It seems that the word ‘regional’ is often treated with a derogatory sense. Is there a unique aspect which makes one a member of a particular nation or a class of humans? Is such a unique aspect which is shared by all (I would call this ‘unique aspect shared’, ‘essence’) a necessary condition for us to have a nation or a class called human in a meaningful sense? I tend to think that it is not.
The cultural scenario of India is a myriad of cultural differences. Despite all these differences, is there any aspect which is shared by all Indians (‘Indianness’) that will identify them as Indian? It seems to me that there does not exist any ‘essence’ and what exists is a mere family resemblance.
Let us try to understand the notion of family resemblance, a concept introduced by Ludwig Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein talks about the example of a game. As we know, there are various games. By ‘game’ one can mean, ‘board game’, ‘card game’, ‘ball game’, ‘olympic game’and so on. Now the question is: what is common to them all? One might be tempted to say that there must be something common; otherwise they would not have been called as ‘games’. Wittgenstein’s suggestion is that if you look at all these games, you will not see anything common to all. Instead one will only see a whole series of similarities and relationships. Look for example at board-games. Now pass on to card-games; here you find many similarities with the first group, but many common features drop out and others appear. When we pass on to ball-games, much that is common is retained and many are lost. Compare chess with naught and crosses. Is it the case that all the games involve ‘winning’ and ‘loosing’ or competition between players? In ball games there is winning and losing but when a child throws a ball at the wall and catches it again, this feature disappears. There is a difference that is being played by skills and luck in various games. There is a difference between the skills in chess and that in tennis. From an examination of the above kind, Wittgenstein comments a complicated network of similarities and criss-crossings. These similarities are sometimes overall and at times similarities of detail.
Just as there is no essential aspect which makes all these activities (belonging to the class of) ‘games’, there need not be any essential aspect which makes all of us (to belong to the class of) Indian or even (to belong to the class of) human. Since our campus community can be considered as a cross section of our nation, a similar line of thought may be applicable to this as well. One might tend to think that in a campus community such as that of HCU’s - where the cultural diversity of India is very much represented – one should perform only those cultural programmes which are having some common elements. I am afraid that one may not be able to find any ‘essential’/ ‘common’ aspect of that sort. But is it a problem? One might argue that just as in the case of ‘games’ not having a common aspect, poses little problem for a variety of activities to be called as games, the fact that not having a common aspect need not be a problem for considering different cultural programmes as ours. Because even if there does not exist an essence, there are family resemblances between different cultures. ‘Knowledge of other culture’ is an interesting philosophical debate; but it is a truism and is a matter of intuition that we pretty much understand as ‘other’ culture. Therefore one might argue that the “othering” involved here is a problematic move. If one argues that at a central university, what is desirable is not ‘regional programmes’ but ‘national programmes’, the argument seems to presuppose a kind of ‘essentialism’, the idea that there is some common/essential aspect which is running through all the different cultures of the country. As I have tried to demonstrate above, this kind of a presupposition may be ambiguous. One might also want to ask the following question: is there a Nation over and above the regions; or are regions constitutive of a Nation?
None of the above arguments pretend to establish that ‘regional programmes’ will never lead to regionalism. Rather what it tries to show is that it need not do so. Suppose that in the meeting of a cultural/linguistic community of ‘X’ if one makes statements which have the implication that ‘I value a particular person since (s)he belongs to ‘X’’; it need not be stated that it is a statement which is pregnant with regionalism. What is funny is that in most of the cases when people make such statements filled with overtones of regionalism, they will begin by saying that “I am not being a regionalist”. One might want to think whether they want to be encapsulated inside the cocoon of their own cultural/linguistic community as it can often be seen in our campus. Will a decision of barring cultural programmes in the campus helps to prevent narrow-mindedness or encapsulations inside the cocoon of one’s own linguistic/cultural community? One might think that it is very unlikely.
But what is problematic about disowning any regional/cultural dimensions and trying to ‘fit in to’ an abstract notion called “Indian culture” (or any similar kind of national culture) is that it makes the diversity to disappear; and it will project one aspect of a country as “the” aspect of it. We can see that a similar kind of phenomenon is occurring in the case of a craving to become a global citizen too. We should not forget that these are not only moves where aesthetics (of diversity) are at stake but also a political move with detrimental and devastating implications.