Language abuse

Fighting 1956’s battles helps nobody in Belgaum. But Maharashtra’s politics doesn’t care...

Written by The Indian Express | Published: July 19, 2010 4:17:15 am

Language is the first marker of identity. The two salient factors determining the choice and use of language are birth — the linguistic culture one’s born into — and location — the linguistic culture(s) one inhabits at the moment or in the course of a lifetime. Understandably,language yields itself to extreme politics. One doesn’t have to look at the crimes against humanity by thugs claiming their rights over all German-speaking lands in the last century; closer home,our fantastically polyglot subcontinent will suffice. And as recently as 1971,a country carved itself into being by fighting to salvage its language and culture.

Given the sacrosanct nature of each Indian language,it was perhaps inevitable that the 1956 states reorganisation would be along linguistic lines. Perhaps it avoided,rather deferred,politico-cultural ruptures that could have torn the nascent republic apart. However,as the Telangana issue keeps reminding us,language is not all,and it may not harm to question the continuing sanctity and efficacy of the linguistic logic. Belgaum,and the politics of competitive chauvinism that it’s engendered and encouraged for decades — that has just been reignited with a vengeance with the Centre’s affidavit in the Supreme Court — shows what the linguistic allocation of districts,villages and towns had kept simmering. But the readiness to jump on the jingoistic wagon and interfere in the matters of a neighbouring state that the government and politicians of Maharashtra have demonstrated is not only unwarranted but also dangerous as it seeks to provoke hostilities among a populace long divided and mutually suspicious.

Against this regressive trend,there is certainly the discourse of development and prosperity as advocated by some of the younger locals,both Marathi- and Kannada-speaking. It helps neither group in the disputed border areas to fight over the decision made in 1956. Unfortunately,the out-of-line politics of Maharashtra,where neither the government nor the opposition seems interested in India’s new politics of aspiration,doesn’t seem eager in any way to let go of ghosts.

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