What Kind of Oneness Do We Need?

THE Modi Government keeps speaking of 'One nation One language', 'One nation One law', ‘One nation One election’ and so on. Do these slogans, and the principle of 'one-ness', unite a country of diverse languages, cultures, ethnicities, and multiple inequalities (based on socio-economic and historical exclusion and oppression)?

Why is “one-ness” invoked to choke and flatten out enriching diversity?

Why is “one-ness” never invoked to recognise and tackle structural inequalities?

In other words, why does one country really need to be identified with a single primary language? Don’t people with different levels of advantage and privilege need specific laws to correct the biases and inequalities built into the system? “One nation one law” would mean that no region or community or gender, no matter how disadvantaged, could have laws protecting them from bias.   

When we speak of one-ness, why not demand

  • one nation - one quality of schooling for all?
  • one nation - one quality of higher educational institutions with one level of affordable fee? one nation - one quality of health care for all?
  • one nation - one level of social security?
  • one nation- one quality of housing and nutrition?

Languages are not mere tools of communication where each language carries equivalent words for same concepts and experiences. Languages are active tools of culture and the meanings constructed together in the respective cultures. Hence we often find words in one language which do not have exact synonyms in other languages. There are knowledge systems including works of literature and scientific and mathematical concepts developed in particular languages owing to the various experiences that the particular communities speaking that language had to negotiate with which may not exist in other languages. Hence a slogan of ‘one language’ is also a death sentence pronounced on various knowledge forms that may exist in other languages. ‘Same’ is not necessarily ‘equal’. In case of pluralities, the idea of one-ness is not an idea of fostering equality, but one of ensuring a hegemonised, dull and non-creative ‘same-ness’.

In case of inequalities, the addressing of them may need both kind of policies - policies that positively discriminate where needed and also policies that do not discriminate by further advantaging the already advantaged. For instance, let us take the case of inequalities due to caste oppression or patriarchy. The same cannot be addressed by refusing to acknowledge the different starting grounds from which individuals belonging to different contexts begin.

An acknowledgment of the same often requires active affirmative policies that are able to distinguish between privileges accorded to some by the conditions of their birth and also the historical disadvantages of others. In such a case pushing for an end to reservation policy under the pretext of ‘one nation-one policy’ becomes a slogan for encouraging continuation and strengthening of existing inequalities.

It may be interesting to note that while ‘one-ness’ of policy is often argued in the context of admission to educational and employment opportunities, the principle of ‘one-ness’ conveniently disappears when it comes to ensuring similar quality of services, rights and facilities to all irrespective of their socio-economic status. So the proponents of ‘one nation-one policy’ when it comes to admission and recruitment policies aimed to redress a historical inequality are noticeable silent when it comes to ‘one-kind’ and ‘one quality’ of services offered to all which can provide an equal footing to all.

We must be one of the most unique countries where the hierarchy between schooling opportunities are not restricted to the public-private divide, but are inherent in the government’s own system of public schooling as reflected in the differential resource allocation and quality of schooling in Kendriya Vidyalayas, Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas, Sainik Schools, Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya, and other state government schools. The most marginalised often left with no option but  the lowest rung school/college with least resources. The rich can buy excellent education. This disdain one of nation-one quality of services continues in access to other essential services including health care, right to food and housing.  

An idea of one-ness that doesn’t talk about annihilation of caste, that does not talk about end of patriarchy, and that does not work towards putting an end to privileges and opportunities accumulated through conditions of class, betrays its own real agenda. The kind of one-ness that does not challenge unfair power relations and unfair control of resources in the hands of few is farcical and dishonest.