Racial Linguistic and Ethnic diversity – UPSC

In this article, You will read Racial Linguistic and Ethnic diversity – for UPSC (Cultural Setting – Geography Optional).

Racial Linguistic and Ethnic diversity

  • Plurality and multiplicity characterize Indian society and culture. India has accommodated and assimilated various outside elements into its growing culture. However, it has never been a ‘melting pot’ in which all differences got dissolved and a uniform identity was created. India is a shining example of a ‘salad bowl’ in which different elements retain their individual identities and yet, together, they form a distinct recipe. It is in that sense that India is a unity in diversity, guided by the principle of tolerance (Sahishnuta) and mutual respect.
  • Race according to some is a group of people who may be separated from other groups by distinctive physical features like the color of skin, hair, the structure of the jaw, the structure of eyes. Thus, we can say Race is a biological concept related to the physical and genetic characteristics of a human.
  • Ethnicity is defined as, “either a large or small group of people, in either backward or advanced societies, who are united by a common inherited culture (including language, music, food, dress, and customs and practices), racial similarity, common religion, and belief in common history and ancestry and who exhibit strong psychological sentiments of belonging to a group.
  • The physical characteristics of the Indian population vary from region to region. Our present-day population is a conglomeration of people belonging to different racial groups with different ethnic backgrounds.
  • Almost all major races of the world are visible in India as a result of which the country is said to have a varied and diverse ethnic composition.
  • Any living society is a product of its past. Through changes that occur internally, or are brought about by outside factors, societies continually redefine themselves. Through these processes, societies change in their demography, in their material culture, in their values, norms, and traditions, and in the patterns of behavior of their members.
  • Just as a newborn develops into a young, then an adult, and even later into an old person, so also does society grow. And just as a person continues to maintain his/her identity despite radical changes in his/her appearance, so also does society maintain its identity in the midst of changes.
  • In that sense, the Indian society of today is vastly different from what it was a hundred or a thousand years ago, and yet its composite culture is made up of the elements that it has retained from its past and the new elements that it has added from time to time. No living society is static. The pace of change may be slow or fast.
  • When changes are slow in a society, it is termed a traditional society. But this does not mean that traditional society is changeless. As one of the oldest civilizations, Indian society is a good example of continuity and change. Contemporary Indian society cannot be understood in terms of what is written in the Shastras and the Smritis. Our past provides a foundation on which the present is built, but it does not define the emerging contours of a living society.
  • Indian civilization is about 5,000 years old. It has a chequered history. This vast subcontinent has seen several waves of migration. Groups of people coming from different corners of the world with different intentions confronted the local populace and were finally accepted. Each such interaction resulted in giving and take between the host community and the arriving migrants.
  • Their differences and the intermingling of traits continually changed the living culture of the people and enriched the growing Indian civilization.
  • Historians seem to be of the view that people called Aryans inhabited the Indus river valley almost 2,500 years before the birth of Christ.
  • Since they belonged to the same racial stock and spoke the same language, the term, Aryan, was used to distinguish them from the relatively dark-skinned people speaking Dravidian languages. Ethnically, the Aryans represented the Caucasoid and the Dravidians the Proto-Australoid races. The Aryans overwhelmed Northern India, while the Dravidians moved south.

Racial diversity

  • Biologically, all human beings belong to a single genus and species called Homo Sapiens. However, population groups living together in different parts of the world show some physical characteristics that distinguish them from other groups. Such biologically distinguished groups are called races.
  • The character­istics that help identify different racial groups include color and texture of hair, the quantity, and distribution of hair on the body, color of the eyes, the shape of the eyelids, shape of the nose, the lips, and the skull, skin color, and body height. Since in early times, people with the same racial features stayed together, spoke the same language, and lived the same culture, race was mistakenly used as a synonym for language, culture, religion, and society.
  • It is a fallacy to think of one race as belonging to one culture. The race is a biological concept. It is wrong to associate race with intelli­gence or regard any race as superior or inferior to others.
  • Societies such as India that are spread in a vast area of geographical diversities have been home to several races and have received several migrant groups from abroad over a course of thousands of years. This has made India a multi-racial country. Moreover, through intermarriages between people of different races, a good deal of miscegenation has occurred. Pure races are now only theoretical constructs. This is true of India as well.
  • However, it will be useful to have an idea of the racial profile of India. There is very little fossil evidence of the prehistoric times to suggest the ethnic stocks of those who inhabited the vast subcon­tinent. All accounts of the Indus Valley civilization that prospered in Sindh and Punjab, which are now part of Pakistan, indicate that people of mixed origins and diverse racial types lived there in those days.
  • Waves of migrations from different corners of the world made this country home to diverse races. Intermarriages between people of different racial stocks have made the task of researchers rather difficult in fixing racial origins.
  • During the Census operations of 1891, Sir Herbert Hope Risley attempted the first-ever classification of the people of India into different racial types. He classified them into the following seven types Turko-Iranian, Indo-Aryan, Scytho-Dravidian, Aryo-Dravidian, Mongolo-Dravidian, Mongoloid, and Dravidian. This classification was criticized by other scholars because Risley mixed linguistic categories (Aryan and Dravidian) with the racial categories.
  • In earlier times, the racial boundaries might have coincided with linguistic boundaries, but technically, language is a learned behavior and is not biologically transmitted. Egon von Eickstedt propounded the theory that South India had a Proto-Negroid population long before the other racial stocks arrived.
  • During the 1931 Census, B.S. Guha took anthropometric measurements in different parts of the country to determine the physical character­istics of different groups and identified six main races with nine subtypes. That classification is still being used, though the exact size of these groups in Indian society cannot be determined. However, this classification is good evidence that the people of India are composed of various racial types, making it a multi-racial country.

Risley’s Classification

He classified the people of India into seven different racial types

Risley’s Classification
  • (a) Turko – Iranian – These people are mainly found in Afghanistan and Baluchistan. These two places are now in Pakistan. Turks- Iranian People are very tall and have a fair complexion. They possess dark eyes, narrow nose.
  • (b) Indo – Aryan – This type is mainly concentrated in Punjab, Rajasthan and Kashmir. Rajput, Khatri
    and Jat come under this category. Most of the people have long heads and prominent noses. They are tall, their complexion is fair and eyes are of dark colour.
  • (c) Scytho – Dravidian – This race is the combination of Scythians and Dravidians. They are found in
    Saurashtra, Coorg and in Madhya Pradesh. The upper strata people are coming under Scythian
    and lower strata people are included under Dravidian. They are broad headed, have a fine nose, are of medium height and their complexion is fair.
  • (d) Arya – Dravidian – It is the mixture of two races – Indo Aryan and the Dravidian. They are mainly concentrated in U.P. and Bihar. Brahmins and other high caste people are included under Aryan whereas Harijans and other lower castes people are included under Dravidian category. They have long head and the complexion varies from lights brown to black.
  • (e) Mongol – Dravidian- This race is the mixture of Dravidian and Mongolian races. They mainly live in West Bengal and Orissa. Brahmins and Kshatriyas of these are included under this category. This racial type has come into existence as a result of intermixture of Mongolians and Dravidians while some element of Indo – Aryan race is also found. These people are generally black and round headed having medium nose and medium height.
  • (f) Mongoloids – The tribal people of Assam and North – Eastern frontier are included under this race.
  • (g) Dravidian – People of this race are mainly concentrated in South India and Madhya Pradesh. The Santhals of Chotanagpur represent this type. They have dark complexion, dark eyes, long head and broad nose.
  • Criticism of Risley’s Classification of race
    1. He remained silent about the presence of Negrito race in India.
    2. D.N. Mazumdar says that this classification speaks more about linguistic division rather than racial division.
  • This classification was also criticized by other scholars because Risley mixed linguistic categories (Aryan and Dravidian) with the racial categories.

B.S. Guha’s Classification

B.S. Guha took anthropogenic movements in different parts of the country to determine the physical characteristics of different groups and identified six main races with nine subtypes.

B.S. Guha’s Classification

(a) The Negrito

  • These are characterised by short stature, frizzy hair, bulbous of forehead, flat nose, black skin colour, long arms, etc. According to Guha the presence of Negrito race in India is a controversial issue.
  • However, it is claimed that there is an element of Negrito race in Indian population and Negrito element is found in the blood of Andaman Islanders. Further, it is also pointed out that Negrito element is found in the blood of some South Indian tribal people like the Kadar and blood of Nagas.
  • There are some who maintain that there is no weighty evidence to prove conclusively the existence of Negrito element in Indian population. Whatever evidence is available, according to them, is inadequate to establish the presence of Negrito element in Indian Population. Although there is controversy, it may be stated that the Negrito race existed in the past and has left little trace in India.

(b) The Proto – Australoid

  • The Proto – Australoid is also known as the Pre – Dravidian race. Dr. Guha says that the tribal population of central India is fairly dominated by this racial element. The Santhals, the Mundas, the Juangas, the Soaras, the Kondhs are some of the many tribes belonging to this racial type. Their Common physical traits are dark brown to black brown complexion, broad nose, wavy to curly hair, short stature, and thick everted lips.

(c) Mongoloid

  • People of this racial ancestry are mainly found in North – Eastern India. Dr. Guha divides this race into two types, namely
    1. The Palaeo – Mongoloid: – This racial type is further divided into two types, one the long headed type and the other broad headed type. The Angami Nagas are of the long headed type of the Palaeo – Mongoloid race. The people inhabiting in the Himalayan foot hills from Kashmir to Assam are said to be the broad headed type of the Palaeo – Mongoloid race. Medium statures, light brown colour, medium nose, scanty hairs on body are typical features of these race.
    2. The Tibeto – Mongoloid: – The people of Sikkim and Bhutan are said to belong to the Tibeto – Mongoloid branch of Mongoloid race. Their typical features are long stature, light yellow colour, hairy body, oblique eyes, long nose, and flat face.

(d) The Mediterranean

  • This race is one of the dominated races in India. Mediterranean is divided into three types. They are –
    1. The Palaeo – Mediterranean: – This racial type is represented by type Tamil and Telgu Brahmins of the south. They are characterised by medium stature, long and narrow head, long face, short and medium nose, brown complexion.
    2. The Mediterranean: – People of this racial type are believed to be the builders of the Indus Valley Civilization. The Mediterranean’s have medium stature, olive brown complexion, long head and long broad open eyes. They are found in Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Kerala.
    3. Oriental Mediterranean: – Oriental type is very much similar to the Mediterranean type. They are limited to Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Western UP and Southern Parts of Uttarakhand. They are distinguished by long and convex nose and fair complexion.

(e) Western Brachycephals

  • This race is of three types, namely
    1. The Alpendoid: – They are characterized by medium stature, round face, prominent nose, straight long hair, and fair complexion. People belonging to this race are found in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Odisha.
    2. The Dinaric: – They are characterized by long stature, brown complexion, long face, sharp nose. Their main representatives are the people of Kathiawar, Coorg.
    3. The Armenoid: – They are characterized by medium Stature, broad head, long nose and hairy body. The Parsis of Mumbai and Gujarat are the representatives of this racial type.

(f) Nordic Race

  • People of this racial origin came to India from the North and South – East Asia spread all over Northern India during the 2nd millennium B.C. This race is mainly found in North India in a mixed form with the Mediterranean race. The people of this stock are believed to have greatly enriched Indian culture. Their main physical traits are tall stature, long head, long face, blue or black eyes, and blond hair.

A.C. Haddon Classification

  • Haddon did not agree with the classification of races advanced by Herbert Risley. Thus, he put forward his own classification of races in India.
  • According to him, the oldest existing stratum is represented by Pre–Dravidian Jungle tribes.
  • The population of India, as said by him consists of
    • (1) The Pre – Dravidian jungle tribes,
    • (2) the Dravidian who are long headed and brunette,
    • (3) the Indo – Aryan who are fair complexioned and long headed,
    • (4) the Indo – Alpines who are broad headed and
    • (5) the Mongolians.

J.H. Hutton Classification

  • Hutton believed that the earliest occupants of India were probably the Negrito race who, however, has left little trace in India. They are followed by the Proto –Australoid. Next came an early branch of the Mediterranean race speaking an agglutinative tongue from which the present Austro – Asiatic languages are derived.
  • These are credited with a crude knowledge of agriculture and a megalith cult. From Eastern Europe came a later wave of Mediterranean immigration, equipped with knowledge of metals and who developed the city-states.
  • Hutton believed that the broad-headed elements in the population of India can be traced back to the Armenoid branch of the Alpine race. They spoke a Dravidian language.
  • Hutton has written, “This civilization was flooded in the west during the third millennium B.C. by immigration form the Iranian plateau and the Pamirs, of a Brachyccphalic race perhaps an Indo – European language of the Pisacha or Dardic family”.
  • The Mongolian element came from the East and moved towards the South. The Indo–Aryan race came to India in 1500 B.C. Hence, the population of India, according to Hutton, consists of the following races,
    • (1) Negrito,
    • (2) Proto-Australoid,
    • (3) Mediterranean –
      • (a) East Mediterranean
      • (b) Mediterranean,
    • (4) Armenoid branch of Alpine,
    • (5) Mongoloid
    • (6) Indo–Aryan.
  • Under the changed cultural milieu of the 21st century, there are hardly any isolated groups that are the true and typical representatives of their races and ethnic groups. The division of people in the racial, ethnic, and caste groups leads to sub-nationalism which may go against the national interest and may retard the process of national integration.
  • Though there are debates about who entered India 1st – Dravidians or Aryans. Now it is mostly accepted Aryans followed Dravidian.

Linguistic Diversity

  • India is rightly described as a polyglot country – a country of many languages. Linguistic research suggests that when means of trans­portation were less developed, there was little mobility of people. Therefore, communities confined to small areas spoke their own dialects. And these were spoken in a radius of 7-8 kilometers. That is why even today there are 1,572 languages and dialects that are each spoken by less than 1,00,000 speakers, besides the 18 Scheduled languages. Until recently, the Census of India collected only mother tongue statistics, which gave the wrong impression about the actual number of speakers of any language.
  • The fact of the matter is that many people speak more than one language; there are also instances of people who do not speak their mother tongue, but speak other languages of the region in which they have settled. However, it is important to note that there is no state in the Indian Union that is monolingual in terms of mother tongue. And, in most of the states, Hindi figures among the top three languages returned as a mother tongue.
  • The 1991 Census mentions Hindi as the most prominent mother tongue, spoken by 39.85 per cent of people; if we add Urdu to it, which uses a different script, but the same grammar, and is, therefore, commonly understood, the percentage will go up to 44.98. Certainly, the number of speakers of this language is much greater than this percentage, which consists only of those who reported Hindi or Urdu as their mother tongue.
Linguistic Diversity
comparative ranking of language
  • Such statistics will put the number of Hindi-speaking persons much higher than the mother tongue statistics that we have presented in the above table. However, even these data reflect the great linguistic diversity of India.
  • Moreover, each of these 18 languages has rich literature; there are also several Indian writers who have earned international fame by writing in English, not only fiction but also on technical subjects. It should be mentioned that linguistic diversity is found in each of the states of the Indian Union. It is true that after India got independence, the states were reorganized on the basis of language, but such reorganization did not erase the multilingual character of the individual states.

Ethnic Diversity

  • India has evolved as an ethnically diverse country with significant syncretism, similarities, and commonalities in ways of life. Not only the peopling of India from different racial and regional origins but the geographical diversity within provided ecologies for evolution, sustenance, the perpetuation of diversity and interaction, assimilation and harmonization of the same.
  • In anthropological and political terms, this makes India a unique country in the world. In ethnic terms, racial origin, religion, caste, and language are the major sources of socio-cultural diversity in India. Over the centuries, migration has brought together a great diversity of human genes and cultures and today, the bulk of the Indian population represents racial and cultural admixture in varying degrees. Anthropological Survey of India conducted (1996) ‘People of India Project’ and registered a list of 17096 entries of castes, communities, sub-groups, surnames, and other names of which, 8530 were castes or communities, 3123 sub-groups, and 2729 surnames.
  • In 2011, 1241 individual ethnic groups were found among scheduled castes while the number of individual ethnic groups notified as scheduled tribes was 705. India has as many as 325 languages and 25 scripts in use, deriving from various linguistic families, like Indo-European, Tibeto-Burmese, Dravidian, Austro-Asiatic, Andamanese, Semitic, Indo-Iranian, Sino-Tibetan and apart from these, there are thousands of dialects. In fact, the number of mother tongues counted by the Census of India has risen over the years (as the speakers became conscious of their identities and started identifying their language/dialects). The total number of mother tongues stated in 1971 was around 3000 which in 1991 increased to around 10,000.
  • However, it is not to deny that there have also been forces and ideas that have attempted to communalize and divide Indian people on religious, caste, linguistic, racial, and regional identities. One of the major setbacks to Indian civilizational unity, in this regard, was a division of the country in 1947 on the basis of religion. Even after that, there have been attempts to divide the people of India and instrumentalize them for intolerance and violence against each other. To divide people of India, the ethnic consciousness and identity is brought to the fore through two main processes (as evident for creating a religious divide among Hindus and Muslims): (i) Essentialism or primordialism (that states that Hindus and Muslims have been separate communities and there is no connection between them), (ii) instrumentalism (through which people of different religious and ethnic identities are used to achieve some political or social goals–for instance, Hindus and Muslims being used for garnering political power or vote).
  • Despite emerging contradictions in recent years and rising violence along religious and caste lines, India still stays as a ‘honeycomb’ in which communities are engaged in vibrant interaction, sharing space, ethos, and cultural traits. There are a number of communities defining themselves in terms of dual religious configuration, such as Hindu-Sikh, Hindu-Muslim, Hindu-Buddhist, etc. Further, there are communities such as the Khasi Muslim of Meghalaya and the Nicobarese of Andaman and Nicobar Islands which have segments professing three or sometimes four religions, such as Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, and tribal religions. In India, religion is superimposed on culture. The pre-conversion practices survive among all religious communities–Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Muslims, and Hindus. Further, all religious and tribal communities have multiple sub-sects and groups within; displaying multiplicity and variety of adoptions of different religions and cultures.
  • In recent centuries, both the Bhakti and Sufi saints had helped to recast and reorient syncretism specifically between Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs. These saints propagated the fundamental equality of mankind. It is because of this that Sufis are revered both by Muslims and Hindus. Temples and mosques were/are places of equal respect. In many parts of the country Muslim marriages (as in Konkani Muslim) are solemnized by the groom tying an amulet to his bride or giving mangalsutra that is known as tali among Hindus. Mirji (a Muslim) of Lahore laid the foundation of the Golden Temple, the most sacred place for Sikhs. Shirdi’s Sai Baba, a Muslim by birth, is one of the most popular deities among the Hindus. It was in this tradition, as Munsi Premchand writes how on hearing the cry of a distraught woman, Syed Salar Masud Ghazi got up from his wedding to save cows. At the Cheluvanarayana temple, devotees worship Bibi Nachiyar, the Muslim consort of Lord Vishnu. There are countless such examples across India.
  • In fact, the term ‘Hindu’, today used for signifying religious-majority community in India, was once used to denote geographic region, not religious belief. At that time even Muslims and Christians were referred to as Hindus.
  • These pluralistic traditions, beliefs, and practices go to underscore and establish that the people of India, despite being divided on the basis of diverse identities, are the people of our nation. The belief in different Gods, religions, and adoption of different languages as a process of history created their new identities while erasing many other identities. In many respect, this diversity has got due recognition in the Indian Constitution and as such ‘secularism’ as state ideology (to maintain and cherish ‘unity in diversity) flows from this pluralism.
  • The lives of people in India have been organically linked but attempts through the above-mentioned processes are to generate parallel lives (each religious community living unconnected with other religious communities) or compartmentalize and divide. This Indian diversity needs to be contrasted with the rest of the world, particularly western European countries, the USA, and Canada, where diversity emerged because of the immigration of people having different religious, social, cultural, and racial traits from the rest of the world. The issues in these countries are about how to organically link the parallel lives of citizens so divided. In the case of India, we find a significant attempt from some groups (emerging both from minority and majority religious groups) to separate people by disrupting their organic lives and forcing them to live as parallel entities.
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Suyash Tiwari

Many topics of oceanography are not covered

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