Democracy and Diversity I Notes

Democracy and Diversity I Notes

Democracy and Diversity


Most of the countries today have multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-linguistic societies. Maintaining such a vast diversified population is a challenging task for any nation. Today, in even democratic countries, many people are discriminated on the basis of caste, class, skin colour, religion or language. Social differences are created in a society when a majority community tries to suppress a minority community.
Some countries where social differences existed or exist are Sri Lanka (division between Sinhalese and Tamilians), Belgium (between French- and Dutch-speaking populations) and USA (Blacks and Whites). Social differences in many countries may lead to social division.

Origin of Social Differences


Social differences may originate because of the following reasons:

  • Most social differences are based on the accident of birth. For example, people may be tall, strong, weak, girl or boy.
  • Some social differences emerge because people choose to follow certain practices or principles. For example, a person may be an atheist or may be a feminist. Some people may convert to another religion.
  • All social differences do not result in social divisions. Sometimes, even people belonging to different religions may have common interests.

Overlapping and Cross-cutting Differences

  • There are overlapping and cross-cutting social differences in society.
  • When social differences overlap with each other, they become social divisions. Social differences overlap when one community apart from facing discriminations is denied economic benefits and education and thus remains backward.
  • An example of overlapping social differences was the difference between the Blacks and the Whites in America. While the Whites were rich and educated, the Blacks were poor and uneducated. There was a deep polarisation of a population. Similarly, in Northern Ireland, Catholics are poor and denied any educational assistance, while Protestants are rich and provided educational assistance.
  • Cross-cutting social differences take place when the communities are not polarised. For example, in the Netherlands, class and religion cut across each other. People of both communities-Protestants and Catholics-are rich and poor; it is not that only one community is poor. Therefore, the differences are cross-cutting.
  • It is easier to bridge cross-cutting differences. Overlapping differences are serious and can threaten the unity and diversity of a country.
  • Migration of people in homogeneous countries (when the population of the country mostly belongs to the same ethnic group) has made societies more diversified.

Impact of Social Divisions on Politics

Social divisions may lead to conflicts and violence resulting in the disintegration of a country. This can be seen from the example of Northern Ireland.

  • The population of Northern Ireland is divided into Protestants and Catholics. While 53% of the population is Protestant, 44% is Catholic.
  • The Nationalist parties which represented Catholics demanded their unification with the Republic of Ireland which is inhabited mostly by Catholics.
  • The Unionists represented the Protestants who wanted to remain with UK.
  • This social difference transformed into a social division. Thousands of people including the security forces were killed in conflicts between Unionists and Catholics. It was only in 1998, that a peace treaty was signed between the Nationalists and the government of UK.
  • The situation was different in Yugoslavia. Political conflicts along religious and ethnic differences finally led to its breakup.
  • However, social divisions may not always lead to the disintegration of the country. People belonging to different communities and castes vote for the people belonging to their own community. Many parties also work for the development of only one community. This however does not lead to the disintegration of countries.

Three Determiners

Three factors play a vital role in deciding the result of the politics of social divisions. These are

  • If people in a country view their identity as singular and exclusive, it becomes extremely difficult to maintain the unity of the country. On the other hand, if people view their identity as multiple and in national interests, the unity of the country is never threatened.
  • It also depends on how the political leaders of the country represent the demand of any community. If the demands of any community do not threaten the provisions of the Constitution and are not at the cost of any other community, the diversity of the country is maintained. In Yugoslavia, the leaders represented the demands of their communities in a way that it finally led to the disintegration of the country.
  • Another important factor depends on how the government responds to the demands of various pressure groups. If the political leaders agree to the demands of the communities and give them rights and powers, then the unity and the diversity of the country can be maintained; for example, Belgium.

Therefore, we see that each social division does not threaten the unity of the country. The struggle against injustice may become violent sometimes, but dealing with such issues democratically goes a long way in maintaining the integrity of the country