India has been a source of bewilderment for many people who have always wondered how a nation with hundreds of different ethnicities and cultural differences maintains its unity. There are two big reasons why people from numerous ethnicities get along in India — the caste system and secularism.
The caste system
The Indian caste system has been characterized as something evil by most academicians. And while it does have its serious problems, like untouchability, it is also true that the caste system has actually helped in maintaining peace and harmony between various ethnicities for thousands of years.
Indian society has traditionally been structured rigidly by caste. All jobs were assigned on a caste basis. There were castes that handled accounting, those that handled trade, those who earned a livelihood through pottery; then there were the servants, dancers, and so on. Each member of the caste was, by birth, trained for the job that his caste was bound to do. Though it seems like a restrictive system, it has had an enormously positive impact in one area — maintaining harmony between ethnicities.
Doing something outside accepted societal norms would bring punishment to the person, not just by the wider society, but also by members of their own caste. This system of sticking to one’s pre-determined job and never seeking to perform anything else meant that the potential for ethnic violence on account of jobs was non-existent.
It also had another advantage — the system restricted the possibility of a few ethnicities monopolizing all money-making opportunities in a region. For instance, a trading caste that specialized in textiles might have the money to invest and successfully run a business that traded in pottery, handicrafts, and so on. But since they were culturally barred from doing so, they were never able to monopolize such businesses.
Instead, castes that were tasked with trading pottery and handicrafts continued to do so even though they were financially weaker than the textile traders.
The other side of the coin
Many people born into a specific caste were restricted in their job opportunities as well as life opportunities. They couldn’t marry, dress a certain way, or even name their children according to their wishes. While nlarge-scalele ethnic clashes exist within Indian society, the integration between castes is also non-existent. When the lower castes cannot drink from the same well as higher castes and there are honor killings for violating caste norms, these are not marks of a superior tradition. This non-existence of a free-market and division among castes is one of the reasons why India’s vast population still remains below the poverty line. Poverty remains one of the binding factors in this vast nation.
Another aspect that played a big role in maintaining peace between various ethnicities was India’s inherent secular traditions. India has always guaranteed all religious groups freedom to practice their faiths without interference or persecution by the state. This ensured that ethnicities could continue with their traditions without feeling threatened by any majority religion trying to convert them by force.
As such, the caste system and India’s deep spiritual traditions that taught people that God is one irrespective of the name and form of an individual’s worship, ensured that the country never developed any large-scale ethnic violence. Today, India is focused on removing the worst aspects of the caste discrimination while continuing to honor the traditions of every caste, a move that will definitely improve inner harmony between the multitude of ethnicities.