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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Explained: Do Indians relate more to their regional identity or national identity?

The responses alert us to the fact that language remains an important emotive factor, but its political expression might be somewhat less predictable than it is supposed to be.

Written by Jyoti Mishra | New Delhi |
Updated: March 30, 2021 7:45:43 am
With movement of people across regions, language becomes both a bonding factor and a point of conflict.

Do Indians relate more to their regional identity or national identity? This is a pertinent question at a time when nation, national identity and nationalism have taken centrestage in political rhetoric. But does one necessarily trade her regional-linguistic identity for the sake of claiming national identity? Using data from ‘Politics and Society Between Elections’, a collaborative study between Lokniti-CSDS and Azim Premji University between 2016 and 2018 , we try to explore people’s preferences.

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Which identity do people relate more to?

People were asked whether they relate more to their regional identity or national identity. Overall, nearly one in three (36%) related to national identity, and 30% to their state identities. A little over a quarter (27%) of people gave equal preference to both (Figure 1).

What does data from the states show?

There are some states where regional sentiment is stronger. For instance, more people in Jammu & Kashmir (65%), Tamil Nadu (56%), Mizoram (51%), Odisha (47%), Nagaland (46%) and Gujarat (37%) related to their state identities than regional identities (Figure 2).

Some states are predominantly national in identifying themselves. Most of these are in the Hindi heartland— Haryana (66%), Delhi (63%), MP (61%), Rajasthan (51%), Bihar (48%), UP (47%) and Jharkhand (46%). There are also a few states outside the Hindi-heartland where a higher proportion of people identified themselves as ‘Indian’— Maharashtra (57%), West Bengal (44%) and Tripura (42%). In some states, people gave equal preference to both identities — Chhattisgarh (50%), Uttarakhand (44%), Punjab (43%), Kerala (38%) and Assam (37%).

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Which language is preferred in public spaces: local language or any language?

With movement of people across regions, language becomes both a bonding factor and a point of conflict. Migrant workers are often expected to learn and speak regional languages. Are people flexible about the use of language in public interactions, or do they insist on local language only? We found people are almost equally divided, with a little over two-fifths (42%) saying they do not mind use of any language and a slightly higher proportion (44%) saying they prefer use of local language (Figure 3).

Acceptance for a language other than the regional one was the lowest in Karnataka, where 83% said people should use the local language in public places. Other states where emphasis on the local language was higher than on other languages were: Odisha (62%), Bihar (59%), J&K (58%) and Gujarat (57%). On the contrary, in states like Nagaland and Kerala, which have distinct regional identities, around two-thirds of people were okay with the use of any language in public places. Interestingly, in some southern states such as Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, the preference for any language was higher than for the local language. Haryana was the only state where a little over one-third (37%) of the respondents categorically mentioned that they had no issue with the use of Hindi in public places but would not accept the use of English (Figure 4).

The responses alert us to the fact that language remains an important emotive factor, but its political expression might be somewhat less predictable than it is supposed to be.

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