Deconstructing regionalism based on linguistic identity

The entire stretch of the first phase of Namma Metro in the city of Bengaluru was innagurated by the Hon’ble President of India on 17th June 2017. In the following days Bengalureans took it to social media — posting selfies, ridiculing the gruesome city traffic and rejoicing the addition of a new mode of transportation.

Soon enough the joy of Bengalureans got replaced by anger and protests. The reason — #NammaMetroHindiBeda (Our Metro, Hindi Undesired). Almost all the signboards in Namma Metro have printed three languages — Kannada, Hindi and English (see the image below).

Naturally Bengalureans became upset with the sight of Hindi in a local city infrastructure. They felt it was Hindi imposition and many pro-Kannadigas took it to the streets expressing their anguish. Several arguments have been put against this ‘Hindi imposition’:

  1. Bengaluru has more Tamil and Telugu speakers than Hindi-belt population

According to 2001 Census of India, the linguistic profile of Bengaluru stands as (the 2011 Census has not been updated at city-level):

Kannada — 41.54%
Tamil — 18.43%
Telugu — 15.47%
Urdu — 12.90%
Hindi — 3.41%
Malayalam — 2.95%
Marathi — 2.22%
Konkani — 0.71%
Others — 3.18%

Source: The Hindu link

So it is justified that Tamil, Telugu and even Urdu should feature in the signboards in Bengaluru ahead of Hindi as per this data.

But, if the people of Karnataka feel that there is Hindi imposition by the Union Government based out of New Delhi, then they should also remember that there is Kannada imposition on the Tulu, Byari, Konkani, Lambani and Kodava speakers residing in Karnataka.

2. Hindi is not a national language.

The Article 343 of the Indian Constitution states that Hindi and English are both official languages of the India. It was envisioned during the drafting of the Constitution that English will continue to be the official language for a period of 15 years from the date Constitution was adopted, i.e. from 26th January 1950.

Thus in 1965, when the Constitutional provisions of using English as an official language lapsed and Hindi was about to become the sole official language (or in a way the national language of the country), violent anti-Hindi agitations in Southern Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka ensured English longevity in Indian public offices.

Further, there are 22 languages listed in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution of India which could be adopted as the official language of the Indian States. Kannada language is listed in the 8th Schedule and the official language of Karnataka is Kannada.

Hence from a rational point of view, it makes sense that Kannada (Karnataka state official language) and Hindi and English (both Indian Union official languages) are included in the Metro signboards. However, we must never ‘forget’ that…

3. Hindi is a foreign language to Dravidans.

The famous Aryan Invasion Theory (later renamed as Aryan Migration Theory) was propounded following the discovery of Indo-European language family. It was found that Sanskrit had a lot of similarities in the roots of the verbs and in the forms of grammar with ancient Greek, Latin and German. This led Sir William Jones, a British Philologist to conclude that all these languages originated from the same source.

Now, the British Empire had to articulate how a primitive, so-called uncivilised people of India share the same language as the so-called advanced people of the West. This led to the creation of the Aryan Invasion Theory, which established that Aryans (referring to the Sanksrit ‘arya’ meaning nobles) from Europe attacked the indigeneous people entering the North-West India and drove them out to the Southern India.

The repurcussions of this theory was that India got divided into the fair-skinned Aryans and the dark-skinned Dravidians. For the record, this theory based on languistics has been proved wrong by scientific experiments and is now considered a racist, colonial theory to justify the British intrusion into India.

While the British saw the Aryans invasion as the supremacy of the ‘white race’, the people from South India (so-called ‘Dravidians’) saw their North Indian brethrens as invader and outsider. These feeling, shared primarily in the states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka, led to the birth of regional political movements. The AIADMK, DMK, TDP, and other ultra-chauvinist parties began to emerge in South India highlighting that they are the original inhabitants of this land and thus, their culture and traditions are purely Indian.

After all, the British succeded in dividing the country not only on religious lines — India and Pakistan but also on racial lines — Aryan and Dravidians.

And therein lies the answer to the #NammaBengaluruHindiBeda protests. The underlying philosophy of Indians have been severely manipulated to the extent that we fight among ourselves. The Marathis fight against the Biharis, the Odias against the Bengalis, the South Indians against the non-South Indians, and the Kashmiris and the North-East Indians against the rest of India. The regional identity superimposes the national identity almost invariably.

Language serves as a tool for communication; just like a television was used to gather news. Once Internet arrived, people could get news at their finger tips using a new tool — mobile phone. Taking this as an analogue, I wait for the day when languages becomes obsolete and human beings communicate telepathically, not only with each other but with other animals and plants. Now, that will be a truly ‘advanced’ age!