The Missing Piece: Why Democracy and Diversity are Essential for a Complete Education
Let's do an activity! It's simple. Just take out your pen and notebook and list all the identities you have. Take 10 minutes! For instance, you are a boy/girl, a brother/sister, Hindi/Telugu speaking, and Muslim/Hindu/Jain. How many identities could you list down in 10 minutes? 25, 30, 42...and so on! Now, encircle the top three and exchange the notebook with the student sitting beside you. Did they encircle the same identities as you in the top 3? Most often, the answer is no! Let's discuss why.
That's how I introduce the idea of multiple identities to grade 10 students. The chapter "Democracy and Diversity" was the heart of the social science textbook for grade 10. However, NCERT has decided to remove this chapter from the prescribed syllabus this academic year. I still can't understand how, as a part of a democratic country, the idea of multiple identities and diversity can be removed from the syllabus. There is one thing that almost every scholar and great literary work boasts about India - its diversity. "Unity in diversity" is a phrase we are accustomed to hearing right from the beginning of our school years. Of course, diversity would be taught through various other chapters, but this chapter was exclusively about diversity and how misunderstandings create social division.
The chapter talks about a unique formula - cross-cutting differences and overlapping differences. When differences overlap, it results in social division, but when differences cross-cut, it results in social cohesion. For instance, if there are two groups - Hindus and Muslims - and if Hindus are educated while Muslims are not, it's an example of overlapping differences. It creates a convenience to explain the differences in terms of identity. In this case, it can be said that a group is uneducated because they are Muslim. On the other hand, if both Hindus and Muslims are educated, it becomes an example of cross-cutting differences, creating the possibility of greater social cohesion.
As a society, we face a deeper challenge of social division. The dominant political forces appear to widen the gap between the two social groups, while the possibility of social harmony is getting weaker day by day. Understanding multiple identities in such a scenario could rescue society from the catastrophe it is heading towards.
So, what's this idea of multiple identity? As we saw in the beginning when children were listing their identities, we all have multiple identities. In fact, multiple identities are the default setting of a society. Drawing inferences from the activity, we all have different top three identities, often depending on the situation we are in. It also indicates that our identities are not fixed in stone. They are malleable in most cases. We can negotiate and renegotiate our identities, and I think this is what democratic identity is. Identity fixed in stone leads to the radicalization of society, resulting in communal clashes.
This chapter was an opportunity for both students and teachers to reflect upon the events of society and find ways to develop knowledge-based solutions for a cohesive and harmonious society. If we are moving away from the idea of multiple identities and the idea of democracy and diversity, we have to redefine democracy and perhaps drop the word democracy. In the present discourse about democracy, it's impossible to imagine it without embracing diversity. Even if we have to rationalize the overloaded content in the social science curriculum, how can we compromise with the core idea?