National Minority Rights in the Himalayas

  • Selma K. Sonntag (Author)

Identifiers (Article)


India is a multicultural liberal democratic state. It is also a poor, overpopulated Third World country. Many modernization theorists have assumed that these two descriptors were at odds, or at least sequentially determined with economic development a necessary pre-condition for democracy, and hence predicted the failure of the Indian experiment because of its "fissiparous tendencies." More contemporary comparative political scientists have attempted more sophisticated and nuanced explanations of the Indian experiment than what modernization theorists offered. Also recently political theorists have increasingly turned their attention to multiculturalism. In this paper, I use a particular type of accommodation made by the Indian state to cultural diversity, constitutionally prescribed in the Sixth Schedule for parts of Assam but increasingly applied elsewhere in the northern stretches of Indian territory, to investigate contributions of recent liberal theory to understanding India's multiculturalism. One of the most prominent political theorists in recent times in the West is Will Kymlicka, who weds multiculturalism to liberalism in his liberal theory of minority rights. The mainstay of his theory is his distinction between national minorities and immigrant ethnic groups. Through this distinction he describes and prescribes accommodations made by the liberal state to cultural diversity. Although he admits that there are gray areas or "hard cases" that challenge his categorization, his "approach" has been "to draw clear lines in muddy waters." Can Kymlickian lines be drawn in the sediment-filled streams flowing down from the Himalayas? Do Kymlicka's categories, and, more generally, his theory help us understand India's liberal multiculturalism as practiced in the Himalayan foothills of north India?


India, Comparative Studies, Political Theory, Minorities, Multiculturalism