The  Challenges of Cultural Diversity Notes Class 12 CBSE


The term ‘diversity’ focuses on differences rather than inequalities. India is a nation of great cultural diversity where different types of social groups and communities live together. There are communities defined by cultural markers such as language, religion, sect, race or caste. When these diverse communities are a part of  larger entity like a nation, then difficulties may arise due to competition or conflict between them. The difficulties arise from the fact that cultural identities are so powerful, that they can arouse intense passions and are able to mobilise large numbers of people.

Sometimes cultural differences are accompanied by economic and social inequalities further complicates things. Measures to address the inequalities or injustices suffered by one community can provoke opposition from other communities. The situation worsens as scarce resources, like river waters, jobs or government funds etc. have to be shared. Such differences are common in a country like ours wherein many negative forces such as communal riots, demands for regional autonomy, caste wars, etc. are trying to tear apart the unity and integrity of the nation.

Cultural Communities and the Nation-State

In order to understand the major issues like regionalism, communalism and casteism that any country, especially India faces, we need to understand the relationship between nation-states and cultural communities. There are a number of questions which need to be answered.

The Importance of Community Identity

Every human being needs a sense of stable identity to operate in this world. Throughout our life we seek to answer questions like – who am I? How an I different from others? How do others understand and comprehend me? and so on. We are able to answer these question because of the way we are socialised or taught how to live in a society by our families and community.

The socialisation process involves a continuous dialogue, negotiation and even struggle against others including our parents, family, kin group and our community. The community we belong to provides us with the language and cultural values through which we comprehend the world and support our self identity.

Ascriptive Identity

Our community identity is based on birth and ‘belonging’ rather than some form of acquired qualifications or ‘accomplishment’. We don’t have any choice about which family or community or country we want to be born in. Such an identity is called ‘ascriptive’ identity. By ascriptive identity, we understand that individuals are determined by the accidents of birth and do not involve any choice on the part of the individuals concerned.

It is an odd fact of social life that people feel a deep sense of security and satisfaction in belonging to communities in which their membership is entirely accidental. Most ascriptive identities are very hard to shake off (to rid or free oneself), even if we choose to disown (reject) them, others may continue to identify us by those very markers of belonging.

Some common features of ‘ascriptive’ identity are as follows:

(a) We are emotionally attached to our community identity because of accidental, unconditional and inescapable belongings. Expanding and overlapping circles of community ties (family, kinship, caste, ethnicity, language, region or religion) give meaning to our world and give us a sense of identity. That is the reason why people often react emotionally or even violently whenever there is a perceived threat to their community identity.

(b) This type of identity is universal. Everyone has a motherland, a mother tongue, a family or faith. This may not necessarily be strictly true of every individual, but it is true in a general sense, and we are all equally committed and loyal to our respective identities.

Identity Conflict

It is possible that some people may not be particularly committed to one aspect of their identity. But the possibility of this commitment is potentially available to most people. Because of this conflicts that involve our communities (e.g. nation, language, religion, caste etc.) are very hard to deal with . Each side of the conflict thinks of the other side as a hated enemy and there is a tendency to exaggerate (highlight) the virtues of one’s own side as well as the vices of the others. Thus, when two nations are at war, patriots in each nation see other as the enemy aggressor, and each side believes that God and truth are on their side. It is very hard for people on either side to see that they are constructing matching, but reversed mirror images of each other. It is a social fact that no country or group ever mobilises its people for untruth, injustice or inequality, everyone is always fighting for truth, justice, equality. But it does not mean that both sides are correct in every conflict or there is no right or wrong.

Sometimes both sides may be wrong or right, and sometimes history declares one side as aggressor and other as victim. But this can only happen long after the conflict has cooled down. Some notion of mutually agreed upon truth is very hard to establish in situations of identity conflict. It usually takes decades, sometimes centuries for one side to accept that it was wrong.

Communities, Nations and Nation States

Nation is simple language, is a sort of large scale community- a community of communities. Members of any nation share the desire to be the part of same political community collectively. This desire for political unity usually expresses itself as the aspiration to form a state.

State is an abstract entity consisting of a set of political-legal institutions claiming control over the particular geographical territory and its people. Max Weber defined state as “a body that successfully claims a monopoly of legitimate force in a particular territory.”

A nation is a peculiar sort of community that is easy to describe but hard to define. We can describe many specific nations founded on the basis of common cultural, historical and political institutions like a shared religion, language, ethnicity history or regional culture. This might be the part of what nation actually means as there is no defining feature or common characteristic that nation must possess.

For every possible criterion there are exceptions and counter examples. For example, there are many nations that do not share a single common language, religion, ethnicity and so on. On the other hand, there are many languages, religions or ethnicities that are shared across nations. But this does not lead to the formation of a single unified nation of e.g. all English speakers or of all Buddhists.

Conceptually, there seems to be no hard distinction between kinds of communities such as an ethnic group, a religious or a regionally defined community. It can be said that any type of community can one day from a nation. Conversely no particular kind of community can be guaranteed to form a nation.

Nations are communities that have a state of their own. This makes the two words joined by hyphen saying nation-state. In recent times there has been a one-to-one bond between nation and state (one nation, one state; one state, one nation). But is is a new development. It was not true in the past that a single state could represent only one nation, or that every nation must have its own state.

For example, when it was in existence, the Soviet Union explicitly recognised that the people it governed were of different ‘nations’ and more than one hundred such internal nationalities were recognized.

Similarly, people constituting a nation may actually be citizens or residents of different states. For example, there are more Jamaicans living outside Jamaica than in Jamaica, that is the population of ‘non-resident’ Jamaicans exceeds that of resident Jamaicans.

A different example is provided by ‘dual citizenship’ laws. These laws allow citizens of a particular state to also, simultaneously, be citizens of another state. Thus, e.g. Jewish Americans may be citizens of Israel as well as the USA, they can even serve in the armed forces of one country without losing their citizenship in the other country.

It is hard to define a nation in any way other than to say that it is a community that has succeeded in acquiring a state of its own. Interestingly, the opposite has also become increasingly true. Just like aspiring nationalities are now more and more likely to work towards forming a state, existing states are also finding it more and more necessary to claim that they represent a nation.

The characteristic feature of modern era is the establishment of democracy and nationalism as dominant source of political legitimacy. This means that, today ‘the nation’ is the most accepted justification for a state, while ‘the people’ are the ultimate source of legitimacy of nation. In other words, states need the nation as much as nations need states.

There is no historically fixed or logically necessary relationship between a nation-state and the varied forms of community that it could be based on. This means we do not have any answer to question that how should the ‘state’ part of the nation-state treat the different kinds of communities that make up the ‘nation’. It is seen that most states have generally been suspicious of cultural diversity and have tried to reduce or eliminate it.

However, there are many successful examples-including India, which show that it is perfectly possible to have a strong nation-state without having to ‘homogenise’ different types of community identities into one standard type.

Assimilation and Integrationist Policies

Policies that promote assimilation are aimed at persuading, encouraging or forcing all citizens to adopt a uniform set of cultural values and norms. These values and norms are largely those of the dominant social group. Other, non-dominant or sub-ordinate groups in society are expected or required to give up their own cultural values and adopt the prescribed one.

Policies promoting integration are different in style but not in overall objective, they insist that the public culture be restricted to a common national pattern, while all ‘non-national’ cultures are to be relegated to the private sphere. In this case too, there is the danger of the dominant group’s culture being treated as ‘national’ culture.

It is clear that there is no necessary relationship between any specific form of community and the modern form of the state. Any of the many bases of community identity (like language, religion, ethnicity and so on) may or may not lead to nation formation-there are no guarantees. But because community identities can act as the basis for nation-formation, already existing states see all forms of community identity as dangerous rivals.

That is why states generally tend to favour a single, homogenous national identity in the hope of being, able to control and manage it. However, suppressing cultural diversity can be very costly in terms of the alienation of the minority or subordinated communities whose culture is treated as ‘non-national’. Moreover, the very act of suppression can provoke the opposite effect of intensifying community identity. So, encouraging or at least allowing, cultural diversity is good policy from both the practical and the principled point of view.

Cultural Diversity and the Indian Nation-State

The Indian nation-state is socially and culturally one of the most diverse countries of the world. It has a population of about 1.21 billion people, according to Census of India 2011. It is the second largest country in terms of population in the world. As per prediction, Indian can soon become the largest populated country in the world. These billion-plus people speak about 1,632 different languages and dialects. As many as eighteen of these languages have been officially recognised and placed under the 8th Schedule of the Constitution.

In terms of religion, about 80.5% of the population are Hindus, who in turn are regionally specific, plural in beliefs and practices. They are divided by castes and languages. About 13.4 % of the population are Muslims, which makes India the world’s third largest Muslim populated country after Indonesia and Pakistan. The other major religious communities are Christians (2.3%), Sikhs (1.9%), Buddhists (0.8%) and Jains (0.4%). In terms of the nation-state’s relationship with community identities, Indian neither follows the assimilationist (who advocates racial or cultural integration) nor the integrationist (who supports or works for social integration) model. From its very beginning the independent Indian state has ruled out an assimilationist model. However, the demand for such a model has been expressed by some sections of the dominant Hindu community. Although ‘national integration’ is a constant theme in state policy, India has not been ‘integrationist’.

The  Constitution declares the state to be a secular state, but religion, language and other such factors are not removed from the public sphere. In fact, these communities have been clearly recognised by the state.

So, taking the whole picture into consideration, we may say that India is a good example of ‘state-nation’ though it is not entirely free from the problems common to nation-states.

Regionalism in the Indian Context

Regionalism is a strong feeling of pride or loyalty that people have towards their regions including a desire to govern themselves. Regionalism in India is rooted in India’s diversity of languages, cultures, tribes and religions. It is also encouraged by the geographical concentration of these identity markers in particular regions and promoted by a sense of regional deprivation. Indian federalism has been a means of accommodating these regional sentiments.

Indian States

After independence, the Indian state continued with the British-Indian arrangement that divided India into large provinces called presidencies. Mumbai, Bombay and Calcutta were the three presidencies, incidentally, all three cities after which the presidencies were named have changed their names recently.

These were large multi-ethnic and multi-lingual provincial states constituting the major political administrative units of a semi federal state called the Union of India. For example, the old Bombay state was a multilingual state of Marathi, Gujarati, Kannada and Konkani speaking people. Similarly, the Madras state was constituted by Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam speaking people.

There were also a large number of princely states and principalities all over India including Mysore, Kashmir and Baroda. But after independence, these units were to be reorganised into ethno-linguistic states within the Indian union because of strong popular agitations.


Language along with regional and tribal identity has provided the most powerful instrument for the formation of the ethno-national identity in India. This does not mean that all linguistic communities have got statehood. For example, in the creation of three new states in 2000, namely Chhattisgarh, Uttaranchal and Jharkhand, language did not play a prominent role.

Rather, a combination of ethnicity based on tribal identity, language, regional deprivation and ecology provided the basis for intense regionalism resulting in statehood. Currently there are 28 States and 8 Union Territories within the Indian nation-state.

Linguistic States Helped Strengthen Indian Unity

The Report of the States Reorganisation Commission (SRC) which was implemented on 1st November, 1956, has helped transform the political and institutional life of the nation.

In the 1920s, the Indian National Congress was reconstituted on linguistic lines. Its provincial units now followed the logic of language – one for Marathi speakers, another for Oriya speakers, etc. At the same time, Gandhi and other leaders promised their followers that when freedom came, the new nation would be based on a new set of provinces based on the principle of language.

However, when India was finally freed in 1947, it was also divided. Now, when the proponents of linguistic states asked for this promise to be redeemed, the Congress hesitated. Partition was the consequence of intense attachment to one’s faith; the main leaders of Congress including Nehru, Patel and Rajaji thought that many more partitions would be done on the basis of intense loyalty and language.

On the other side, other leaders of Congress were all for the redrawing of the map of India on the lines of language. Vigorous movements arose among Marathi and Kannada speakers, who were then spread across several different political regimes – the erstwhile Bombay and Madras Presidencies, and former princely states such as Mysore and Hyderabad.

However, the most militant protests ensured from the very large community of Telugu speakers. In October 1953, Potti Sriramulu, a former Gandhian, died seven weeks after beginning a fast unto death. Potti Sriramulu’s martyrdom provoked violent protests and led to the creation of the state of Andhra Pradesh. It also led to the formation of the SRC, which in 1956 put the formal, final seal of approval on the principle of linguistic states.

In the early 1950s, many including Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru feared that states based on language might hasten a further subdivision of India. In fact, the reverse has happened. Far from undermining Indian unity, linguistic states have helped strengthen it. It has proved to be perfectly consistent to be Kannadiga and Indian, Bengali and Indian, Tamil and Indian, Gujarati and Indian.

The to sure, these states based on language sometimes quarrel with each other. While these disputes are not pretty, they could in fact have been far worse.

In 1956, the SRC mandated the redrawing of the map of India on linguistic lines, the Parliament of Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was then known) proclaimed Sinhala as the country’s sole official language despite protests from the Tamils of the North. One left-wing Sinhala MP issued a prophetic warning to the chauvinists, ‘One language, two nations’, he said, adding. ‘Two languages, one nation’.

The civil war that raged Sri Lanka in 1983 is partly based on the denial by the majority of linguistic group of the rights of the minority. Another of India’s neighbours, Pakistan, was divided in 1971 because the Punjabi and Urdu speakers of its Western wing would not respect the sentiments of the Bengalis in the East.

It is the formation of linguistic states that has allowed India to escape an even worse fate. If the aspirations of the Indian language communities had been ignored, what we might have had here was “One language, fourteen or fifteen nations”.

Constitutional Provisions

Constitutional provisions decide the powers of the States and the Centre. There are lists of ‘subjects’ or areas of governance which are the exclusive responsibility of either State or Centre, along with a Concurrent List of areas where both are allowed to operate. The State Legislatures determine the composition of the upper house of Parliament, the Rajya Sabha.

There are various periodic committees and commissions that decide on Centre-State relations. For example, Finance Commission is set up every ten years to decide on sharing of tax revenues between Centre and States. Each Five Year Plan also involves detailed State plans prepared by the State Planning Commission of each state.

On the whole the federal system has worked fairly well, though there are many controversial issues. Since the era of liberalisation there is concern among policy makers, politicians and scholars about increasing inter-regional economic and infrastructural inequalities.

As private investment (both foreign and Indian) is given a greater role in the economic development, considerations of regional equity get diluted. This happens because private investors generally want to invest in already developed states where the infrastructure and other facilities are better.

Unlike private industry, the government can give some consideration to regional equity (and other social goals) rather than just seek to maximise profits. So left to itself, the market economy tends to increase the gap between developed and backward regions. Fresh public initiatives will be needed to reverse current trends.

The Nation-State and Religious Issues and Identities

The issues related to cultural diversity are based on religious communities and religion based identities. These issues are majorly divided into two groups – the secularism – communalism set and the minority-majority set. Questions about minorities and majorities involve decisions on how the state is to treat different religious, ethnic or other communities that are unequal in terms of numbers or social, economic and political power.

Minority Rights and Nation Building

Nationalism in India is marked by the dominant trend of inclusive and democratic vision. Inclusive because it recognises diversity and plurality. Democratic because it sought to do away with discrimination and exclusion and bring forth a just and equitable society. The idea of humanism influenced Indian nationalists and exclusive nationalism were extensively commented by leading figures like Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore.

To be effective, the ideas of inclusive nationalism had to be built into the Constitution. There is a very strong tendency for the dominant group to assume that their culture or language or religion is synonymous with the nation-state. For a strong and democratic nation, special constitutional provisions are required to ensure the rights of all groups and especially of minority groups. The notion of minority groups is widely used in sociology and is more than a numerical distinction.

It usually involves some sense of relative disadvantage. Thus, privileged minorities such as extremely wealthy people are not usually referred to as minorities, if they are, the term is qualified in some way, as in the phrase ‘privilege minority’. When minority is used without qualification, it generally implies a relatively small but also disadvantaged group.

The sociological sense of minority implies that the members of the minority from a collectivity i.e. they have a strong sense of group solidarity, a feeling of togetherness and belonging.

This is linked to disadvantage because the experience of being subjected to prejudice and discrimination usually heightens feelings of intra-group loyalty and interests. Thus, groups that may be minorities in a statistical sense, such as people who are left-handed or people born on 29th February , are not minorities in the sociological sense because they do not form a collectivity.

However, it is possible to have anomalous (exceptional) instances where a minority group is disadvantaged in one sense but not in another. Thus, for example religious minorities like the Parsis or Sikhs may be relatively well-off economically, but they may still be disadvantaged in a cultural sense because of their small numbers relative to the overwhelming majority of Hindus.

Religious or cultural minorities need special protection because of the demographic dominance of the majority. In democratic politics, it is always possible to convert a numerical minority into political power through elections. Due to this, religious or cultural minorities become politically vulnerable. They must face the risk that the majority community will capture political power and use the state machinery to suppress their religious or cultural institutions.

In the long years of struggle against British colonialism, Indian nationalists understood the need to recognise and respect India’s diversity. Indeed ‘unity in diversity’ became a short hand to capture the plural and diverse nature of Indian society. Discussions on minority and cultural rights mark many of the deliberations of the Indian National Congress and find final expression in the Indian Constitution.

The makers of the Indian Constitution were aware that a strong and united nation could be built only when all sections of people had the freedom to practice their religion and to develop their culture and language. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the chief architect of the Indian Constitution, made this point clear in the  Constituent Assembly.

In the last three decades we have witnessed how non-recognition of the rights of different groups of people in a country can have serious effects on national unity. One of key issues that led to the formation of Bangladesh was the unwillingness of the Pakistani state to recognise the cultural and linguistic rights of the people of Bangladesh.

One of the contentious issues that formed the backdrop of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka was the imposition of Sinhalese as a national language. Likewise, any forcible imposition of a language or religion on any group in India weakens national unity which is based upon recognition of differences. Indian nationalism recognises this and Indian Constitution affirms this in Article 29 and in Article 28.

According to Article 29 

(a) Any section of the citizens residing in the Territory of India or any part thereof having a distinct language, script or culture of its own shall have the right to conserve the same.

(b)  No citizen shall be denied admission into any educational institution maintained by the state or receive out of state funds on roads of religion, race, caste, language or any of them.

According to Article 30

(a) All minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.

(b) The state shall not , in granting aid to educational institutions, discriminate against any educational institution on the ground that it is under the management of a minority, whether based on religion or language.

As a result, it is noteworthy that minorities exist everywhere. In most nation-states, there exists a dominant social group whether cultural, ethnic, racial or religious. Nowhere in the world is there a nation-state consisting exclusively of a single homogeneous cultural group.

Even where this was almost true (e.g. in countries like Iceland, Sweden or South Korea), modern capitalism, colonialism and large scale migrations have brought in a plurality of groups. Today, even the smallest state will have minorities, whether in religious, ethnic, linguistic or racial terms.

Communalism, Secularism and Nation State


Communalism refers to aggressive chauvinism (patriotism) based on religious identity. Chauvinism is an attitude that sees one’s own group as the only legitimate or worthy group, with other groups seen as inferior , illegitimate and opposed. Communalism is nothing but an aggressive political ideology linked to religion.

The word ‘communal’ means something related to a community or collectively as different from an individual. It is important to emphasise that communalism is about politics, not about religion.

Although communalists are intensely involved with religion, there is in fact to necessary relationship between personal faith and communalism. A communalist may or may not be a devout (devoted to religion) person, and devout believes may or may not be communalists.

However, all communalists do believe in a political identity based on religion. The key factor is the attitude towards those who believe  in other kinds of identities, including other religion-based identities. Communalists cultivate an aggressive political identity and are prepared to condemn or attack everyone who doesn’t share their identity.

One of the characteristic features of communalism is its claim that religious identity overcomes everything else. Whether one is poor or rich, whatever one’s occupation, caste or political beliefs, it is religion alone that counts. Communalism is an important issue in India because it has been a source of tension and violence.

During communal riots, people become faceless members of their respective communities and all anti-social activities. Every religious community has faced this violence in greater or lesser degree, although the proportionate impact is far more painful for minority communities.

To the extent that governments can be held responsible for communal riots, no government or ruling party can claim to be blameless in this regard. Examples of two most traumatic contemporary communal violence are anti-Sikh riots of Delhi in 1984 during Congress regime and anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat in 2002 under BJP Government.

Historically, in India, communal riots are normal with the policy of divide and rule adopted by colonial rulers. But colonialism did not invent inter-community conflicts. We should not forget that we have a long tradition of religious pluralism, ranging from peaceful co-existence to actual inter-mixing or syncretism.

This diverse heritage is clearly evident in the devotional songs and poetry of the Bhakti and Sufi movements. In short, history provides us with both good and bad examples, and it is up to us what we want to become.


Secularism refers to the principle of separation of the state from religious institutions. In Western context, the term is related with the separation of church and state. Secularism was related to the arrival of modernity and the rise of science and rationality as alternatives to religious ways of understanding the world. The Indian meanings of secular and secularism include the Western sense but also involve others. A secular state or person is one that doesn’t favour any particular religion over other.

Secularism is the opposite of religious chauvinism and it need to necessarily imply hostility to religion as such. In terms of the state religion relationship, this sense of secularism implies equal respect for all religions, rather than separation or distancing. For example, the secular Indian state declares public holidays to mark the festivals of all religions.

One kind of difficulty is created by the tension between the Western sense of the state maintaining a distance from all religions and the Indian sense of the state giving equal respect to all religions. Whenever the state does to uphold the other sense, the supporters of each sense become upset.

There are a number of questions which may lead to passionate disagreements and hard to settle e.g. should all religious holidays be abolished, leaving only Independence Day, Republic Day, Gandhi Jayanti and Ambedkar Jayanti? If Sikh soliders in the army are allowed to have long hair and wear turbans, should Hindu soldiers also be allowed to shave their heads or Muslim soldiers allowed to have long beard, etc.?

A set of complication is created by the tension between the Indian state’s simultaneous commitment to secularism as well as the protection of minorities.

Providing such protection immediately invites the favouritism or appeasement of minorities. Over this protection we have two arguments.

Opponents argue that secularism of this sort is only an excuse to favour the minorities in return for their votes or other kinds of support. Supporters argue that without such special protection, secularism can turn into an excuse for imposing the majority community’s values and norms on the minorities.

These kinds of controversies become harder to solve when political parties and social movements develop a vested interest in keeping them alive. In recent times, communalists of all religions have contributed to the deadlock. The resurgence and newly acquired political power of the Hindu communalists has added a further dimension of complexity.

Clearly a lot needs to be done to improve our understanding of secularism as a principle and our practice of it as a policy. But despite everything, it is still true that India’s Constitution and legal structure has proved to be reasonably effective in handling the problems created by various kinds of communalism.

The first generation of leaders of independent India (who were Hindu and upper caste) chose to have a liberal, secular state governed by a democratic Constitution. Accordingly, the state was conceived in culturally neutral terms and the ‘nation’ was also conceived as an inclusive territorial-political community of all citizens.

Nation building was viewed mainly as a state-driven process of economic development and social transformation. The expectation was that the universalisation of citizenship rights and the induction of cultural pluralities into the democratic process of open and competitive politics would evolve new, civic equations among ethnic communities, and between them and the state. These expectations may not have materialised in the manner expected.

Ever since Independence, the people of India through their direct political participation and election verdicts have repeatedly asserted their support for a secular Constitution and state.

State and Civil Society

The state is indeed a very crucial institution when it comes to the management of cultural diversity in nation. State is somewhat independent of the nation and its people. The state structure is formed of the legislature, bureaucracy, judiciary , armed forces, police and other arms of the state. Having all these, state can potentially become authoritarian.

Authoritarian State

Authoritarian state is one in which people have no voice and those in power are not accountable to anyone. This authoritarian state is opposite to democratic state. This state often limits or abolishes civil liberties like freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of political activity, right to protection from wrongful use of authority, right to the due process of the law and so on.

If we keep authoritarianism side, there is also the possibility that state institutions become unable or unwilling to respond to the needs of the people because of corruption, inefficiency, or lack of resources. Non-State actors and institutions become important in this context, for they can keep a watch on the state, protest against its injustices or supplement its efforts.

Civil Society

Civil society is the non-state and non-market part of the public domain in which individuals get together voluntarily to create institutions and organisations. It is the sphere of active citizenship. Here individuals take up social issues, try to influence state or make demands on it, pursue their collective interests or seek support for a variety of causes. It consists of voluntary associations, organisations or institutions formed by the groups of citizens.

These voluntary organisations include political parties, media institutions, trade unions, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), religious organisations and other kinds of collective entities. The main criteria for inclusion in civil society are that the organisation should not be state-controlled and should also not be purely commercial profit-making entity.

Thus, Doordarshan is not part of civil society though private television channels are, a car manufacturing company is not part of civil society but the trade unions to which its workers belong are the part of civil societies. These criteria allow for a lot of grey areas.

For example, a newspaper may be run like a purely commercial enterprise or an NGO may be supported by government funds.

There is an example of authoritarian rule during the ‘Emergency’ enforced between June 1975 and January 1977. Parliament was suspended and new laws were made directly by the government. Civil liberties were revoked and a large number of politically active people were arrested and jailed without trail. Censorship was imposed on the media and government officials could be dismissed without normal procedure.

The government pressurised lower level officials to implement its programmes and produce instant results. The most notorious incident was the forced sterilisation campaign in which large numbers died due to surgical complications. When elections were held unexpectedly in early 1977, the people voted overwhelmingly against the ruling Congress Party.

The emergency shocked people into active participation and helped energise the many civil society initiatives that emerged in the 1970s.

This period saw the resurgence of a wide variety of social movements including the environmental rights, women’s human rights and dalit movements.

Today, civil society organisations inlcude advocacy and lobbying activity with national and international agencies as well as active participation in various movements. The issues taken up are diverse, ranging from tribal struggles for land rights, devolution in urban governance, campaigns against rape and violence against women, rehabilitation of those displaced by dams and other developmental projects and so on.

Civil liberties organisations have been particularly important in keeping a watch on the state and forcing it to obey the law. The media has also taken an increasingly active role, specially its emergent visual and electronic segments. Among the most significant recent initiatives, is the campaign for the Right to Information. Beginning with an agitation in rural Rajasthan for the release of information on government funds spent on village development, this effort grew into a nation-wide campaign. Despite resistance of the bureaucracy, the government was forced to respond to the campaign and pass a new law formally acknowledging the citizens’ right to information. Examples of this sort illustrate the crucial importance of civil society in ensuring that the state is accountable to the nation and its people.