Thursday, 18 July, 2024

Evolving Global Multiculturalism

Evolving Global Multiculturalism

Prof. Bhupa P. Dhamala

Many things around our birthplace are familiar – soil and rocks, bushes and forests, hills and mountains, ponds and lakes, rivers and seas, all are near and dear to us. So strongly attached we become to the birthplace that any attempt to detach us is a futile practice. Our world is full of geographical and cultural diversity. There is a vast tract of land we have never trodden and there are countless people we have never met. A few literary texts can exemplify the diversity of places, things, and events.

In Robinson Crusoe (1719), Daniel Defoe describes an incident of a shipwreck. Crusoe happens to arrive at an uninhabited island where he is compelled to live a completely solitary life before he is rescued. Secluded though the traveller is, he somehow manages to live for 28 years without any connection to the human world. Here the traveller is faced with a geographical encounter.

In Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726), Gulliver encounters alien cultures of the strange people ranging from six-inch to sixty-foot height. They behave quite strangely to him thinking that he is an alien. There are other accounts of strange behaviours of other people in other places. Each voyage includes a unique experience of encounter. This book is a perfect portrayal of cultural diversity. Likewise, James Welch (1940-2003) in “How others see us” gives an embarrassing yet interesting account of an African traveller who finds everything in England strange, people seem strangers to him, the ways they behave are unfamiliar. It seems that they are attacking him. This is another interesting example of diversity.

These incidents – real or imaginary – can illustrate the vastness of diversity that prevails on our earth. Diversity, whether natural or cultural, is what we can easily accept and internalise. But the politics involved in making forced inequality is unnatural. Nepal is a country of natural as well as cultural diversity where people of different castes and creeds have been living here for generations. But there has always been discriminatory politics among people from different castes, classes, and gender. The people of upper caste, high class, and masculine gender tend to dominate the powerless people in one way or the other. The powerless people are subjugated politically, economically, and socially. It is thus cultural politics that has caused conflict among the people within a country and beyond.

Even in a multicultural setting, some people are hostile to the newcomers. The natives are unfriendly, they are discriminatory, they hate the people who come from other places. Even in a country of vast cultural diversity such as America, the emigrants from third-world countries are vehemently discriminated against by powerful European colonisers who had settled there almost simultaneously. The following account detailed in a book can be cited to illustrate the point.

Ronald Takaki, a Japanese American writer, relates an embarrassing incident in his Strangers from a Different Shore (1989). When Takaki was a school student, he says, his school teacher labels the descendants of Asian-Americans as foreigners although they were already authorised as American citizens by birth. Even as they were the descendants of parents whose ancestors had migrated to America 300 years ago, they were excluded from the mainstream American culture. Takaki was deeply shocked by the racist attitudes and discriminatory behaviours meted out to the children of parents of non-European origin. Takaki then did a massive study in universities and wrote books of American history where American citizens of Asian origin were focused.

In mainland America, every American citizen who comes from countries other than Europe is a hyphenated American with no equal rights and dignity and is termed as Afro-American, Asian American, etc. For European settlers, the hyphenated Americans are considered second-grade or even third-grade citizens. Takaki understood that Asian Americans including those from Japan were still foreigners who cannot assume the same rights as European-Americans. This is discriminatory politics under the guise of culture. It is something like living alone in the crowd.

Despite discriminatory cultural politics, we are heading towards multiculturalism. Because of rapid urbanisation, many people have migrated from villages to towns within a nation. The recent census of Nepal also indicates that the urban population is larger than the rural population although this proportion is still lower in relation to urban America where the urban population is nearly 90 per cent. The migrant urban population is multiethnic, multireligious, and multicultural. The cities are becoming more and more cosmopolitan in nature. Therefore, the process of urbanisation has accelerated the growth of multiculturalism in Nepal. Similar is the case in neighbouring India and China.

Just as multiculturalism is growing within a nation, it is more rapidly growing around the globe. It appears that there is no country where only the indigenous nationals are living. International migration seems to have been the heyday in recent years. The metropolitan cities of the developed counties can provide physical facilities and offer employment opportunities along with good education, so they have magnetic power to attract people by the thousands and millions. Although multiethnic people are gathered in a metropolitan city, there is not much cultural subjugation now. We can see the different migrant people in big cities practising multiculturalism. They worship their own gods and goddesses, speak their own language to communicate between the peoples of their community, and are involved in feasts and festivals of other peoples as well.

It is not simply migration that has caused rapid growth of multiculturalism. The modern means of communication have brought people from different parts of the world together into a global village. We can talk to people living anywhere in the world on the phone, can watch the television to know the news of the world, can use the internet and other social media to communicate and understand things and events of other places sitting at our desks. All these circumstances have made us closer than ever before. This has led to global multiculturalism which is apparently indispensable.

(The author is the chairman of Molung Foundation.