttaranchal (2.5%) and Jammu & Kashmir (2.0%) are other important States/UTs having Sikh population. These six states/UTs together account for nearly 90 percent Sikh population in the country.

The largest concentration of Buddhism is in Maharashtra where 73.4% of the total Buddhists in India reside. Karnataka (3.9 lakh), Uttar Pradesh (3.0 lakh), West Bengal (2.4 lakh) and Madhya Pradesh (2.0 lakh) are other states having large Buddhist populations. Sikkim (28.1%), Arunachal Pradesh (13.0%) and Mizoram (7.9 %) have emerged as top three states in terms of having maximum percentage of Buddhist population.  Maharashtra, Rajsthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujrat, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi have reported major Jain populations. These states/UTs together account for nearly 90 percent of the total Jain population in the country, and the percentage of Jain population to the total population is maximum in Maharastra (1.3%), Rajsthan (1.2%), Delhi (1.1%) and Gujrat (1.0%). Elsewhere in the country their proportion in negligible.

The above figures would indicate that the Indian society is also diverse in religious terms. While the general populace has been largely tolerant of other communities, there have been some instances of religious tension. While the Muslims feel uneasy on account of the Babri Masjid and Gujarat riots, and Christians feel disturbed about actions of some sections against the missionaries, the Sikhs have time and again pointed out the atrocities of the 1984 anti Sikh riots. However, credit must go the resilience of the common people that they have successfully dealt with these challenges to social fabric of the country and have maintained general communal harmony.

3.6 Region

India is a large country with huge geographical variations. We have the snow clad Himalayas, fertile plains of the North, arid land of Western India, Deccan plateau and the coastal plains of the South. Some areas like the plains of North have been historically prosperous due to good agriculture while some like Rajasthan do not have the same position. Some areas like U.P. and Punjab were seats of power and had continuous interaction with the outside world, some like the Himalayan states of the north and tribal areas in the north east were untouched by the outside world. These areas developed their own pockets in which they lived in accordance with their culture and traditions. Apart from this, feudalism has been an important part of Indian polity after the Mauryan period and has virtually controlled the political system since 8th century onwards. It ensured that whenever the central authority weakened the local lord would strive to become independent. A number of local kingdoms like Awadh, Bengal and Hyderabad arose after the decline of Mughal empire. Support of such rulers helped in developing local dialects and culture helping the region to grow into a separate and linguistic identity.

Regional identity thus is a combination of geographical and cultural identities and regional consciousness invariably evolves from either or both of these characteristics. When this regional consciousness is coupled with economic disparities it brings in a contradiction between the community and the state, and the community starts demanding a separate administrative setup in the form of state or autonomous councils where they can preserve their socio-cultural identity and look after well being of their people, which according to them are neglected.  While some such movements have led to successful creation of states, others like Telengana have struggled for very long.

3.7 Resources

The exploitation of the natural resources of the country has an important bearing on its history. Until human settlements developed on a large scale because of heavy rainfall a good part of the Indian plains abounded in thickly forested areas, which provided game and supplied forage, fuel and timber. In early times, when burnt bricks were not much in use, timber houses and palisades were constructed. They have been found in Pataliputra, the first important capital of India. For construction and tool-making all kinds of stones including sandstone are available in the country. The earliest human settlements are naturally found in India in the hilly areas and in those River valleys which are situated between the hills. In historical times more temples and piece of sculpture were made of stone in the Deccan and south India than in the plains of Northern India.

Copper is widely distributed in the country. The richest copper mines are found in the Chotanagpur plateau, particularly in the district of Singhbhum. The copper belt is about 130 km long and shows many signs of Ancient workings. The earliest people who used copper implements in Bihar exploited the copper mines of Singhbhum and Hazaribagh, and many copper tools have been discovered in south Bihar and parts of Madhya Pradesh. Rich copper deposits are also found in the Khetri mines in Rajasthan. These were tapped by both pre-Vedic and Vedic people, who lived in Pakistan, Rajasthan, Gujarat and the Ganga-Yamuna doab. Numerous copper belts have been found in the Khetri zone, and they seem to belong to a period anterior to circa 1000 B.C. Since copper was the first metal to be used, it is invested with great purity by the Hindus, andr copper utensils are used in religious rituals.

The country today produces no tin; this was scarce even in Ancient times. There is reason to believe that it was found in Rajasthan and Bihar, but its deposits have been used up. Since bronze is made by mixing tin with copper, we do not find many bronze objects in prehistoric times. The Harappans possibly procured some tin from Rajasthan, but their main supply came from Afghanistan, and even this was limited. Hence although the Harappa people used bronze tools, their number compared with those found in Western Asia, Egypt and Crete is very small, and their tools carry a smaller percentage of tin. Therefore, the major portion of India had no proper Bronze Age, that is, an age in which tools and implements were mostly made of bronze. Starting with the early centuries of the Christian era India developed intimate connections with Burma and the Malay Peninsula which possessed plenty of tin. This made possible the use of bronze on a large scale, especially for the statues of the gods in south India. Tin for the Bihar bronzes of Pala times was possibly obtained from Gaya, Hazaribagh and Ranchi, for in Hazaribagh tin ores were smelted till the middle of the last century.

India has been rich in iron ores, which are found particularly in south Bihar, eastern Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka. Once the art of smelting, using bellows (making steel) was learnt, iron could be used for war, and more usefully, for the clearance of jungles and for deep and regular cultivation. The formation of the first Empire in Magadha in the sixth to fourth centuries B.C. owed much to the availability of iron just south of this region. The large-scale use of iron made Avanti, with its capital at Ujjain, an important kingdom in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. The Satavahanas and the other powers which arose south of the Vindhyas may have exploited iron ores of Andhra and Karnataka.

Andhra possesses resources in lead, which explains the large numbers of lead coins in the kingdom of the Satavahanas, who ruled over Andhra and Maharashtra in the first two centuries of the Christian era. Lead may have also been obtained from towns in Rajasthan. The earliest coins, called the punchmarked coins, were made largely of silver, although this metal is rarely found in the country. However, silver, mines existed in early times in the Kharagpur hills in the district of Monghyr, and they are mentioned as late as the time of Akbar. This accounts for the use of the white metal in the earliest punch-marked coins found in Bihar.

Gold is found in the Kolar gold fields of Kamataka. A very early trace of gold has been found at a New Stone Age site of around 1800 B.C. in Karnataka. We have no indication of its exploitation till the beginning of the second century A.D. Kolar considered to be the earliest capital of the Gangas of south Karnataka. Much of the gold used in early times was obtained from Central Asia and the Roman Empire. Gold coins, therefore, came into regular use in the first five centuries of the Christian era. As the local resources were not sufficient to maintain the gold currency over a long spell of time, once the supply from outside stopped, gold coins became rare.

4.0 Unity amidst Diversity

Inspite of diversities, Indian community shares certain bonds of unity. The first bond of unity of India is found in its geo-political integration. India is known for its geographical unity marked by the Himalayas in the north and the oceans on the other sides. Politically India is a sovereign state since 1947. The same constitution and same parliament govern every part of it. We share the same political culture marked by the norms of democracy and secularism. The geo-political unity of India was always visualized by our seers and rulers. The expressions of this consciousness of the geo-political unity of India are found in Rig-Veda, in Sanskrit literature, in the edicts of Asoka, in Buddhist monuments and in various other sources. The ideal of geo-political unity of India is also reflected in the concepts of Bharatvarsha (the old indigenous classic name for India), Chakravarti (emperor), and Ekchhatradhipatya (under one rule).

Another source of unity of India lies in what is known as temple culture, which is reflected in the network of shrines and sacred places. From Badrinath and Kedarnath in the north to Rameshwaram in the south, Jagannath Puri in the east to Dwaraka in the west the religious shrines and holy rivers are spread throughout the length and breadth of the country. Closely related to them is the age-old culture of pilgrimage, which has always moved people to various parts of the country and fostered in them a sense of geo-cultural unity. As well as being an expression of religious sentiment, pilgrimage is also an expression of love for the motherland, a sort of mode of worship of the country. It has acted as an antithesis to the regional diversity and has played a significant part in promoting interaction and cultural affinity among the people living in different parts of India.

Indian culture has had a remarkable quality of accommodation and tolerance. The first evidence of it lies in the elastic character of Hinduism, the majority religion of India. It is common knowledge that Hinduism is not a homogeneous religion, that is, a religion having one God, one Book and one Temple. Indeed, it can be best described as a federation of faiths. Polytheistic (having multiple deities) in character, it goes to the extent of accommodating village level deities and tribal faiths. For the same reason, sociologists have distinguished two broad forms of Hinduism: sanskritic and popular. Sanskritic is that which is found in the texts (religious books like Vedas, etc.) and popular is that which is found in the actual life situation of the vast masses. Robert Redfield has called these two forms as great tradition of Ramayana and Mahabharata and the little tradition of worship of the village deity. And everything passes for Hinduism. What it shows is that Hinduism has been an open religion, a receptive and absorbing religion, an encompassing religion. It is known for its quality of openness and accommodation. Another evidence of it lies in its apathy to conversion. Hinduism is not a proselytising religion. That is, it does not seek converts. Nor has it ordinarily resisted other religions to seek converts from within its fold. 

This quality of accommodation and tolerance has paved the way to the coexistence of several faiths in India. Had Hindus been aggressive fanatics, the history of south Asia would have been horrendously more blood-soaked. Unfortunately modern mass-media in India - in its zeal to look modern-secular - seems to possess a slight bent on projecting Hindus as fanatics.

Indian society was organized in such a way that various social groups were independent of each other.  One manifestation of it is found in the form of Jajmani system, i.e., a system of functional interdependence of castes. The term "jajman" refers generally to the patron or recipient of specialised services. The relations were traditionally between a food producing family and the families that supported them with goods and services. These came to be called the jajmani relations. Jajmani relations were conspicuous in village life, as they entailed ritual matters, social support as well as economic exchange. The whole of a local social order was involved (the people and their values) in such jajmani links. A patron had jajmani relations with members of a high caste (like a Brahmin priest whose services he needed for rituals). He also required the services of specialists from the lower jati to perform those necessary tasks like washing of dirty clothes, cutting of hair, cleaning the rooms and toilets, delivery of the child etc. Those associated in these interdependent relations were expected to be and were broadly supportive of each other with qualities of ready help that generally close kinsmen were expected to show.

Sociologist M.N.Srinivas has called this 'vertical unity of castes'. The  jajmani relations usually involved multiple kinds of payment and obligations as well as multiple functions. No caste was self-sufficient. If anything, it depended for many things on other castes. In a sense, each caste was a functional group in that it rendered a specified service to other caste groups. Jajmani system is that mechanism which has formalised and regulated this functional interdependence. Furthermore, castes cut across the boundaries of religious communities. We have earlier mentioned that notions of caste are found in all the religious communities in India. In its actual practice, thus, the institution of jajmani provides for inter linkages between people of different religious groups. Thus a Hindu may be dependent for the washing of his clothes on a Muslim washerman. 

Similarly, a Muslim may be dependent for the stitching of his clothes on a Hindu tailor, and vice-versa.

Efforts have been made from time to time by sensitive and sensible leaders of both the communities to synthesise Hindu and Muslim traditions so as to bring the two major communities closer to each other. Akbar, for example, realising the folly of his ancestor for shedding the blood of countless Hindus and defiling their religious symbols, founded a new religion, Din-e-Ilahi, combining best of both the religions. Some bhakti saints like Kabir, Eknath and Guru Nanak, as well as some sufi saints made important contributions in forging unity among to communities. At the time of Indian independence struggle, Mahatama Gandhi laid extreme emphasis on Hindu-Muslim unity which was instrumental in India becoming a secular state and moving on the path of progress.

All these factors have helped in developing a composite culture in the country which provided a model for the preservation and growth of plurality of cultures within the framework of an integrated nation.



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PT's IAS Academy: UPSC IAS exam preparation - Post-Independence India - Lecture 2
UPSC IAS exam preparation - Post-Independence India - Lecture 2
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PT's IAS Academy
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