Does homogeneity — linguistic, religious, cultural or in terms of traditions, customs, manners, mores — hasten progress and add to the penchant for achievements in whatever sphere of life? To my best knowledge, the question has not so far been so starkly posed, nor satisfactorily answered.

Looking at industrially and technologically-advanced nations such as Britain, France, Germany, Japan and the US, the striking feature one immediately notices is that from one end of the country to another, they are broadly homogenous in the sense I have earlier mentioned. They mostly speak the same language, practise the same religion, or the close variants of it. The customs and manners of the people at large are similar, so too are their traditions and work ethic. In short, all sections of people feel at home with each other.

OPPOSITE POLE

On the surface, one is led to presume that this fact makes for an easy inter-personal relationships, smooth communication of ideas and experiences, getting the most of the synergies inherent in a common outlook on life, common understanding of one another’s weaknesses and strengths, and common goals and aspirations. Public discourses too are facilitated by the instant rapport brought about by similar modes of speech and dress, idioms, usages, and expressions, and attitudinal congruence.

People of homogenous societies are able to get along with the help of mere hints or shorthand, as it were, without being required to embark on elaborate explanations of their intentions or purposes.

Take India, which is almost at the diametrically opposite pole: The society here is so very complex, diverse and heterogeneous that it is even difficult to make out from the name of a person the State from which he hails. Everything that touches a human personality differs from State to State, and sometimes from even from district to district: Food preferences, habits and manners, words and phrases, folklores and festivals.

I can give you some examples which outwardly may seem amusing, but which can lead to unpleasant consequences. “khiladi” is taken in its literal meaning of a player in all Hindi-speaking States, but in Tamil Nadu, and perhaps in the Southern States as a whole, it connotes a cunning, scheming, devious person up to nobody’s good!

Likewise, in the South, ‘nonsense’ is a word that is acceptable as a comment in office or public domain, but in Bengal, and generally, the north-eastern States, it is taken as an unbearable insult.

A South Indian Postmaster-General was attacked by a riotous mob in his office at Kolkata some years ago when he used the word with reference to something that one of the employees had said or done.

SUBLIMINAL UNDERCURRENTS

In fact, it is the pastime of the people of each State or the district within a State to make contemptuous fun privately among themselves of the attitudes, mannerisms and force of habits of people of other States or districts, or attribute to them, as a people, tendencies and traits, mostly fancied, which do not make the grade in their estimation.

Go eavesdrop into conversations of persons of one State/Region gossiping about those of other State(s)/Region(s), and you will know what I mean.

The short point is: Distractions in interpersonal dealings abound in heterogeneous groups whether in offices, public discourses or other types of transactions. Do they act as a drag on the success or effectiveness of undertakings and enterprises?

Mind you, these distractions need not be obtrusive; the persons affected by them need not even be conscious of them.

Even as subliminal undercurrents, do they come in the way of people in organisations, scientific and technological establishments, business houses pulling together and accomplishing the maximum within the shortest possible time? Do they generate more unwanted conflicts, cold shoulders, sullenness, demotivation, and so on, than in homogenous situations? Could that be one reason why India is plodding its weary way instead of taking off like a race horse as befits its proudly boasted achievements of its ancient civilisation? Did those achievements themselves become possible because of the homogeneity in all the respects that count?

If you ask me, my answer to each one of those questions is in the affirmative. But that is purely on an impressionistic basis, without my being able to substantiate it. I am of the view, though, that the questions deserve to be asked and answers found.

(This article was published on November 4, 2012)
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