It is imperative to define certain concepts to understand the ethnic relations and conflicts. Lets see:
It is a cultural group sharing a commOn language, region, religion, race, customs and belief. That is they share common physical and socio-cultural traits. e.g. Jews, Negroes, Muslims, Biharis etc.
The inter-relationship between ethnic groups is termed as ethnicity. It is manifested in infra-ethnic as well as inter-ethnic relations. Ethnicity stems from the need to establish ethnic identity.
This reflects the commonness of an ethnic group as well as the differentiation from other ethnic groups e.g. in India, caste is an important form of ethnic identification.
The social limits of the ethnic group and not necessarily the territorial boundary is referred to as ethnic boundary. There is a realization of in-group and out-group members.
Majority and Minority Groups:
The majority group has numerical strength and controls the economic and political resources. On the other hand, minority group has low numerical strength and are subordinated to the majority group. They have limited control over resources and are immigrant to the host society. However, the case of Minority White domination over Black majority in South Africa points to the fact that a group controlling the resources irrespective of its numerical strength becomes a “majority-minority”.
This means a change into another form, the most popular being religious conversion. Simply stated, it is a process involving personal decision, taken alone or as part of a group to enter into another religion or religious system other than one in which one is born. Conversion has always been opposed from various perspectives historical, sociological and psychological. Factors preceding conversion include socio-political upheavals, psychic factors of anguish, turmoil and despair, conflict, guilt and self-realization. In the Indian context, religious conversion has taken place mainly from Hinduism to other religions such as Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Sikkim and also within the larger universe of Hinduism that is, from one Hindu sect to the other.
The factors associated with the widespread interest in the study of ethnic relations are migration, culture contact, development of technology, growth of thickly populated cities and conflict. The basic approaches towards the study ethnic inter-relation are:
Under this approach is the theory of the Cultural Assimilation or the Melting Pot Theory and the theory based on the study of precolonial societies. The former theory is based on the study of American. society. It contends that the immigrant minority community is totally assimilated in the host society and imbibes all the values norms and attitudes of that society. There is a merging of identities. Another theory is based on the study of pre-colonial societies. This maintains that despite existence each ethnic group maintains its own standpoint Sociologist Barth developed this theory and said that the ethnic groups are not “maintained due to an absence of mobility and contact” but it entails the “social process of exclusion and incorporation”. In fact social interaction between ethnic groups becomes the foundation for ethnic distinctions.
This approach views ethnic groups as interest groups which are in relation of inequality, competing for common goals. Examples of ethnic conflicts are seen all over the world-racial discrimination, religious conflicts etc. This may be manifested in the form of protest, strike, demonstrations etc. Dominance of one group over the other gives rise to ethnic conflict.