Chapter 1 Understanding Diversity (GIST of NCERT)
DIVERSITY IN INDIA
India is a country of many diversities. We speak different languages, have various types of food, celebrate different festivals, practise different religions. But actually, if you think about it, we do many things that are similar except that we do them in different ways.
How do we explain Diversity?
The history of many places shows us how many different cultural influences have helped to shape life and culture there. Regions became very diverse because of their unique histories.
Similarly diversity also comes about when people adapt their lives to the geographical area in which they live. For example living near the sea is quite different from living in a mountainous area.
Not only do people have different clothing and eating habits, but even the kinds of work they do are different. In cities it is often easy to forget how closely people’s lives are tied to their physical surroundings. This is because in the city people seldom grow their own vegetables and grain. Instead they depend on the market to buy all the food and other goods that they need.
Let us try to understand what we mean when we say that historical and geographical factors influence the diversity of a region. We can do this by reading about life in two different parts of the country, Kerala and Ladakh.
Ladakh is a desert in the mountains in the eastern part of Jammu and Kashmir. Very little agriculture is possible here since this region does not receive any rain and is covered in snow for a large part of the year. There are very few trees that can grow in the region. For drinking water, people depend on the melting snow during the summer months.
People here keep sheep and the sheep in this region are special because they produce pashmina wool. This wool is prized and pashmina shawls cost a lot of money. The people in Ladakh carefully collect the wool of the sheep and sell this to traders from Kashmir. Pashmina shawls are chiefly woven in Kashmir.
The people eat meat and milk products like cheese and butter. Each family owns some goats, cows and dzos (yak-cows). Being a desert did not mean that Ladakh did not attract its share of traders. It was considered a good trade route as it had many passes through which caravans travelled to what is today called Tibet. These caravans carried textiles and spices, raw silk and carpets.
Buddhism reached Tibet via Ladakh. Ladakh is also called Little Tibet. Islam was introduced in this region more than four hundred years ago and there is a significant Muslim population here. Ladakh has a very rich oral tradition of songs and poems. Local versions of the Tibetan national epic the Kesar Saga are performed and sung by both Muslims and Buddhists.
Kerala is a state in the southwest corner of India. It is surrounded by the sea on one side and hills on the other. A number of spices like pepper, cloves and cardamoms are grown on the hills. It is spices that made this region an attractive place for traders. Jewish and Arab traders were the first to come here. The Apostle of Christ, St. Thomas is believed to have come here nearly 2000 years ago and he is credited with bringing Christianity to India.
Many Arab traders also came and settled down here. Ibn Battuta, who travelled here a little less than seven hundred years ago, wrote a travelogue in which he describes the lives of Muslims and says that they were a highly respected community. The Portuguese discovered the sea route to India from Europe when Vasco da Gama landed with his ship here.
Because of all these various historical influences, people in Kerala practise different religions such as Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism.
The fishing nets used here look exactly like the Chinese fishing nets and are called cheena-vala. Even the utensil used for frying is called the cheenachatti, and it is believed that the word cheen could have come from China. The fertile land and climate are suited to growing rice and a majority of people here eat rice, fish and vegetables.
While Kerala and Ladakh are quite different in terms of their geographical features, the history of both regions has seen similar cultural influences. Both regions were influenced by Chinese and Arab traders. It was the geography of Kerala which allowed for the cultivation of spices and the special geographical location of Ladakh and its wool that drew traders to these regions. Thus history and geography are often tied in the cultural life of a region.
The influence of diverse cultures is not merely a thing of the past. Our present lives are all about moving from place to place for work and with each move our cultural traditions and way of life slowly become part of the new place we are in. Similarly in our own neighbourhoods we live close to people from several communities. Our daily lives are about the ways in which we do things together and hear stories about each other’s lives, customs and traditions.
Unity in Diversity
India’s diversity has always been recognised as a source of its strength. When the British ruled India, women and men from different cultural, religious and regional backgrounds came together to oppose them. India’s freedom movement had thousands of people of different backgrounds in it. They worked together to decide joint actions, they went to jail together, and they found different ways to oppose the British. Interestingly the British thought they could divide Indians because they were so different, and then continue to rule them. But the people showed how they could be different and yet be united in their battle against the British.
This song was sung after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar in which a British general opened fire on a large group of unarmed, peaceful people killing many and wounding even more. Men and women, Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims, rich and poor had gathered to protest against the British. This song was composed and sung to honour the memory of those brave people.
Songs and symbols that emerged during the freedom struggle serve as a constant reminder of our country’s rich tradition of respect for diversity. Do you know the story of the Indian flag? It was used as a symbol of protest against the British by people everywhere.
In his book The Discovery of India Jawaharlal Nehru says that Indian unity is not something imposed from the outside but rather, “It was something deeper and within its fold, the widest tolerance of belief and custom was practised and every variety acknowledged and even encouraged.” It was Nehru, who coined the phrase, “unity in diversity” to describe the country.
India’s national anthem, composed by Rabindranath Tagore, is another expression of the unity of India. In what way does the national anthem describe this unity?
Important Terms Diversity: A range of different people things or ideas. Incredible: Unbelievable. Inequality: Not equal. Symbol: Someone or something that represents a particular quality or idea.