Social diversity is a feature of a society which is determined by caste, class, religion, occupational pattern in a given territory. In the social sphere, the general customs and manners of the people greatly differ. People of different regions use different types of dresses, their eating habits and customs differ. Certain people are quite civilized while others are very backward in their customs. In short, “India is a museum of cults and customs, creeds and cultures, faiths and tongues, racial types and social systems”.
- Racial Diversity:
A race is a group of people with a set of distinctive physical features such as skin, color, type of nose, form of hair etc. A. W. Green says, “A race is a large biological human grouping with a number of distinctive, inherited characteristics which vary within a certain range.”
India possesses a rich variety of races. In view of this variety Prof. V.A.Smith says, “From the human point of view India has been often described as an ethnological or racial museum in which numerous races of mankind may be steadied.”
The Indian sub-continent received a large number of migratory races mostly from the Western and Eastern directions. Majority of the people in India are descendants of immigrants from across the Himalayas. Their dispersal into sub-continent has resulted in the consequent regional concentration of a variety of ethnic elements. Dr B.S.Guha identifies the population of India into six main ethnic groups based on 1931 census operations, namely (1) the Negritos (2) the Proto-Austaloids, (3) the Mongoloids, (4) the Mediterranean or Dravidian, (5) the Western Brachycephals, (6) the Nordic. People belonging to these different racial stocks have little in common either in physical appearance or food habits. The racial diversity is very perplexing.
Herbert Risley had classified the people of India into seven racial types. These are – (1) Turko – Iranian, (2) Indo-Aryan, (3) Scytho – Dravidian, (4) Aryo – Dravidina, (5) Mongo Dravidian, (6) Mongoloid and (7) Dravidians. These seven racial types can be reduced to three basic types – the Indo-Aryan, the Mongolian the Dravidian. The vast population of India consists of the jungle tribes like the Bhils, the Konds, the Santhals, the Jarawas etc,.
- Religious Diversity:
In the religious sphere, India possesses a great diversity. India is a multi-religious country. Religion is both a factor of unity and diversity in Indian society. But, all are differentiated internally. Traditionally, different religious groups have lived in India in more or less peaceful coexistence. India is not religiously a homogenous state even though nearly 80 percent of the population is Hindus. There are six major religions in India, namely Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism and Zoroastrianism. There are also other religions like Judaism, Zoroastrianism and Bahaism.
Then there are sects within each religion. Hinduism has sects like Shaivas and Vaishnavas. Similarly, in Islam the Shias and the Sunnis, Sikhs as Namdharis and Niirankaris, Jainism into Digambar and Shwetambar and Buddhism into Hinayana and Mahayana.
In addition, the primitive men like the tribes have their own peculiar cults which are quite distinct from these major religions. Thus India possesses complete diversity in the religious sphere.
- Caste Diversity:
India is a country of castes. The term caste is generally used in two senses: sometimes in the sense of Varna and sometimes in the sense of Jati.
- Varna refers to a segment of the four-fold division of Hindu society based on functional criterion. The four varnas are Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra with their specialized functions as learning, defense, trade and manual service. The Varna hierarchy is accepted all over India.
- Jati refers to a hereditary endogamous status group practicing a specific traditional occupation. There are more than 3,000 jatis in India. These are hierarchically graded in different ways in different religions.
The practice of caste system is not confined to Hindus alone. One can find castes among the Muslims, Christians, Sikhs as well as other communities. There is the hierarchy of Shaik, Saiyed, Mughal and Pathan among the Muslims. Furthermore, there are castes like teli (oil presser), dhobi (washerman), etc among the Muslims. Similarly, caste consciousness among the Christians in India is not unknown. Since a vast majority of Christians in India were converted from Hindu fold, the converts carried the caste system into Christianity. In this view, one can imagine the extent of caste diversity in India.
In addition to the above described major forms of diversity, we have diversity of many other sorts like settlement patterns – tribal, rural, urban; marriage and kinship pattern along religious and regional lines and so on.
In this way diversity pervades on the whole of Indian subcontinent. And such diversities are not the hallmarks of Indian culture. The main theme of Indian culture is unity which absorbs all these diversities.