Multiculturalism in a Comparative Perspective: Australia, Canada and India

By Ghosh, Ratna | Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal, Spring 2018 | Go to article overview

Multiculturalism in a Comparative Perspective: Australia, Canada and India


Ghosh, Ratna, Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal


INTRODUCTION

The term 'Multiculturalism' means different things to different people. The concept has been interpreted in many ways such as a descriptive concept or as policy so that there are many 'multiculturalims' (Eriksen 2006). Its definitions range from extreme tolerance of unfamiliar customs and norms to blaming all immigrants for a society's economic (unemployment) and social problems such as terrorism (Daily Mail 2011). In common usage it generally refers to equal respect of all cultures in a society, thereby maintaining their cultural distinctiveness. In the political sense it refers to ideology and policies of different countries that deal with diversity in populations.

To say that a society is multicultural is to recognize the diversity of that society--but what makes it diverse may be differing ethnicities, cultural backgrounds, religions, sexes, ages, classes, and so on. A variety of differences become the basis for inequality in each society. An inequality based on differences is discrimination. Gender inequality is perhaps the most significant category for discrimination because it not only crosscuts many other categories but its effects are multiple, additive and also different. And although gender violence and bias have been major problems that have recently attracted much attention in India and certainly also exist in Canada and Australia, I focus here on discrimination based on ethnicity, culture, and caste in order to delimit the paper. In doing so I do not attribute to these categories the position of being the primary or only cause for discrimination, which would essentialize as well as oversimplify them--given that class, gender, religion and language for example, cut across ethnicity, culture and caste, and are each very significant markers for discrimination and disadvantage.

This paper (1) is an indepth analysis of the policies for managing diversity in three countries that have multicultural populations and discusses multiculturalism from the point of view of ethnicity, culture, and caste (in India) (see endnote 5 for 'caste'). These are significant aspects of difference in Australia, Canada and India alike. Following that, I discuss some characteristics of the multicultural populations in these three countries that offer an interesting point of comparison for exploring the complex interplay between diversity and equality in all three democracies. I look at policy development related to ethno-cultural diversity: Multiculturalism (Australia, Canada) and Reservations (India). Despite complexities involved in cross-cultural comparisons this study attempts to contribute to further understanding of different ways of inclusion of minority populations. Things that are normalized in one context may look different in a comparative framework. I conclude with brief assessments of the current state of multicultural policies in each context.

CONCEPTS

Multiculturalism

The term "Multiculturalism" is said to have emerged in 1941 as an antidote to a form of nationalism that implied a nation's superiority over others: to favour multiculturalism, which meant respect for all nations and peoples. (2) Its more recent use is connected with Canada's official Multiculturalism Policy (1971), intended to be an attempt at maintaining democratic principles of justice and equality in an increasingly diverse society. Now, although widely used globally as a means of managing diversity in terms of ethnicity, race (3) and religion, lack of conceptual understanding of the term has made it a hotly debated topic. Regardless, because it upsets the status quo in previously homogenous Western societies, the concept has become very controversial, especially in those countries that have diverse immigrant populations.

I take multiculturalism to imply the right to difference so that all individuals and groups not only have equal rights before the law but also have equal opportunity to exercise those rights. …

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