Is diversity enough?

Unity in diversity

Growing up in India, I frequently came across this statement. Indians are proud of the diversity of the country and the facts around diversity are staggering. A country of 1.32 billion has thousands of languages with 22 officially recognized ones, and “the six big languages – Hindi, Bengali, Telugu, Marathi, Tamil, and Urdu – are each spoken by more than 50 million people”. [1] The diversity extends to ethnicities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, and mangoes (???). [1] Even with this pride in diversity, violence arising from strong communalism has a long history extending as far back as the medieval age. [2] I personally lived through one of the worst ethnic clashes in the state of Gujarat in 2002 [3], when there was a complete breakdown of law and order and people were murdered in their homes just based on which religion they practiced or identified with.

Why is it we are hypocritically proud of diversity while being fervently communal at the same time? Part of it is because of the lack of social inclusion. When moving from one region to another in India, people tend to seek housing and work in areas where the majority population is from their community.

“If we are truly inclusive (attitude, actions) we will be diverse.  If we focus primarily on diversity, inclusion doesn’t always follow.” – Karen DePauw, Vice President and Dean for Graduate Education, Virginia Tech [4]

I thought a lot about this statement from the Dean since the first week of class. This is especially true in the Indian context where the focus is on promoting diversity and not inclusion. Even with the reservation for historically underrepresented groups in higher education and government employment, aimed at promoting diversity, lack of affirmative action promoting inclusion means that these groups still feel excluded and stay within their communities.

Social exclusion of underrepresented groups has implications for human and economic development. Das and Mehta (2012) have outlined how social exclusion impacts structural inequality, poverty, infant mortality, belief systems, employment, wage differentials, gender bias and women empowerment, and domestic abuse. [5] Underrepresented castes and ethnic minorities mostly live in the rural part of the country, which further exacerbates the issues related to social exclusion. The inclusion of the rural population remains a major challenge even in 2018. For instance, India achieved 100% rural electrification in 2018, while 31 million homes are still in the dark. [6] Being in the dark could be a metaphor for being excluded; technologically, socially and culturally.

While affirmative action promoting social inclusion, instead of diversity, is not a solution for all the challenges in India, it seems like a step in the right direction. Maybe, just maybe, if we know our neighbor and they are included in our community and workplace, we won’t get swayed as easily by nefarious communalistic group text forwards calling for retaliation based on an isolated violent incident. [7]






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