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Social and political Values and Systems in India.

Diversities in India

Development of a society or a nation depends on variables like the characteristic of the nation, the social structure, the nature of people, their behavior and their value system. 

India is a land of contrasts, and every day one can find thousands of stories of both hope and despair/good and bad. It has assimilated multi-ethnic migrants into its fold during its long period of evolution, which has given rise to different kinds of diversities. Seeing it, Mr. V.N. Narayan had said way back on December 9, 1946, “At best of times, India is ungovernable country of diversities, conflicts and problems”.i Mr. Nani Palkiwala expressed the same feeling after 50 years of self-rule, which gave to India empty coffers, unfulfilled promises, political instability, fractured society and perpetual divide among different groups along caste and community lines. He said, “Our legal systems have made life too easy for criminals and too difficult for law abiding citizens”.ii A touch here, a push there may make India ungovernable.

Governance of a pluralistic society, like India, is a sensitive and challenging exercise. India comprises people of different ethnic, religious, castes, linguistic and regional identities. While, these identities lived together for centuries and presented a mosaic culture, there have been periods of discord. The diversity makes the divide easy.

The diversities, that exist, are many like: –

Geographical diversity – India is the Sixth largest nation in the world in terms of area, covering a territory of about 3.27 million sq. kms., about 24% of the total world area, all divided into:-

  • Himalayas – forming the northern boundary of India, extending from J&K in the west to Assam, Manipur and Mizoram in the East. These regions are not very well connected with the mainland. Therefore, development processes are slow.
  • Indo-Gangetic lowland – includes Gangetic, Brahmputra and coastal plains. It is densely populated. Indian civilization spread all over India mainly from this region.
  • Peninsular Plateau – A mass of mountain hill ranges of Aravalli, Vindhyas, Satpura, Mekala, Nilgiri and Cardamon hills separates it from Indo-Gangetic lowland. This peninsula is flanked on one side by the Eastern Ghats and on the other by the Western Ghats.

The above three areas have different climate, different quantity of rainfall, different quality of soil, different kinds of vegetation, crops and minerals. Therefore, the people living in these parts differ from each other in their needs, way of living, eating habits and approach to a problem.

Demographic Diversity – Just as the landmass of India has been divided into different provinces and regions, so also the Indian people could be divided into distinct units, politically and socially.

Social division – Caste system is an integral part of Indian society. Each caste forms a different group with diverse belief and way of living. There are 843.9 million people, belonging to 60 socio-cultural region and sub regions, having 12 major religions and 18 major languages.

Political division – According to 1991 census, have been divided by the government as forward class, backward class, scheduled caste, scheduled tribe and minorities for the purposes of admission in educational institutions, employment in the government and welfare planning. The breakup of Indian population is as following iii: –

Socio-economic Indian Population

Sl. Category %
A. Scheduled castes and tribes  
A1 Scheduled Caste 15.05
A2 Scheduled Tribe 7.51
  Total A 22.56
B. Non-Hindus Communities  
B1 B1 Muslims (Other than STs) 11.90
B2 Christians (Other than STs) 2.16
B3 Sikhs (Other than SCs/STs) 1.67
B4 Buddhists (Other than STs) 0.67
B5 Jains O.47
  Total B 16.16
C. Forward Hindu Communities  
C1 Brahmins 5.52
C2 Rajputs 3.90
C3 Marathas 2.21
C4 Jats 1.00
C5 Vaishyas 1.88
C6 Kayasthas 1.07
C7 Other Hindu caste groups 2.00
  Total C 17.58
  Total A + B + C 56.03
D Backward communities 43.70
E 52% of the religious groups under B may be treated as OBCs  8.40
F Approximate derived population of OBCs  52.00

 Ethnic diversity – The assimilation of multi-ethnic migrants into Indian society makes its ethnic diversity a striking feature. The groups, that comprise this diversity, are

  • Negritos – coming probably from Africa, now represented by tribal population in some interior jungles of South India and Andamans;
  • Proto-Australoids – the original builders of the Indus valley civilization and settled in the hilly and forest tracts of Central and Southern India and in the lower strata of North India;
  • Mongoloids – coming from China, they settled mostly in Ladakh, Sikkim, Arunachal, Assam and the North Eastern States;
  • Mediterranean – people coming from Southwest Asia around 2000 BC. They are believed to be the bearers of the earliest form of Hinduism and were the architects of later Indus Valley Civilization. Today they constitute the bulk of population in South India and bulk of scheduled castes in the North, including Punjab.
  • Alphinoids, Dinarics and Armenoids– coming from South Europe, now they are found in the Coorgis and the Parsis and
  • Nordics – came to India around 2000 BC. Their concentration is now in Northwest India and among the upper castes of North India.

These multi-ethnic migrants came to India in waves. In due course of time, they assimilated into Indian Society as its integral parts. They were allowed to preserve their distinct dialects, beliefs, and values, customs and traditions, which are intact even today. However, their assimilation resulted in: –

  • Ø Linguistic Diversity.
  • Ø Occupational Diversity.
  • Ø Cultural Diversity.

Linguistic Diversity – At present India has 18 major languages included in Eighth Schedule of the Constitution, more than 250 dialects and about 200 to 300 castes in each linguistic region.iv Indian people could be divided into the following four groups according to their language and physical appearance: –

  • High Class Hindus – or Indo-Aryans (about 73% of the Hindu population)- Their language is derived from Sanskrit.
  • Dravidians – (about 20% of the population) Mostly living in South Indian Peninsula. They speak Tamil, Telugu, Kanarese and Malayalam.
  • Primitive Tribes – (about 1.5%) like Kol, Bhil and Mundas. They speak languages quite different from the above two.
  • People with strong Mongolian features – (0.85% of the total population) They live mostly on the slopes of Himalayas and mountains of Assam. Gorkhas, Bhutiyas, Khasis are some of them, having their own languages.

The last two classes of people may be regarded as descendents of the Neolithic people and do not appear to have made much progress till today. They yielded to the forces of Dravidians in the South and Aryans in the North.

Occupational Diversity – The Indian scene presents a unique diversity in occupational structure greatly affecting terms in income, standard of living, the way of life, status, economic activities, purchasing power and thinking of people. Pattern of occupation divided Indian people into the following three groups: –

  • People, for whom work was essential for survival,
  • People, who were educated, loved to work for self-advancement and prosperity (Middle class people).
  • People, who lived on other’s labor, got benefited in improving their position in society.

      There are following categories of occupations –

Traditional occupations – In the past, all the functions needed for the maintenance and growth of the society were divided amongst different groups. Each group was assigned a distinct function to perform. 

Maintaining differentiation between various occupations was one of main features of traditional system. Different occupations were community based and not individual based. There was not much choice in the matter of occupation in the traditional system. The manner, in which these hereditary occupational skills were transferred, was through practice and experience; not through formal classroom lectures, which often kills the originality and verve of the people.

The positive side of traditional occupations has been that there is no confusion or frustration on matter of work, because every body had his traditional occupation. Each and every caste served the community. They could live with dignity and honour with the feeling that they, too, were contributing something to the society. Clear-cut definition of rights and duties for each caste, based on its traditional occupation developed in masses aclear vision of one’s responsibilities. The separation of rights and duties combined with the principle of inter dependence provided its own system of checks and balances over arbitrary use of one’s authority. There was an automatic decentralization of authority.

The practice to opt for traditional occupations led society to have more production, economic efficiency and specialization in various areas of activities in the past. The system had created an atmosphere of high quality of occupational skills in different areas like spinning, weaving, pottery making, bead making, seal making, terracotta, handicrafts, brick-laying, metal work etc.

Negative side of traditional systemit was that many occupations were considered as less paying, more hazardous and more time consuming. Menial work started to be considered as derogatory. White collared jobs gained importance. The more, a person withdrew from physical labour, the more civilized, honored and qualified he was regarded by the modern did not encouraged creative minds. Also rigidity in matter of choice of occupation, as far as an individual was concerned, led to heartburn in certain individuals.

Modern occupations – In 19th century, the scene was changed. Industrialization and modernisation brought in some changes during British-rule. Many new occupations have emerged giving choice of occupation, accessibility to which is through formal modern education. Industrialization has discredited many traditional occupations and made them obselete. Many occupational groups lost their creativity, sense of achievement and pride. Modernity destroyed Indian handicrafts and cottage industry and ultimately adversrly affected the work culture.

Outcome of such a development has been casualty of workers first, afterwards their work style, commitment, motivation and culture. It scattered efforts, sense of direction and manufacturing skills of millions of artisans, craftsman, weavers etc. A few of them joined modern occupations. Majority belonging to different groups could neither enter modern sector, nor could stick to their traditional occupations. They had no option, but to either join the band of agricultural laborers, industrial workers, marginal labour or increase the number of unemployed.

Some entrepreneurs with money, education and awareness did market surveys and hijacked many traditional occupations. Occupations like mechanization of fishing or leather industry were modernized by them and made profit oriented. Even less capital-intensive occupation, such as barber, washerman etc., have been taken up by educated middle class. Since these occupations were viewed with disdain and contempt by modern society, these jobs have been re-christened as saloon, laundry etc. It employed workers, largely from poor traditional workers, earlier practicing such occupations independently.

At present, there are many outlets, careers and professions for individuals to make choices. Success in life depends on making a right choice. A person needs to be clear about one’s own choice, attitude, aptitude, and potential.

The darker side of modern system of occupations is that industrialization has led to the decay of village industries as the competition was directly with the cheap machine goods. It also led to urbanization.

It has given rise to confusion or unhealthy competition. Competition is so tough everywhere that for entry and success in any profession, it is necessary first of all to make a right choice and then to upgrade ones qualifications continuously through formal education, training and experience.

Industrialisation has shifted the attention of the people to generate more wealth. The people become desparately dependent on money for survival.

It has made rich richer and poor poorer. The benefits of industrialisation have been reaped by rulers, industrialists, investors and educated persons, who control natural resources & political power.

Despite of all the efforts to lessen the strains of human being and making life more comfortable, industrialisation has made the life a man more complex.

The last three centuries of industrialisation have seen the degradation of social, moral & political power.

Recently, industrialization started disintegrating under its own weight. Everywhere people got sick of too much consumerism and materialism. Some of them even desired to return to pre-industrial culture. Recently, again a change is being witnessed. Youth of the day again started prefering to follow the foot-steps of parents in matter of the jobs.

Main Workers and Marginal Workers – According to 1991 census, the total number of workers in rural and urban areas was as following: –

Total number of workers – (In Percentage)

Area Persons Males Females
Rural 40.24 52.50 27.20
Urban 30.44 48.95 9.20
Total 37.68 51.56 22.73


Amongst these, a large number is that of marginal workers, who do not get work for the major part of a year. The Census operations indicate that the numbers of marginal laborer has been continuously growing. Their number is higher in the rural areas than in the urban areas. About 85% marginal workers are female.

Main and Marginal Workers

(In Percentage)

Category Workers Main Workers Marginal workers
Persons 37.64 34.12 3.52
Males 51.52 50.54 0.98
Females 22.69 16.43 6.26




Category Workers Main Workers Marginal Workers
Persons 4013 3567 446
Males 5243 5129 114
Females 2706 1907 799



Persons 30.46 29.64 0.81
Males 48.96 48.43 0.53
Females 9.73 8.64 1.11

                     Source: 1991 Census, p 323

Organised and Unorganized sectors – Organised sector is the backbone of modern economy. It gives its employees adequate means of livelihood and a specified position in social, economic and political world. The reasons for its importance are –

  • Ø The State authority itself and
  • Ø Role of organized sector in the development of the nation.

Employees of organised sector, having adequate knowledge about its systems and functioning can protect themselves against arbitrariness and malfunctioning of state authority, as-

  • Ø They are organised to challenge any misuse of authority.
  • Ø Whenever the system fails, they can make special arrangements.
  • Ø Their future is secured under various schemes.

In contrast, people in unorganized sector find themselves helpless and vulnerable, as their awareness and knowledge about the system is very limited. Very often, they are the people living below poverty line, deprived and exploited. Moreover, their agony is multiplied due to growing underhandedness, insufficient and ineffective monitoring of projects undertaken for their welfare, corruption, undue pressures of influential groups and unholy alliances. The poor, who possess only labour and skill, do not get due wages for their labour.The wage-determination policy of the government does not recognize the value of their knowledge/skill. For example, an agricultural worker, whose work is most skilled, most arduous and working conditions most difficult, has been recognized as an unskilled worker getting lowest wages.

Cultural Diversity – In the modern world, no society or nation can exist as a homogeneous cultural monolity. India specially presents a unique picture of composite culture, which grew out of intermixing of people of different cultures, belonging to different identities. Its cultural diversity is based on religion and caste. Such flexibility is not seen in the West. When Christianity broke away from Judaism, it departed totally from the common cultural traditions.

               Source: Census of India, 2001

Group % of population % increase since 1981
Hindu 82.41 22.78
Muslims 11.76 32.76
Christians 2.32 16.89
Sikhs 1.99 25.48
Buddhist 0.77 35.98
Other religions 0.38 13.19
Religion not stated 0.05 73.46


Administrative Diversity – After integration and merger of princely states under Indian Independence Act, 1947, India reorganized the land for administrative purposes into provinces, union territories and districts on the basis of their geographical position, linguistic status, historical developments and other considerations.

According to 1991 census, there are about 452 administrative districts (excluding J&K) 19 major cities, 3949 towns and 5,80,000 villages, in 25 provinces and seven Union territories. The provinces are – Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Orissa, Punjab, Rajasthan, Sikkim, TamilNadu, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.v The union territories are – Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Chandigarh, Dadara and Nagar Haveli, Delhi, Daman and Diu, Lakshwadweep and Pondicherry.

To maintain proper balance and harmony between different sections with so many diversities and numerous identities is a delicate and a difficult task. Too much stress on identities creates confusion and chaos. The problem becomes more complex, because identities cannot be pigeonholed. In modern times, one can bear more than one identity at a time. The more a person enriches one’s personality; wider becomes his/her identity. Modernization, technological developments in the field of communication and transportation give added dimensions to the issue of identities.

Till now the forces of unity have always been stronger than the divisive forces. It is for this reason that India occupies a special place in the global society. It is one of the oldest alive civilizations of the world. It presents a fascinating picture of unity amidst diversity, cultural richness, largeness of area and huge population.

Winding up

Different identities – The social, political and economicl divisions, as discussed above, have given birth to a set of different identities as following –

Equal Identities – Although drawn from different cultures or regions, they find themselves at the same level of acceptance in society like Tamils and Bengalis.

Marginal or Inferior Identities– Almost in all the traditional societies, lower strata of society (Scheduled castes and Other backward castes), tribals, women, old, children or immigrants are given a lower status in the society. It may be said that they are treated as inferior/lesser human beings. These sections of society are perceived as inferior in spite of constitutionally guaranteed equalities like untouchables in India.

Deviant Identities – The people, who reject general norms, evaluation and standards, come in this group, such as anti social elements, drug addicts etc. They are looked down with contempt, though they are insiders to the system.

Hated Identities – People, seen as outsiders to the society, are sometimes hated, sometimes feared such as illegal immigrants or in the past – British rulers in India. They face many problems of interaction, because of their externality.

Religious Identities Believers of different faiths constitute religious identities. The different religious communities present in India could be divided into people -:

  • Ø Belonging to faiths originated in India like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.
  • Ø Migration to India like Jews, Bahai, Zoroastrians, or Tibetans, due to the fear of persecution or oppression in their homeland,.
  • Ø Conversion to other religions like Christianity and Islam.

In spite of having so many diversities, divide the nation simultaneously, the dominant pattern that emerges in Indian history is one of accommodating different groups through assimilation and synthesis. India has developed an atmosphere, where different identities have co-existed, generally in harmony and sometimes in rift. In its long process of evolution, each identity has been carefully nurtured and preserved. It never tried to liquidate or absorb them, artificially, into one main culture of the land. Instead, it absorbed the good points of other cultures and allowed them to flourish and contribute in enriching the composite culture of India. The multicentricity has given the Indian society its predominantly syncratic character, its pluralistic tradition and its absorptive nature of internalizing alien influences. Many times, there had been strife, contradictions and discords amongst different identities, so much so that, at times, India appears to be a land of contrasts.

i1 Quoted from The Tribune, dated 21.6.92, p21.

ii Palikawala, We the People – The Lost Decade, p3.

iii Report of Mandal Com like Jews, Bahai, Zoroastrians, or Tibetans mission, Chapter XII.

iv Khan, Democracy in India, p8.

v Four new states – Delhi, Uttrakhand, Vanachal and Jharkhand – are likely to be created in near future.

October 27, 2010 - Posted by | Social and political values and systems |


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