India being an outstanding example of a society which exemplifies the value of unity in diversity that one begins to take it for granted and to assert that this is infact a true representation of the historical experience of our society. Diversity poses problems to societies in two ways. Firstly by implying a commitment of different groups to different styles of living and to different value frameworks and questions often arise about which life- style to prevail. Besides diversity also has a way of giving rise to disparities, to unequal access to opportunities and to an unequal share in the power structure of the society. Political institutions, in so far as they seek to ensure to promote ‘order’ and stability in society, have to find ways of neither minimising these disparities and or of interpreting, explaining or justifying them within the contemporary framework of values accepted or tolerated by people at the time and place.
Historically speaking, equality was not always the core value for organizing political or social relationships between individuals or groups in society. While diversity in ways of living often gives rise to hierarchy and therefore to inequality and deprivation, the hierarchical social system may,in its turn prove conducive to the tolerance and infact promotion of differentiation in the ways of living of the different groups so long as they do not claim equal access to a society’s resources. Yet hierarchisation is not the only, and certainly not the best way of accommodating differences. The broader process of hierarchisation was accompanied by a process of co-option of the elite elements from among the conquered or won over population.
One process of accommodation to diversity in Indian society followed the path of hierarchisation and led to the development of the hierarchal varna jati structure. New conquering ethnic groups sought to legitimate their status in society by seeking or claiming a place at the higher levels of the hierarchy and the already marginalized, conquered groups were often relegated to a lower status in the hierarchy. They were often allowed to continue with their belief systems, rituals, modes of worship and intra- group mores subject to their acceptance of the hierarchy and the power structure the mainstream.
There was accommodation between major religious doctrines within mainstream society itself. The main religious doctrines were those vedic religions, which gradually gave place to Brahmanism na of jainism and buddhism.The vedic religion obviously allowed for the co-existence of a variety of philosophic , metaphysical and theological doctrines. This diversity seems to have continued even during the centuries in which Brahmanism with its Varna-Jati social structure gradually asserted itself. The diversity manifested itself in the simultaneous existence of six schools of philosophy, the four paths to spiritual salvation and pantheistic faith which will accommodate all the Gods, deities and divine beings worshipped by the various communities that were thrown together.
As time passed the varna division of Aryan society crystallised into a loosely defined hierarchy of occupational and ethnic groups and Buddhism and Jainism were required to come to terms with this organisation of society if they were to live in peace in India. Buddhism with its centre in the Sangh and its rejection of Brahmanic dominance sought to provide an alternative social system. Rival political alignment between kings and priesthoods subscribing to the two differing and competing persuasions began to emerge. There were wars and persecution sufficient to raise a doubt about the general impression that the virtual disappearance of Buddhism from India was a result of a process of debate, gradual absorption and modification of doctrine which culminated in the final resurgence of Brahmanism.
There are infact scholars who believed that Buddhism and the Buddhists were actively persecuted so much so that in the eastern part of the counrty, it was the Buddhists who had been reduced to a low caste status in the Brahmin dominated society that later converted themselves to Islam in large numbers during the period of Islamic ascendency . At any rate the fate of Buddhism in India is not the best illustration of India’s claimed tolerance and acceptance of diversity, not at any rate at the level of the social system as different from philosophic doctrine.
If jainism has survived and prospered in India, it is in no small measure due to the fact that the jains have in effect accepted the status of a caste within the broader hindu social framework. The main religious and philosophical doctrine may well differ from the Vedic doctrine but philosophic and theological differences have by themselves not been a critical or divisive force in the Indian context. The jains are primarily a business community and they have shown the expected pragmatism to survive and prosper. The Brahmo samaj movement met a similar fate in the first part of the twentieth century.
This group generally did not assert the separateness of their religious identity after the initial period of protest and conflict. At a different level, Buddhism and Jainism both left a deep impression on the prevalent Vedic religion. Between them they strengthened the tradition of compassion and made the individual more humane and probably more inward looking. The inhuman and wasteful Vedic practice of animal sacrifice were restrained and non-violence toward all sentient forms of life came to be an important value in the Indian tradition.