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Assimilation of multi-ethnic groups in India

 

India presents a fascinating picture of assimilation of multi-ethnic groups in its mainstream at different points of time. Beauty lies in the way, Indian society has assimilated various communities Be it racial, social, occupational, or religious,” and still remained stable, while offering a place to a new community in its mainstream and made them its integral/cooperating part for ever. The system neither disturbed its existing internal social order nor prevented any new group to join it. It allowed all incoming groups to preserve their own specialties and indigenous culture.

India took thousands of years to develop its society into a single cultural system by coopting numerous social multi-ethnic migrant groups with indigenous people popularly known as Hindus coming in waves at different points of time. It is a development of thousands of years of the association of many racial groups in a single cultural system. Negritos from Africa, are now represented by tribal population in some interior jungles of South India and Andamans. Proto-Australoids, original builders of the Indus valley civilization, settled in hilly and forest tracts of Central and Southern India and in lower strata of North India. Mongoloids coming from China settled mostly in Ladakh, Sikkim, Arunachal, Assam and North Eastern States. Mediterranean coming from Southwest Asia around 2000 BC and believed to be the bearers of earliest form of Hinduism and the architects of later Indus Valley Civilization, have been pushed to Ganga plain and Central and South India. Today they constitute the bulk of population in South India and bulk of scheduled castes in North, including Punjab. Alphinoids, Dinarics and Armenoids came from South Europe, now known as Coorgis and the Parsis. Nordics came to India around 2000 BC. They now live in Northwest India and are supposed to be the upper castes of North India.

Assimilation of new social groups wishing to join its mainstream, at different points of time, has been done through caste system by assigning each new group a separate caste identity and thus making them its integral part without annihilating their originality, internal order, customs or language. Each group was allowed to maintain its own rules, regulations, customs, way of life, power to control conduct of its members and opportunity to develop within its own parameters. Each caste was an independent entity, with its own hierarchy, based either on a tribal identity or an occupational identity. Such decentralized self-regulated systems encouraged self-discipline, consciousness, self-direction and control its malfunctioning or disfunctioning.

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September 18, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized |

22 Comments »

  1. India’s Mythical Identity vs. Pragmatic Identity

    In Indian context the issues of cultural assimilation, religious conversion, and cultural absorption etcetera need to be understood pragmatically. Despite enormous pressures, India has been remarkably successful in accommodating cultural diversity and managing ethnic conflict through democratic institutions. This success has been the product of India’s federal system, which has succeeded to keep cultural and ethnic peace. State autonomy and statehood for territorially based regional/linguistic identities remains the most comprehensive method of political recognition of identity in India, and key to India’s plural-cultural federalization. India’s centre-state/province/union territory framework provides an institutional framework of autonomy and decentralization, which manages the need for development and identity. Linguistic identity movements in various parts of the country had threatened India’s unity. This was seen as genuine demand. Hence there was necessity to undertake the division-reorganization of ‘states’ and ‘provinces’.
    Religious identities as developed through publications of the census of British India led to growth of notions of ‘majority’ and ‘minority’, often even within a single religion. Caste and tribe were loosely used in the early censuses. The colonial power produced an image of India as a geographic and demographic entity. People, divided as religious groupings, were made to realize what it meant to be a member of a majority or a minority community, and how to act appropriately in these social roles. After a long struggle, the Indian subcontinent was divided into two states, India and Pakistan, in 1947. Pakistan portrayed itself as a state of a homogenous people whereas India proclaimed a pluralistic nation that welcomed religious and cultural diversity. India opted for secularism, as it was considered vital for the existence of the Indian state. The Indian state, however, is based on a Constitution whose secular disposition has been challenged often in view of the lack of a clear definition. Confronted with an array of demands from various groups, the Constitution provides the principle of religious freedom, with the right to freedom of conscience and the right to profess, practice and propagate religion. The principle of non-discrimination on grounds of caste, place of birth, residence or religion guarantees equal citizenship. The framers of India’s Constitution sought to shape an overarching Indian distinctiveness even as they acknowledged the reality of pluralism by guaranteeing fundamental rights to all, with specific provisions for the protection of minorities. These include freedom of religion (Articles 25-28); the right of any section of citizens to use and conserve their “distinct language, script or culture” (Article 29); and the right of “all minorities, whether based on religion or language,” to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice (Article 30). The folktales collected from thousands of Indian communities under the “People of India project” of the anthropological survey of India show that the Indian communities have occupied their present habitats through the course of immigrations, resettlements and by adopting local languages and cultures in the past. India’s interactive pluralism is observable in sharing of cultural and religious traditions amongst huge variety of communities, castes, tribes, religions, languages, customs, food, costume and other living styles. India was truly an open society, created by an atmosphere of togetherness no matter what religion people had. For hundreds of years, a society existed in which Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Christians and adherents of ‘minor’ religions lived together in peaceful co-existence, sharing knowledge, culture and understanding — a society that fostered a level of excellence in the arts, learning and science, unprecedented in the world. Challenges have emerged from different directions to the differentiated system of personal laws for religious and other cultural groups established in India in the colonial and early post-colonial periods. The Indian debates are placed in a comparative perspective, and in the context of theoretical discussions of differentiated citizenship. It is clear that both integrative and disruptive forces have been simultaneously released by developmental and political dynamics in India. Indeed, the battle of preserving and promoting “unity in diversity” in India is far from being lost. It can be won not because of the coercive power of the Indian state, but because of the inherent strength and resilience of Indian society. It must be recognized that the Indian masses are strongly rooted in their composite culture and secular commitments, evolved over centuries of cultural synthesis. This composite culture’s vitality and resilience have not been lost even in the face of distortions brought about by India’s power elites, its developmental dynamics, federal polity, or democratic politics. Innumerable features contribute towards the cultural unity of India. One of the important features is the sacred geography of India. In fact whole of India is said to be one single sacred zone, hence four major shrines-tirthas- and countless temples, shrines, monasteries and river sites regarded as sacred. Classical and popular /folk versions of the Indic religions and beliefs survive. Priestly class pursue the classical version, while the common masses are often tied up with more popular variety of the religious practices. The mystic-devotional traditions such as Sufism and Bhakti sects broadly shaped the popular beliefs of India and beyond. What Hinduism really teaches is religious pluralism (David Frawley – ‘A Hindu Call for Religious Pluralism’). Hindu pluralism therefore is not the denial of unity but the affirmation of real unity, which transcends outer differences. True unity is built upon freedom, not conformity, and is a state of the heart or inner consciousness, not an outer condition of labels and slogans. Wikipedia encyclopedia, while quoting N.K.Das, 2006, has highlighted the syncretic dimension of Indian culture. One important dimension of Indian cultural pluralism is the syncretic intermingling of linguistic and religious groups. In some parts of India, several Hindu communities have both Hindu and non-Hindu customs for different spheres of life, and see nothing wrong in describing themselves as Muslim Hindus or Christian Hindus. Most Salam Girasia Rajputs traditionally had two names for every member of the community, one Hindu and one Muslim. Some Hindu temples have shrines of both a Hindu God or goddess and a Muslim saint. Hindus widely worship Sai Baba, who was a Muslim saint. The moral worldviews of the Bhakti saints or the Bauls in Bengal, and the trends they gave rise to in day-to-day living, do suggest high degree of coming together or ‘co-mingling’ or ‘fusion’ of thoughts and living. In a review titled ‘Exploring multiculturalism’, K.N. Panikkar, said that the People of India, a publication of the Anthropological Survey of India, shows that there are more than 4,000 communities in India whose “cultural profile is rooted and primarily shaped by their relationship with their environment, their occupational status, their language and so on, and that religion comes way down in the construction of their identities. The Hindus and Muslims share more than 95 per cent characteristics of various kinds in common and that it is shared lives that have given shape to the diverse cultural expressions”.

    A critical review of Indian situation suggests that broadly both the integrative and disruptive forces have been simultaneously operating. Indeed, the battle for preserving and promoting “unity in diversity” in India and in wider South Asian region is not lost. It cannot be won by introducing some principles, often imported, through the institution of the state. There is greater need today to reinforce our pre-existing cultural interconnectedness to achieve a meaningful balance between syncretistic traditions and cultural pluralism. It must be recognized that the Indian masses are strongly rooted in their composite culture and secular commitments, evolved over centuries of cultural synthesis.

    COMMUNICATION BY
    DR N.K.DAS
    (DR NAVA KISHOR DAS)
    FMR DEPUTY DIRECTOR,
    AND
    PRESENTLY VISITING FELLOW,
    ANTHROPOLOGICAL SURVEY OF INDIA

    Comment by Dr. N.K.Das | September 28, 2009 | Reply

  2. A GENERAL ISSUE RAISED IS THAT FOR A RELEVANT STATEMENT THAT INDIAN CULTURE IS HIGHLY SYNCRETIC, IN STEAD OF A JOURNAL SOURCE , A BOOK SOURCE SHOULD BE USED. WIKIPEDIA HAS USED AN IMPORTANT QUOTAION FROM ESSAY OF N K DAS [2006].
    IN FACT SAME ANTHROPOLOGIST [DR N K DAS] HAS PUBLSIHED TWO BOOKS, WHEREIN IMPORTANT CHAPTERS REFER TO STRONG SYNCRETIC TENDENCY IN CULTURE OF INDIA.
    BOOKS ARE
    CULTURE, RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY, RAWAT BOOKS, JAIPUR INDIA ,2003
    AND
    IDENTITY, CULTURAL PLURALISM AND STATE IN SOUTH ASIA, MACMILLAN PRESS INDIA 2009

    SCHOLARS INTERSTED IN DISCUSSING THE ISSUE of cultural syncretism ARE WELCOME TO CONTACT N K DAS-
    N K DAS
    VISITING FELLOW
    ANTHROPOLOGICAL SURVEY OF INDIA
    KOLKATA

    Comment by DR NAVA KISHOR DAS | December 29, 2009 | Reply

  3. An intriguing article per se however not all of the information listed here is correct. You have no citations to back the data up.

    Comment by Anonymous | April 27, 2014 | Reply

    • I will be greatful, if you tell me how to correct the incorrect information listed here?

      Comment by latasinha | April 28, 2014 | Reply

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  5. It is not assimilation but co-existence of multiple ethnicities, faiths, languages and traditions, which defines the ‘composite culture’, cultural syncretism and cultural pluralism of India and south Asia as well.
    N K Das

    Comment by Nava Kishor Das | June 1, 2014 | Reply

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