North vs South: Divided they speak

The BJP has been accused of neglecting South India, fuelled by the fact that most of its top leaders are from the north.

Published: 26th March 2023 11:12 AM  |   Last Updated: 26th March 2023 11:14 AM   |  A+A-

North vs South

For representational purpose

According to the 2011 Census, over 19,500 languages or dialects are spoken in India as mother tongues. This is Babel to the power of infinity. Technically, we resemble a continent. But it seems the north and south have decided to go for each other’s vowels. Regional patriotism is the new battleground for identity.

After Naatu Naatu’s Oscar win, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge took a jab against the ruling party, saying it should not say the PM has “directed” the movie or take credit for the award, as is the usual ‘modis’ operandi. He called the film “the contribution of the country”.

The divide is evident in the political sphere. The BJP has been accused of neglecting South India, fuelled by the fact that most of its top leaders are from the north, and many of the party’s policies are seen as benefiting the north at the expense of the south. The WMD in this identity conflict is language. Hindi and English are the official languages of the Union.

But many southern states prefer to use their regional languages along with English instead. And there has been spite at both ends. It has become a matter of pride in this hyper-nationalism vs hyper-regionalism state of being. Recently, choreographer Salman Yusuff Khan was harassed at the Bengaluru airport when he could not speak Kannada. Last month, on the occasion of International Mother Language Day, the Kerala high court scripted history and started providing Malayalam translations of judgments.

Recently, the Naam Tamilar Katchi chief and Tamil nationalist S Seeman was booked for hate speech when he said Hindi-speaking migrant workers should be dealt with an ‘iron fist’ in the state. This is perhaps the south getting back at decades-old bigoted treatment by North Indians, for whom anyone living below Maharashtra was the all-encompassing Madrasis. And it’s not just north versus south.

Who can forget the violent clashes between migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and MNS in Maharashtra In 2008? Kerala is perhaps the only state that refers to migrant workers as ‘guest’ workers. Now that’s something. Language and culture have become a tool to instil regional pride on one hand and discriminate against ‘outsiders’ on the other.

Soon, we may have each state build walls, both literal and metaphorical, and live in its own echo chambers. Each is different to the other as chalk and cheese. A word that means a latch in Hindi, is a flower pot in Marathi and becomes ‘posterior’ in Kannada. And this is the beauty of India.

Why then be so intolerant against our own? Perhaps, the increase in regional pride, especially from the non-Hindi speaking states is a direct result of the Centre trying to homogenise diversity and put India under one umbrella of language, culture and uniformity. They have even tried to tell us what we can or cannot eat, what we should wear, and what we should see.

To rephrase Benito Mussolini’s “a nation of spaghetti eaters cannot restore Roman civilisation”, I say a nation cannot survive on a diet of chaat, dhokla and parantha. India also needs her aviyal, pothu fry, misal pav and kosha mangsho to excel.

Anirban Bhattacharyya

Author, actor and standup comic


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