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A Plea for Cultural Pluralism and a Multinational State


T.N. Madan

CRISIS AND CONTENTION IN INDIAN SOCIETY
By T.K. Oommen
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 244, Rs.320.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 7 July 2006

Looking at India since Independence in 1947, we are confronted with a situation of multi-dimensional change involving the restructuring of its polity, economy, and socio-cultural organization. India seems always to be a country in the making. This is how things should be; it is proof of vigour and vitality. But the problem with such optimism is that it could be dangerously unmindful of internal stresses inherent in the processes of change. One could highlight the dangers by invoking the notions of ‘contention’ and ‘crisis’, but only in order to cope better with them. And this is what T.K. Oommen does in this book.   Professor Oommen is one of India’s senior sociologists, well known nationally and internationally. After retiring from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, he has assumed responsibility as Chair of the Schumacher Centre (New Delhi) and Ford Foundation Chair at the Delhi Policy Group. Given his commitment to his vocation as a sociologist and his professional eminence, he is often invited to inaugurate conferences, deliver keynote addresses, speak at seminars, and contribute to books. Of the twelve chapters of this book, six are addresses and six seminar papers. They were written between 1997 and 2004, and half of them are published here for the first time. Oommen’s writing is accessible to the general reader no less than to the specialist, and is largely free of jargon and quotations. This is welcome because he deals with issues of general concern.   Oommen’s primary argument is that in a country with a long history marked by the movement of peoples, conquests and in recent times colonialism, and a vast and varied geography, cultural (religious, linguistic and lifestyle) pluralism is only to be expected. This pluralism is a rich heritage; any attempt to dilute or erase it will ‘destroy the soul of India’ (p. 222). The threat to pluralism comes from two sources, namely, first, the relatively recent (350 years old) European notion of the nation-state (‘for each nation its own state’) and the policy of national integration imposed from above that goes with it, and, secondly, from the ideology of cultural nationalism/monism. One wishes Oommen had also pointed out that modernity too is destructive of diversity. Moreover, he equates, as many others do, secularism with pluralism (‘harmonious’ and ‘dignified’ coexistence of communities). Such an equation, proclaimed in the slogan of sarva dharma sambhava, suppresses rather than removes doubts about the prevailing approaches to ...


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