Take Your Pick
In the current times of overbearing rightwing mono-culturalism, be it in the form of Brexit, Trump-ettes or gau-rakshaks, comes evidence that when it comes to divisions, no sliver is small or pure enough. The reference here is to the madness that continues to be Gujarat, where Hindi-speaking North Indian workers are being violently targeted. The Rightwing patriarchy from which this latest violence is born is ironically common to governments where the hate is being perpetuated and from where the victims hail. These states tick all the boxes of majoritarian boorishness and have displayed shared weakness for their own form of Puritanism, and yet, now stand divided. Then there is the Sabarimala episode which is back in the Courts and most parties are fighting shy of even extending support for the Court order on the issue. Now that elections are nearing, Ayodhya too will return more strongly to political rhetoric. The point being made is that once divisions are teased, they do not end with religion and spread to all other aspects of identity, from race to community to region to language to caste to class.
In that sense, Sikkim is genuinely an oasis. It is not as if divisions don’t exist here, they do, but so does pragmatism and empathy which ensure that hate never spills beyond the homes into the streets. Yes, there are some who try and tease these divides, but the people are not as easily provoked. Public acceptance of hate has still not arrived here even as individuals and their cliques tend to be spiteful and paranoid. Sikkim should work more on sustaining this amity. The reason Sikkim’s normalcy and investment in diversity is a relief is because the national mood is of offensive insularity as is being displayed by the brazenness with which some groups are trying to model the nation along the tastes and preferences of upper-caste snobbishness.
In Sikkim, community identities are being expressed not just at the macro, religious levels, but also though micro expressions of individual communities and regional quirks. Of course, some groups continue to see such individuality at the community level as somehow diluting a larger identity, but they are clearly hamstrung by regressive narrow-mindedness which continues to see empowerment and confidence as somehow detrimental to cultures and identities. Thankfully, such mindsets remain in minority in Sikkim. In an India where boorish religious heads want to hound certain idols out of temples, and certain diets out of the tables, the fact that Sikkim celebrates Holi, Dasain, Pang Lhabsol and Christmas with almost matching excitement should remain engagements that are never allowed to dim. And let’s accept it, if we allow too many regressive purists to start dictating cultural aspects of life and inter-community exchanges, we will be heading for isolated pockets of suspicions.
Clichéd as it may sound, Sikkim should never stop celebrating its diversity, its people should never hesitate from supporting expressions of cultural diversity by other groups, and even as such cultural expressions are made by individual groups and communities, the celebrations should be joined by all. Make it a habit and an instinctive response, and troublemakers keen to sow differences by fanning paranoia will find themselves out of jobs. And make no mistake, agent provocateurs, given the chance, will tease out hesitations and feed on suspicions thereby weakening the collective society.
Agreed, “unity in diversity” is an overused line and everyone has heard it so often that it fails to elicit either pride or passion anymore. Hence, it is perhaps time to turn the approach on its head and reinforce unity. “Diversity in unity”, as some thinkers have proposed for the country in the past, carries a nice spin to it and also acknowledges the fact that confident diversities mean self-assured identities which was the best safeguard for unity. Unencumbered diversity inspires confidence which powers empathy; forced identities and ideas, on the other hand, fan fear which breeds intolerance which is a debilitating, self-defeating handicap.
Once ingrained, diversity provides diverse people with the ability to be okay with and open to those things that set them and others apart – religion, culture, race, gender, sexual orientation, physical and mental ability, language (the list goes on). People then become more understanding and accepting of others for who they are instead of trying to mould everyone into people they would like them to be. Being culturally aware provides an opportunity to stand back and consider that there are certain backgrounds, personal values, beliefs and upbringings that shape the things we all do. Something that is considered inappropriate behavior in one culture may be perfectly acceptable in another. Learning about other cultures helps people relate to one another and be okay with different perspectives. Everyone and every community can benefit from such attributes…