4. India, which has a confluence of many cultures and religions, does not remain unaffected by the forces of fragmentation and exploitation. In the course of its history, the presence of a diversity of cultures, the plurality of religions and ways of life are celebrated in India. The relationship among the religions and the cultures of India was not merely built on the principle of co-existence and toleration but on co-insistence and concordance. Though there were some exceptions to this due to certain unwarranted happenings such as discriminations of the subaltern people and their culture, patriarchal hegemony and gender bias, occasional political turmoil and eruption of fundamentalist movements and religious bigotry, etc. by and large, our country continues to live the ideal of unity in diversity as a model to the world. In the recent past, however, efforts are being made to interpret old symbols and myths or to create new ones to support and justify the creation of a mono-culture or at least the hegemony of one culture over others which will have disastrous consequences for those who do not share this ideology or hold on to the authentic Indian culture of celebrating plurality.
5. We express ourselves as individuals, communities and ethnicities through the medium of culture as evident in our festivals, art, music, language and other symbols, articulating diversity through a multiplicity of customs and practices. In this plurality of cultural expressions that mark India, there is something so unique about cultures that one culture cannot be compared with another. Though culture is at the substratum of relationality of humans among themselves and with the wider universe, in the face of the multiplicity of meanings attributed to the term, culture eludes every attempt for a precise definition and rigid classification. In order to orient our reflection we may consider culture as that of a complex whole which humans acquire as members of a society that includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, customs and any other capabilities as well as all the manifestations of social habits of a community and the responses and the activities of individuals determined and affected by them.
6. It is an undisputed fact that even within the apparent beauty and meaning attributed to the varied expressions of culture; fragmentation and social dislocation are integrally woven into it in the context of day to day experiences of life. With the scientific and technological advancements that mark human development, there is an increased disconnect between humans and nature, resulting in the blockage of energies in the web of life. The revolutionary emergence of connectivity, while offering tremendous possibilities at present, has become a major cultural problem particularly for the youth as it orients them to deviant and at times even harmful sexual behaviours and other destructive activities.
7. Globalization, migration of labour force and free trade have brought different cultures in proximity. Those participating in the process of globalization become cosmopolitan, whereby they transcend the local ties and become the leading cultural agents– receiving, transferring, transmuting and hybridizing the local and the global cultures. The spirit of neo-liberalism emergent upon a liberalized economic process and the condition of post-modernism are the important ingredients in the making of these cultural changes. However, the present reconfiguration resulting from neo-liberalism consequent of globalization presents itself with a double-edged sword. Even as it offers immense opportunities for mobilization for sections of people, it has intensified the struggle for those living at the periphery in conditions of powerlessness, being deprived of the socio-economic and political security. According to UN reports, one third of world’s extreme poor live in India and to our dismay our country tops the list of countries which have the highest number of modern day slaves. Those communities which live below poverty line are also in a socially disadvantaged position.
8. The ‘tyranny of the market’ resulting from globalization generates a consumerist culture that privileges profit over people which in turn generates false values, ideals and philosophies that serve the logic of consumerism. Culture of unbridled consumerism exists alongside a culture of deprivations, as those who consume the benefits of the global market coexist with the intense suffering of those who continue to be at the periphery. The experience of rootlessness and false securities ensuing from this experience combined with the intense struggle on the part of subalterns for survival generate new forms of violence around the ethnic, religious, and linguistic and gender divide.
9. Due to the persistence of patriarchy particularly in its mediation by religion –which is one of the strongest medium of culture – a great majority of women irrespective of class and caste continue to be at the margins. For Dalit women, who are living at the ‘wronged’ end of class, caste and gender, polarities of social life, the experiences of injustice, powerlessness, humiliation and exclusion continue to be a big part of their everyday living.
10. The unhealthy nexus between politics and capitalism, and politics and religion contributes to the widening of the socio-economic divide that sustains a culture of socio-economic inequality. Today, there are also attempts made towards the promotion of monoculturalism by those holding the reins of political power, with plans to create a “unified” India under one religiously inscribed political ideology. This would result in the violation of the constitutionally affirmed secular fabric of the Indian republic, a situation that needs to be urgently addressed by the civil society.
11. On a counter note to homogenizing moves, there is a disruption of dominant culture by popular and hybrid cultures with the emergence of post-modern thought which affirms cultural diversity and multiple identities. In this context, there is freedom from undue ties of traditions and closed-up communities which have ‘bonded’ the individuals so far. The post-modern framework gives space for assertion of rights by minorities and marginalized groups.
Since the post-modern cultural context is characterized by the movement from the periphery to the centre, contemporary cultural experience is opening up a space for the hitherto ‘subjugated knowledges.’ The indigenous cultures which preserved and transmitted their particular knowledges for centuries but were suppressed or not recognized in the past, find themselves brought to the fore more and more. They assert their right to exist amidst diversity of cultures. They resist any form of assimilation into the dominating cultural traditions.
13. The present phase of cultural reconstruction is one of emerging possibilities and alienating contradictions. In this context articulating a new theology of culture becomes urgently necessary taking into account the cultural rigidity in situations marked by a fundamentalist religious ethos that stand alongside with fluidity of culture.