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Transition to Democracy and Ethnic Tensions

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  • Category: Democracy

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An encompassing definition of democracy that emphasized its basic tenets was given by Abraham Lincoln – A government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.  (Mieder, W. 2005).  Because of its reference to “the people”, equality seats at the heart of democracy. But the representation in the government of a uniform or homogenous people becomes problematic because many nations evolved historically with the migration of different people of various racial ethnicities out of circumstances which are not necessarily amiable. Thus, social, cultural, economic and political conflicts have already arisen based on ethnicity.  The United States of America is a case in point.  The migration of African Americans in the country was ultimately brought about by the “slave trade”.  Hence, African slaves were not given equal rights as citizens of the country.  In fact, they have been denied the basic right of freedom, a central facet of democracy that expresses the people’s sovereignty over the government. “The protection of some rights is rooted in a desire to protect democracy” (Beetham, D., 1994).

It took the sacrifices of African American Political activists like Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. for African Americans to gain their equal rights to be represented in the government by allowing them the right to vote.  The same is true in the assimilation of the Indians in the US.  The government’s expansion and consolidation programs of both these nations meant conducting clearing operations in the occupied lands of the Indians.  This resulted to the maltreatment of its original inhabitants or an utter disregard of their rights as people. (Jarrett, A., 2000) The assimilation of these new groups of people entail that equal rights be accorded to them as citizens of the democratic government. This includes the freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, the right to bear arms, the right against unreasonable search and seizure, right to vote and the right to due process, among others. Based on the preceding examples, a country’s transition to democracy involved the eradication of racial segregation and discrimination to which many traditional conservatives and egotistical people opposed resulting to racial tensions.

However, some countries were able to evolve into democracy without the pains of racial segregation within its nation.  Instead, their adoption of democracy provided their sense of solidarity as a nation.  One such nation is India, who after almost two centuries of British rule, gained independence in 1947. After its independence, it has embraced democracy under adverse background – over 2000 million Indians are segregated by cultural and religious differences, language barrier and even war. These conflicts were mainly due to difference in tribal ethnicities.

India’s adoption of a democratic form of government is an adaptation and integration of different constitutions from different countries like UK and the US whose democracies evolve from a series of local conflicts of unique historical experiences.  Despite these gamble, India however managed to pull it through.  “Liberal democracy provides the political space for groups not only to defend their interests, but also to redefine and reinterpret them based on the content and direction of government policy initiatives and the strategic behavior of their rivals for political influence” (Jenkins, R. 1999)  Democracy explicitly called for the abolition of the slavery and caste system extant within the Indian society.  On the other hand, passion for freedom and commitment to the Indian people as well as its early leadership helped in its successful transition to democracy in a relatively short span of time.  In the end, India’s adoption of democracy decreased ethnic tensions and united the people for the formation of a single sovereign people under a democratic country.


Beetham, D., (1994). Defining and Measuring Democracy, Oaks, CA 91320: Sage Publications, p18

Jarrett, A.A. (2000). The Impact of Macro Social Systems on Ethnic Minorities in the United States . Westport, Connecticut, USA: Greenwood Publishing Group,  pp25-45

Jenkins, R. (1999). Democratic Politics and Economic Reform in India. West Nyack, NY: Cambridge University Press, p110

Mieder, W. (2005). Proverbs are the Best Policy: Folk Wisdom and American Politics. Old Main Hill Logan UT: Utah State University Press, p15

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