Today there was show on CNN-IBN discussing South India in which Rajdeep Sardesai posed several questions and collected opinion polls. Before discussing those numbers I want to say two things.
- I thank Rajdeep Sardesai for posing such questions. Debate, when carried out maturely, can be constructive. Though I may not agree with his propaganda machine, some of his efforts to bring forth serious topics are worth commending.
- Such opinion polls should be taken with a pinch of salt. The respondents are usually from urban middle class and may not truly represent the opinions of wider spectrum.
26% of South Indians living in South India consider themselves South Indian first and Indian next. Of these states, in Kerala, 48% consider themselves South Indian first and Indian next, while in AP, only 12% consider themselves South Indian first and Indian next.
Since I am discussing this topic of identities, I want to dwell upon it a little further. In my earlier discussion I explained why some Muslims do not sing Vande Mataram. In that discussion, many respondents commented that Muslims consider themselves Muslims first and Indian next, which according to them is not a healthy sign for India. They believe that Muslims have allegiance with their religion first, which can be considered unpatriotic or traitorous in certain scenarios, such as invasion from an Islamic country.
I believe that most of us have multiple identities, and coming up with hypothetical scenarios in which these identities are in conflict is purely an academic argument. One can live with multiple identities without a conflict. Even when faced with hypothetical scenarios, for example, a war with Muslim nation, it is not easy to say with confidence what one person will choose over the other. Moreover, it is not even clear who represents what? In previous wars with Pakistan, many Indian-Muslim soldiers participated in the war and came out with flying colors. There are no cases of Indian-Muslim soldiers deserting India to join Pakistani Army. Is it important to ask what comes first- his religious identity or national identity? If it is religious identity, is he less patriotic or doesn’t deserve to live in this country (as some commenters suggested)?
Can one be a human and be Indian? Can one be a male and be Indian? Can one be Brahmin and be Indian? Can one be Tamil and be Indian? Can one be homosexual and be Indian? We can easily construct hypothetical scenarios where each of these identities can come in conflict with the national identity. Is it important for us to determine if each of those identities are less important to us than the national identity to measure our patriotism?
Based on the above results from CNN-IBN, should these 26% of South Indians be considered unpatriotic and traitorous because they consider themselves South Indians first? Should 48% of Keralites be kicked out of the country for being loyal to Kerala first? Based on these figures, should we construct a hypothetical civil war in India and believe that these Keralites will fight India defending their Malayalam country?
India is like Europe. We all have religions, castes, languages, ethnicities, and many other identities, but we live like a nation. The fact that India exists as a country is a miracle in itself, with so many identities and cultural allegiances. The only way India will remain India is when we allow each of those groups to maintain their identities, allow them to profess their religious, allow each group to have its rights within the grand scheme called India. Any provision that tries to obliterate those identities in an effort to homogenize India will result in a backlash and upset that miracle. The only way India can be cohesive unit is by allowing each distinct unit to maintain their identity. The only way India can be integrated is by allowing each of us to be proud of our local identities, be proud of our rich heritages and culture, our local language and history, etc. Only by accepting pluralism, India can integrate itself. Only by celebrating its diversity, India can unite itself (hence, the phrase- Unity in Diversity). Those, who have myopic vision of India, try to impose certain identities over others to bring in conformity and universality. They believe that we all should be similar in some ways, that there should be a national language, that there should be one version of patriotism, that there should be unified view of our history, that there should be one common theme to be Indian. They do not realize that the universal values should be equality, justice, opportunity, freedoms, etc, not languages, religions, castes, or ethnicities.
Rajdeep Sardesai posed another question on the perceived intelligence of South Indians. I do not wish to express my opinion on the results since I do not believe that one race, community, caste, sect, etc, has more intelligence than the other. The question is flawed. However, certain group can position itself in an advantageous position owing to certain factors, such as history, etc. The seemingly difference in intelligence is this positioning, not actual intelligence.
The general perception is that South India is more tolerant, more welcome towards women’s rights, more conducive for minority rights, has implemented affirmative action to bring oppressed and backward into the mainstream, have been influential in embracing English as the medium, etc.
Since I have started discussing this topic, I would like to outline few of my opinions here which are related but not necessarily dealt by CNN-IBN.
Division of States based on linguistic lines
In retrospect, it is clear that division of states of Indian on linguistic lines has been the best that has happened in this country. No other division would have allowed smoother functioning of the states. No other division would have brought about harmony between the states. Only by allocating each language its identity through its statehood, we have given the assurance that their heritage and history will not be obliterated. Out of this security comes the tolerance. When states are secure of their linguistic identities, they are more welcome to embrace other languages. Though there has been anti-Hindi backlash in South that has been marginalized now and there is growing acceptance for Hindi in the Southern States. CNN-IBN results show that only 5% were anti-Hindi.
One from the audience suggested that Hindi, being the national language, should be made compulsory to unify India. That is the national chauvinism that has to be combated in this country. We all should realize and understand that India does not have a national language. Neither Indian Constitution nor any legal document of India confers this status upon Hindi. Rashtra Bhasha sounds good in speeches and not on official documents. Only 36% respondents of South India believe that Hindi should be made compulsory. Most of them agree that Hindi will be embraced only when it is not imposed. There is a greater affinity to embrace Hindi only when it is voluntary.
This brings out the true nature of India. Identities cannot be imposed. We are tolerant and accepting only when it is voluntary. Any idea to bring in harmony, unity and integrity into India by imposing it onto its people turns out to be counterproductive. The same argument holds for Muslims not singing Vande Mataram, Tamilians not speaking Hindi, etc. Each of us wants to hold on to our local identities while remaining loyal to the nation on a broader level. Missing that strength of India will result in confusion on definitions of patriotism.
Unity in Diversity
I am a Telangana, I am a Telugu, I am a Hindu, I am an atheist, I am a liberal and democratic, I am a secular and socialist, I am a capitalist, I am a Indian, I am a male, I am a human, I am living, and I think. These are many of my identities. Each of them is important to me. To ask me, if a liberal or democratic country invades us, would I support that invading country or my homeland is a stupid question. To ask if I would want my Telangana to secede from India is also hypothetical question that does not deserve an answer. It depends on many situations and scenarios, and each of us would behave differently when pushed into those situations. The idea is not to be pushed into such situations. How will we unite when Mars invades? Would US be still invading Iraq if planet Mars attacked Earth? Some of our identities come forth in opposition to a conflicting identity. I am from Warangal when talking to someone from Hyderabad, I am Telugu, when talking to a Tamilian, I am Indian, when talking to an American, I am brown when talking to a white man, I am a male when talking to female, so on so forth.
If the Indian central government discriminates Telangana for prolonged periods, and meticulously deprives it of all economic benefits, discriminates its people, jails its people, and kills them mercilessly by putting their forces, I would be forced into changing my definition of what’s my homeland. Now, my homeland is India, but the in the above scenario, where my homes are burnt, lands are taken away, my people are dragged into streets, shot at, mutilated, our women raped, etc, I may start identifying myself with Telangana more than India. If we are forced into such situations, each of us would choose one identity above others- that choice depends on situations and scenarios. As Indians, we need to be clear on what identities we are going to support and promote and what we will not.
There has to be constant effort to unite India while allowing for local identities to thrive. There has to be a constant fight to tone down regional chauvinism while limiting national chauvinism. Increase in any of those above tolerable levels will bring about secession of the country.