Conflict Resolution in Multicultural Societies – The Indian Experience
“515mcGR0iL._SX322_BO1204203200_”” alt=””Conflict Resolution in Multicultural Societies – The Indian Experience”” />Managing ethnic diversity is a prime concern of almost every government in South Asia. When the danger of disintegration is looming ominously over multicultural countries, how does India record its success of maintaining and promoting diversities amid its manifold problems — poverty, illiteracy, regional disparities, social exclusion and ethnic conflicts. Amidst the complexities India’s enviable record of maintaining its integrity is exemplary not only in South Asia but the entire world. How does India do it? What are the strategies in operation? What is the key to India’s relative success? The book “”Conflict Resolution in Multicultural Societies — The Indian Experience”” by Jhumpa Mukherjee shows that a democratically designed decentralised system catering to the diverse ethnic needs of the population has served to integrate the country amidst divergent and periodic spells of ethnic movements and sought to rectify the neglect for institutionalisation of multiculturalism and add a novel dimension to decentralisation. The author critically examines the tribulations of ethno-regional diversity in a single political framework. Managing cultural diversities is one of the fundamental challenges of our times. Most of the states all over the world such as India, Nigeria, Mexico, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Britain and Spain are preoccupied with handling tribulations stemming from ethno-nationalism in their individual territories. In the post cold war period and recent social transformations cultural diversity has increasingly shaped the foundations of majority of social conflicts and political deliberations. And this quest for recognition of identity has led to severe identity assertion conflicts and movements throughout the globe. Expanding cultural freedom in the era of globalisation presents challenges and dilemmas. In the present era conflicts have become more complex and multi-dimensional that considerable interlinking of divergent factors and ethnic groups becoming more and more assertive of their rights. Democracy alone cannot sustain and promote diversity as it signifies power of the people. “”People”” in most cases implies the majorities who have access to the seats of political power often ruling by marginalising the minorities thus giving rise to exclusionary tendencies. Even if countries are not disintegrating, minorities are being marginalised. India battles her admirers by her veritable feast of peculiarities. She represents the world’s largest democracy with a huge range of complexities. Despite the problem of language, religion, tribes and more seriously questions of identity, yet the country has worked to stay united. Countries may face the risk of disintegration if conflicts within multicultural states are left unattended. Economically decentralisation is said to promote efficiency in the delivery of local services and public goods. Politically decentralisation is said to strengthen accountability and national integration. Decentralisation exercises the right to self determination. It is often seen as an aid to national integration and strengthening of democratic institutions. At the same time it cannot be said that decentralisation provides an answer to all ethnic conflicts. Decentralisation is the current buzzword in the discourse in Indian government and is increasingly seen as a tool to meet local needs and preferences. It is proposed as a way to promote a more democratic and participatory society. Political decentralisation by itself is not sufficient to recognise cultural claims coupled with the regional needs of the population. Political unity is highly volatile and has the tendency to degenerate into anarchy. Multicultural decentralisation plays an important role in accommodating the multifarious diversities. The sine qua non of such readjustments is that though each and every decentralised unit consists of certain proportions of minorities who may be majorities in other states and therefore they are not neglected. Ultimately differences should be accommodated and not simply managed. The Constitution of India which took two years, eleven months and 18 days in the making has crafted a text which provides “”space”” for the myriad and complex diversities. Instead of discouraging differences, the Constitution takes them for granted and offers adequate facilities for their expression and development. It may be recalled that the Bengali language imbroglio in Pakistan led to the disintegration of that country. As a consequence the monolingual state of Bangladesh was created. Similarly in Sri Lanka, the adoption of the policy of “”Sinhala only”” and being indifferent and adopting a non-accommodative stance towards the Tamils drew the country into a protracted civil war resulting in much turmoil in that Island state. The Constitution has ensured that the interests of different communities is well catered to. At the same time tensions are part of every multicultural society and are sure to settle down with conscious constitutional engineering. The British deliberately isolated the tribal community due to which they have been virtually untouched from the wave of nationalist current; more so the imperialist design of “”divide and rule”” failed to forge a common bond of unity between the tribals and non-tribals. The Indian National Congress also did not make any bold attempt to bring them into the national movement. This had a negative impact on the minds of the people. The Northeast represents a miniature India in itself. Recognising the unique character, the policy makers have created a web of interventions. As globalisation expands, conflicts amplify and fragmentation of multicultural states continues, it becomes crucial for states to develop the competence to meet the challenges. If left unmanaged or managed poorly, these struggles over cultural identity can soon become the greatest source of instability within — between states and in doing so it can trigger conflict that hinders development. Conflict resolution mechanisms need to be built in the political system through the process of power sharing and the distinct identities by providing different levels of autonomy. A single policy cannot be applied to all. This calls for flexibility in designing institutions. A case in point is Pakistan where there is pluralism and yet religious fanaticism replaces tolerance and the democratic temper is jeopardised. Even today the country is dotted with several movements. Jhumpa Mukherjee, who teaches political science at St Xavier’s college in Kolkata, emphasises that it is necessary to continuously devise new mechanisms of power sharing, multi-pronged and dynamic to respond effectively as the needs of these groups are not effectively tackled. Otherwise chaos, anarchy and disorder will prevail where ethnic conflict may easily spill over state boundaries.
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(T R Ramachandran is a senior journalist and commentator.)