SALAD, COCKTAIL OR STEW

The Imphal Free Press
July 29 2010

The question of integration of culturally and ethnically diverse population is not an agenda peculiar in our state alone. It is there practically in every plural society, in other parts of India as well as other countries. In the US for instance, towards the turn of the century, there were nine German newspapers in the state of Columbia. Today there are none. In San Antonio, Texas, a Hispanic majority southern city, there are a couple of Spanish newspapers, but they are already marginalised. According to the Hispanic pressmen society there, the Hispanic population still speak Spanish but most prefer to read English. As in India, the English newspapers seem to be considered more liberal, cosmopolitan, reliable and literate than the vernacular. This may be myth, but this definitely is the general attitude. However there are no overt, nationalistic agenda on the part of the US government or the American population as such, to convert everybody to the English medium. On the other hand, during the KoreaJapan Soccer World Cup, extremely well off English newspapers like the San Antonio Express News, made their sports pages bilingual, covering the mega event in both Spanish and English. The job of emotional integration is left largely upto the natural centripetal pulls of the market forces. The market indeed is a powerful force and because it is impersonal, the integration it brings about seldom causes friction. The lesson for us is, emotional and cultural integration must be catalysed by the integrating forces of a vibrant economy, or else the bonds sought to be cemented, or even the traditional bonds that already exist, can never be secure enough to withstand the natural tendencies of atrophy. Hence, if not for the widely shared affluence, we are certain even the US, diverse as it is, would have faced serious problems of cultural and ethnic friction.


But integration remains a hot topic for American intellectuals. The academic classifications of integration some of them have come up with is fascinating, both for the ideas as well as the nomenclatures. Can integration be explained by the melting pot theory where a totally homogeneous mix is the result and none of the original ingredients remain identifiable? Or should it be more like a salad bowl, where each ingredient remains intact, retaining each’s individual characteristics? Or should integration be like the vegetable stew, where each ingredient retains much of its individual characteristics, but each contributes a bit of itself to enhance the flavour of the dish? Or should it be like the Martini cocktail where again each ingredient is individually identifiable by their distinctive flavour, but all of them together give the cocktail its independent identity? These are interesting ideas and if given the thought and attention they merit, we are sure can be adopted to explain our own situation. As for us, we are of the opinion that the melting pot theory can be applied only to very long term natural processes of unification. Any attempt to hasten it will result in conflicts. We are also of the opinion that the government must avoid any policy that seeks to forcefully homogenise culture, unlike its laws which must be made to conform to a unitary philosophy as far as possible. Perhaps there must be a progression of sorts – from the salad bowl, to the stew pot and martini cocktail. But leave the melting pot to the process of evolution and in its own sweet evolutionary time frame.

These thoughts are relevant and important in the ethnic cauldron that Manipur is, where on an incremental basis, communities are emerging from the blissful oblivion of modern notions of identity, and identity based power contest, to assert their presence and their distinctness. The fact is, despite the new awareness of identity, all the different communities have no choice than to coexist. They must hence have to agree to not only to some measures of common laws of sharing living space and cultural mores, but also think what the society should ideally look like sometime in the future, with a view to smoothening out further the co-existence norms.

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