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Linguistic politics grows regional disparity in India

“One language, one state” is a universal feature of most countries. Leaders of all these great countries have guaranteed it to be the safest bet to avoid racial and cultural conflicts. But again, if that was the honest purpose, what is the reason behind all these linguistic tensions?"

Lisa Pradhan : January 1, 2009

The tagline ‘unity in diversity’ seems to have lost its feel in India. The unique quality of tolerance to people of other communities and lingua franca is vanishing in the hatred generated by few ambitious politicians who aspire to make their way into the corridors of power.

The attacks on Hindi speaking communities in Mumbai by the members of Raj Thackeray led Maharastra Navnirman Sena (MSN) clearly indicates how selfish, irresponsible and anti-people our leadership can be to reach the chairs of power. It’s only for a quick reach to the corridors of power that Raj Thackeray has put the state of Maharastra on a linguistic divide in the name of protecting the rights of ‘Marathi Manush’.

Western India of the immediate post independence scenario witnessed a mixed state, i.e. the Bombay State comprising of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Bombay. Although the Bombay state has been done away with, and the then existing bilingual state comprising of Gujarati and Marathi is now two separate states – Maharastra and Gujarat.

Talking about Mumbai, although geographically the city is very much a part of Maharashtra, Mumbai is a true mini-world where people from rest of the country and even the world live in keeping the Marathi speaking population at less than 50 percent. The city, over the years, has seen an influx of people from the rest of the country and even different parts of the globe for making a career, business exploration, development consultancy etc.

The city has truly become the commercial capital of India making it the gateway for people and organisations interested in pursuing economic activities in the country. Apart form that, the Mumbai port and the Bollywood film industry have brought in the multilingual crowd to the city. Had the situation been a little different, Mumbai would not have earned the title of ‘commercial’ as well as ‘entertainment’ capital of India.

In the events leading to the 2008 attacks on North Indians in Maharshtra, Raj Thackeray made critical remarks about migrants from the North Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar accusing them of spoiling the culture of Maharastra and grabbing the opportunities of Marathi natives.

Staging political rallies across the state, Raj even questioned the loyalty of Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan towards Maharashtra on the ground that he doesn’t speak Marathi language in public. It’s not only Amitabh, but many other personalities were brought under Raj’s Marathi scanner to raise the slogan of ‘Marathi Manus’ for churning of political mileage and electoral benefits.

But, unfortunately or tactfully, Raj never demanded ‘Bollywood’ to stop producing Hindi movies and go for Marathi films only. May be because he knows the employment and revenue generating potential of Hindi film Industry that gives Mumbai international fame.

Even to brand himself a Marathi Maniac, Raj threw the idea of driving out the Non-Marathi population from the state. The Mumbai film industry, the largest film-making fraternity in the world, has been doing business internationally through popular Hindi films. How does it matter if one out of a population of more than one billion speaks Hindi or Marathi? Is the foundation of our nation so poor that a whole state of 96.75 million people would erupt so violently over a remark that is meant for political interests of an individual struggling to be settled in state politics?

Similarly, in Assam, disparity over the issue of language is gong stronger after the local people attacked the Hindi speaking people living in the state. Now, the state of Assam is making itself unsafe for the non-Asamees who took a greater role in whatever development the state has witnessed.

Look at the roads, the buildings, all major development projects and even Assam’s famous Tea Industry, majority of the workforce that made all these possible were people from other parts of the country who migrated to the state in search of a source of livelihood. “One language, one state” is a universal feature of most countries. Leaders of all these great countries have guaranteed it to be the safest bet to avoid racial and cultural conflicts. But again, if that was the honest purpose, what is the reason behind all these linguistic tensions?

Currently, the population in North and South India are in a rift. The whole of north has been labelled as Hindi-speaking although each state in North India has a form of Hindi unique to its own. Similarly, the south is termed, in many cases, simply as non-Hindi speaking lot.

In 2003, members belonging to DMK and Samajwadi Party almost came into blows in the Lok Sabha session over the Hindi-Tamil language issue. The leaders wanted Tamil and not Hindi be written on milestones in the state. A proposal to adopt the three-language instructions on milestones did nothing to calm down agitated politicians. The politicians’ game of using the issue of linguistic identity for electoral benefits has hardly helped any community or state to take on the road of development, but it has definitely helped growing hatred in the communities towards others.

Language has the power to both create and destroy as the way it is used. Political leaders of the state must understand this fact. Instead of sparkling hatred towards each other, the leaders must work to bring people of different communities and linguistic fraternity together and mobilise them to work for collective development. Otherwise, the linguistic disparity would become the greatest threat to the national identity and integrity of India. Instead of falling into linguistic tensions, we should rather realize the fact that we all belong to India - a country that takes pride in Unity, and not Enmity, in Diversity.

(Author is pursuing journalism master's studies at Manipal University, Karnataka. This article is a part of her internship project)



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