There's a lot of discussion about multiculturalism these days in the U.K., Canada, and Australia, three Anglo-Saxon countries that have absorbed a large number of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent. Strangely lacking in the discourse is a recognition that these countries could look to India itself for some interesting ideas.
I live in Canada, a country that prides itself on its multiculturalism. I believe the same is true in the U.K. and Australia, some far right lunatics excepted. But I wonder how many of the old stock in these countries realize the extent to which they are still unitarian states, with institutions that do not truly reflect the ethnic diversity to be found within their borders. Let me give you some examples.
For one thing, we still use only the Gregorian calendar. That means you automatically get Sunday as a holiday, and December 25th is always going to be Christmas. The very structure of the calendar embeds Christianity into the society. One option, an extreme one, would be to ditch the Christian calendar and have a new one, which doesn't have these religious resonances. Crazy idea? It was actually implemented by the French Revolutionaries, for this very reason. Perhaps they fact that they came up with other less positive ideas, such as the Reign of Terror, has limited acceptance of this one good one. The other way to go, which is what India does, is to have a multiplicity of different calendars that coexist. So a Muslim can follow his or her own calendar and so too can a Christian, and do not need to observe the Hindu calendar if they don't want to.
In the same way, India has a multiplicity of languages and scripts, all of which can be accommodated within the national narrative and given space in the public forum. By contrast, just look at the difficulty that we have in Canada of managing two official languages, and the idea of the U.K. ever adopting a second language (say Hindi/Urdu or Punjabi) is too small to even be worth discussing.
For a second thing, the Anglo-Saxon countries have had a great deal of difficulty incorporating non-Western norms into their legal, social, and cultural spheres. As a famous example here in Canada, Sikhs serving in the national police force had to go to court to win the right to wear their turbans while proudly serving the country and potentially laying their lives on the line. While times have changed, there's an incipient debate about the burqa here in Canada as I understand is already occurring in the U.K. Of course, this is not to say that there aren't legitimate reasons for being opposed to the burqa, but one of them surely shouldn't be that it doesn't fit the Western dress norm for women. Yet I routinely hear old stock Canadians say that when "they" come here they should dress like "us".
To make it more personal: I only wear kurta-pyjama at home, but am reluctant to dress this way outside the home, unless I'm at an ethnic event. It's not that something bad would necessarily happen, but, based on the few times I have done it, I can expect more than a few stares from passersby that makes the experience uncomfortable and unpleasant. Meanwhile, back in India, you can dress any way you want, or even go stark naked, like a certain sect of Jain monks, without anyone batting an eyelid.
On a more positive note, ethnic cuisines, especially Indian, are gaining wider acceptance. In the U.K., chicken tikka masala is famously considered the national dish by many, even old stock Brits. While we haven't gotten to that stage yet in Canada, basic North Indian fare such as naan and samosa is now ubiquitous, even at neighbourhood convenience stores, and Indian restaurants are behind just Italian and Chinese in popularity. When I dine out at an Indian restaurant these days, I'm struck that most of the diners aren't Indian. That would not have been true twenty years ago, maybe even ten years ago. There's an old saying that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. Perhaps the acceptance of our cuisine is a hopeful sign, then?