Sunday, November 26, 2006

India: North and South Debate

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

On Identity

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.

Other factors

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.


  1. Sujai

    You don't cease to impress me.

    I am a born Brahmin who is now a muslim. I bond with muslims. I also bond with Brahmins. I bond with Indians and I also bond with blacks, Europeans and Americans.

    I have always approached any person from any country as a human being with his notions of right and wrong, of good and bad, of beautiful, average and ugly etc. To me, the discovery of what makes the mind of my brother in humanity is a beautiful experience. I have often times bonded closely with white Americans than with Indians. The blogs I visit most are often those of Europeans or Americans. The reason is because of the broadmindedness that I have seen. I have also read and met Indians like yourself who have shown the same broadmindedness and spirituality. Oftentimes, I have felt most uncomfortable with chauvinistic Indians, who take pride in a false reading of Indian history and who have false notions of the country's righteousness and who derive unity in Pakistan-bashing.
    I have also felt terribly uncomfortable with those Americans who think they must civilize the middle east and teach them democracy.

    It is with humans who have humility and who seek to know and speak the truth however distasteful it is, however uncomfortable it may be sitting along with our long cherished notions that I have found the sweetness of bonding with.



    First of all I would like to dispute the findings of CNN-IBN Poll.I believe it was an SMS/Web Poll or On- floor participants Poll?

    How many Indians have Television sets? Out of them how many have Cable Television? On top of that how many watch english programmes? On top of that how many have mobile phones? Further how many will like to send an SMS/Webonline(money involved!!) to participate in such polls?

    So I hope it satisfies any question about how much the CNN IBN poll represents India with a billion plus Population.

    Now let us assume that the poll really represents the Indian thinking. Then....

    On Identity


    First of all, I agree that we all try to assert our identities. In fact, this right comes from the Indian Constitution, which says India is a UNION OF STATES.
    Note-It doesnot say India is a STATE.But let us see how it works in a practical situation....

    If a group of Indians are in front of a group of foreigners, they introduce themselves always as Indians.But among that group they will try to emphasise their identity as N.Indian, S.Indian, N.E Indian and so on....

    Further if the group of S.Indians is seperated,they will emphasis on their identity as Kannadiga,Tamilian,Malyalis,Telugu etc.If Kannadiga are taken as seperate they will emphasis their identity as Dakshina Kannadiga,Mangalorians,Coorgies,Bangalorians etc.

    But the point which should be noted is-When they accosted a group of foreigners...did somebody address himself as South Indian first??Probably not.

    In the same manner when in a state of war if religion takes over national identity...Is it right n acceptable? Is it equal to emphasising regional identity? Bcos even with regional identities we generally donot address or present ourselves as seperate in case we r accosting a group of foreigners (Non Indians)

    About most of the others point I agree with you except that in case of an outside invasion/attck,it is important to keep aside our regional identities and represent a collective picture.

  3. Since the hindi language issue has been raised,I would like to present a few issues as a non hindi speaker which may arise n need to be addressed(although this issue is not directly a relevant comment(to the topic) and I can read/write hindi as well!!)

    1.If Hindi is made a national language,students of non Hindi speaking states would have to learn 3 languages as subjects-

    a.State Language or Mother toungue
    b.English(Of Course!!!)

    On the other hand the hindi speaking states students have to learn only 2 languages as subjects.These r hindi n english.

    In Other words,it means that the burden of study will be one subject more on non hindi state students.

    One more reason for resisting hindi is-

    Although pvt companies have made huge inroads n provide employment..still govt jobs r often preferred n they provide the most employement oppurtunities in India.For the 8th standard pass to Phd Students...from defence jobs to administrative jobs,from jobs in railways to civil services.In fact the union govt of India is the largest employer..even now!!

    However the language of the examination for all these jobs is either hindi or english.Most of the union govt jobs are grabbed by north Indians.

    Why??Consider this......

    A north Indian candidate appearing for a clerical job,hawaldar post in defence orlower post administrative job generally writes his examination in hindi.Hindi happens to be his mother toungue as well so naturally his grasp over the language is comaparitively strong than a south Indian candidate who wiill write his exam in english or even hindi!!!

    Even if hindi is made the national language,the general grasp of a north Indian over hindi wud be much better than a non hindi speaker bcos hindi happens to be the mother toungue of the north indian as well.So imagine the condition of a candiadate who writes his exam in his mother toungue n another candiadate who writes his examination in his second language(hindi or english).

    Who has the most chance of scoring..both in written n interview??

    These issues need to be addressed as well.

    One way out to make it an even playing field is to make it mandatory for hindi speaking states to introduce one non hindi language as third language in schools.In this way both S.Indian n N.Indians students will have even playing field.

    But even if this idea is put forth.....will the hindi speaking masses accept this idea?Wont they resist by giving the pretext of One more burden on their already pressurised child to perform well in exams at school?
    Wont they resist by saying that Why on earth they should learn a language even though they may never require it untill n unless thay make a visit to S.India or East India??

    Just give it a calm thought.....

    PS-If any body's response is//there r more subjects in the examination like maths,GK (where marks can be scored)etc...still i wud like to remind that in govt exams even 1 mark can make the difference.So even playing field need to be ensured.

  4. good post... could you enlighten me with that "I don't believe in Rajdeep's propaganda machine" part though.

  5. Nazim:
    Many a times CNN-IBN resorts to blatant propaganda where they try to indoctrinate the viewers in one direction- which according to them is the right direction. This was seen during some of the prominent legal cases, temple desecration issues, reservation issues, political issues, etc.

    The anchors do not allow the other person to speak and snub them with their strong interjections.

    That's what I don't agree with Rajdeep Sardesai and his CNN-IBN.

  6. Hey Sujai

    I had sent in comments to this post and the post on understanding islam. Did you get them for moderation?

  7. Dear All:
    I realize (today) that some of your comments have directly landed into my SPAM folder. I might have inadvertently deleted some of your earlier comments.

    I apologize and I know that I cannot make up for it. I have not deleted or rejected any of your comments intentionally.

    In future, I will be careful, and will also peep into my SPAM folder before I delete messages.

    Thank you for your support.

  8. Dear Vinod:
    Thanks for nice comments and support.

  9. Identity is a statistical fiction, the result of data reduction, masking the underlying variability and complexity of the ideas held by an individual. The devil, as they say, is in the details. Read my Much Ado About Identity.

  10. A good argumentative post :).

  11. Very well articulated. Those who come from software programming background would understand these identities as a hierarchy of classes and objects. There are superclasses and then there are derived classes that get the attributes from the superclass. e.g. Indian is a superclass and south-indian is a derived class.

    What is the root class here? Humanity? Earthlings? Mammals? or a "collection of atoms"? :)

  12. Do u understand meaning of democracy?? if u dont like india dont saty in it..
    Love ur culture and ur country..
    united we stand divided we fall I hope u can understand.


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