Friday, September 5, 2014

Celebrate Diversity

In the current times of overbearing rightwing mono-culturalism, the fact that Sikkim has begun celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi and will next week be celebrating a recently introduced [albeit ageold as far the community is concerned] festival and then a unique-to-Sikkim worship a day later, comes as welcome relief. Some 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, the fact that Sikkim made space at MG Marg for Ganpati and will have many interpretations of the worship of its Guardian Deity in expression next Tuesday, is a display that should never be allowed to dim. Clich├ęd 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, if given the chance, will tease out hesitations and feed on suspicions thereby weakening the collective society.
Agreed, “unity in diversity” is an overused line, a phrase which has accompanied us for far too long as a topic for essay-writing contests and argument for debates; and since everyone has heard it so often that it fails to elicit either pride or passion anymore, perhaps it is 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 hand fan fear which breeds intolerance which is a debilitating, self-defeating handicap.
To its credit, the current dispensation in Sikkim, despite rather loud criticism by individual leaders, has consistently supported the aspiration of the respective communities to express their individualities. And such an approach is also in perfect sync with the current focus on decentralization, empowerment and going back to the roots [as one can see in the revival of organic farming]. Endorsing diversity, once it becomes a habit, is no longer limited to cultures, and would also mean supporting free expression, accepting differing views, living with divergent traits and allowing free thought – if that is not the empathy and tolerance that a people need to thrive as a community, unencumbered by factionalism or hate, then what is?
Diversity, once ingrained, 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) and understanding and accepting of people for who they are. 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 appropriate 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…

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