Accepting radical otherness

SourceThe Hindu

Relevance: Religious tolerance is essential to preserve and protect Indian diversity.

Synopsis: The U.S.-based Pew Research Center’s survey has thrown up an interesting finding on religious tolerance in India.


Pew Research Center has recently released the results of the survey titled ‘Religion in India: Tolerance and Segregation’. The survey takes a closer look at religious identity, nationalism, and tolerance in Indian society.

Key findings of the survey:
  • Most Indians (84%) surveyed said that respecting all religions is very important to them and all religious groups must be allowed to practise their faith freely.
  • Yet, a considerable number of them also said they preferred to have religious groups segregated and live and marry within their own community.
Read more: The Pew study’s glazed picture of our religious tolerance
Impact of the survey:
  • This curious finding has resulted in a BBC Asia report stating that India is neither a melting pot (diverse cultures blending into one common national identity) nor a salad bowl (different cultures retaining their specific characteristics while assimilating into one national identity) but a thali (an Indian meal comprising separate dishes on a platter).
How to preserve Indian Diversity?

Sociologist Ashis Nandy had developed a framework in the 2000s to understand Religious diversity.

  • In his framework, he said that, in regions that have to accommodate not just diversities but “radical diversities everyday mechanisms of coping have to be evolved.
  • This has resulted in a unique form of cosmopolitanism where differences can be accommodated without pressuring members of one community to be like the other based on a notion of universal brotherhood.
Kochi model of diversity observed by Ashis Nandy:
  • On the other hand, another aspect is also possible, where members of one community can go to extraordinary lengths to help members of the other community maintain their own customary practices including their separate dining and dietary habits.
  • This type of diversity is based on tolerance that is built into people’s everyday rhythms, is not backed by any ideological justification. He termed it an “unheroic form of tolerance”.
  • He observed this kind of cosmopolitanism in Kochi. Furthermore, he said this is the reason why the city, which has close to 15 diverse communities, had not witnessed any major religious strife in its 600 years of recorded history.
  • This model of cosmopolitanism, where people accept “the otherness of the others” is different and easy to achieve than the Enlightenment version which teaches us to divest ourselves of all prejudices.

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