Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Identity and Violence

I don’t think there can be any more apt title to my article, which I’ve been thinking of writing ever since one Mr Raj Thackeray has been inspiring the Indian Press to popularize a term called “Marathi Manoos”. There is nothing wrong in the term. It refers to the Marathi people. But the context in which the term is being over used nowadays in the media has resulted in seeing it in a bad light. “Marathi Manoos” has become synonymous to violence against the North Indians, specially the Biharis, in Bombay on the statistically wrong allegation that they are snatching the employment opportunities from the localites.

The entire episode stirred several questions in my mind. A similar allegation has been levelled by a much lesser known outfit called “Kannada Rakshaka Vedike” in Bangalore against the outsiders. The first question that came to my mind is what’s the identity of a localite. A further extension of the question is what’s my identity. Am I a localite in Bangalore? Let me try to find the answers to my questions.

I was born more than some three decades back in a place, which no longer exists. The name of my birthplace has been changed. Officially there’s no place called Calcutta now. So I don’t know what’s the official status of my ‘birth place’. My mother has inherited the knowledge of spoken Bengali from her parents. So from that point of view officially I can claim that my mother’s tongue is indeed Bengali. To make things simpler my father’s mother tongue also happens to be Bengali. So there’s no confusion with regards to my mother tongue. So that makes me a Bengali speaking, by birth. I started speaking Bengali at home. As a matter of fact I still speak Bengali at home with my wife, whose mother’s tongue also happens to be Bengali. So apart from being born a Bengali speaking, I’m also a surviving Bengali speaking person. But then I was never a permanent resident of any place within West Bengal. I never paid any tax in West Bengal. I voted only once in West Bengal. I’ve been staying in Bangalore for the past eleven years. I paid more than 95% of my total income tax till now in Bangalore. I’ve regularly voted in Bangalore for the past eight years. I own properties only in Bangalore. I own cars registered only in Bangalore. My passport has my Bangalore address as the permanent address. My PAN card, Voters ID card, Ration Card everything has my Bangalore address. Apart from the mention of the now non-existent ‘Calcutta’ as my birth-place in my passport there’s no other reference to my connection to any place other than Bangalore anywhere in any official document.  So what’s my locality? Do I belong to Bangalore or I still belong to Calcutta?

Unlike most people in Bangalore, whose mothers’ tongues happen to be a language called Kannada, I don’t speak the ‘local’ language. Wait a minute, what’s the definition of local language? Is Bengali the local language of Calcutta? Or is Kannada the local language of Bangalore? Well, officially not, but unofficially yes. The constitution does acknowledge Bengali and Kannada languages as major languages spoken in India, but there’s officially no reference to tagging Bengali to Calcutta or West Bengal and Kannada to Bangalore or Karnataka. There’s no discrimination between the Kannada spoken in Deshpriya Park in Calcutta and that in Bangalore in Karnataka. I understand that the rights of people speaking Kannada at home in Deshpriya Park are exactly same as that of the majority of the people speaking the language in Bangalore. In Deshpriya Park, if an entire ‘para’ or locality speaks Kannada, then the children there can surely grow up with the idea that their local language is indeed Kannada and not Bengali, though the later might be spoken by more people around – outside their ‘para’. Till now my kid of six years has encountered more Bengali than Kannada speaking people in his life. In his world he still knows that ‘majority’ of the people around him speak Bengali in Bangalore. He has been to Durga Puja where he has seen thousands of people speaking ‘his’ language. He is yet to see such huge crowds speaking any other language. So there’s no wrong if he feels that he speaks the language that’s spoken by majority of the people in his locality and that language is Bengali. So you see, there’s a difference in perception of the ‘local’ language between him and myself. So the question remains – is there any definition of a ‘local’ language? Yes, there’s always a statistical definition of the majority language in any city or state or locality. But I don’t know how to define a local language.

The survival of any language or religion or tradition doesn’t depend on who speaks the language or who practises the tradition. They survive naturally as long they are required to survive. Despite royal patronage, Sanskrit or Pali couldn’t survive because they were no longer required by the people. The survival of Kannada doesn’t depend on whether 100% of people staying in Karnataka speak or respect the language. Even if majority of the people in Karnataka stop speaking Kannada it might still survive if it’s really required to survive. Just by enforcing people to use Kannada can neither ensure the survival of the language nor impact the growth of the language. From this point of view it makes no sense to make the knowledge of any language a necessary or sufficient condition for association of an individual with any locality.

So coming back to my original question: Where do I belong? I don’t speak the majority language in Bangalore and I don’t stay in the place whose majority language I speak at home. Physically, financially and economically I’ve been connected to Bangalore for more than a decade. So which one takes precedence? What decides where I belong?

Well, truly speaking, there’s absolutely no necessity to find out authentically where I belong because none of my official work or identity requires that. Constitutionally I have the same rights irrespective of my belonging to Calcutta or Bangalore. So why the hell am I bothered about finding out if at all I belong to Bangalore? Well, I shouldn’t bother at all. There’s no statehood or cityhood in India. The reference to Calcutta, my birth place, is just a matter of fact that’s mentioned in my passport. There’s no special status or identity attached to this matter-of-fact. In the same way my residential address of Bangalore is also mentioned as a matter of fact in my passport. My identity would have been the same had my place of birth been some nondescript place in Ladakh and my permanent address some unknown hill-top in a tribal village in Coorg.

I’ve only one identity and that’s I belong to the sovereign socialist republic of India. Any locality can have any majority language or religion or creed or ritual or tradition. That has nothing to do with the identity of the people of the locality.

Alas!! There are many people who have absolutely no regards for our constitution. They commit the criminal offence of distorting and disrespecting our constitution and thwarting self-claimed identities to the people of India. Calling an Indian by any other name, be it the name of a language or religion, is itself showing disrespect to the very idea of ‘India’. More than a nation, India is a symbol of pluralism, an epitome of a civilization of humanity where all other identities and traditions and rituals and religions have amalgamated into just one identity – that’s of an Indian. No other identity can bear our true identification. The only commonality that ties each and every Indian is this very identity of Indianness, something that the people of the whole world have identified us with forever. For centuries and millennia, the people throughout the world have always found this striking commonality among all of us. It’s not for no reason that we all have been always identified with India or Hindustan or Hindi or Hindu or Sindhu or Indi what so ever similar names irrespective of the fact that we always spoke so many languages and followed so many different traditions forever. If we could retain our identity since time immemorial, why should we change that and identify us with some other names now? Any other identity of an Indian will just lead to violence and nothing else.

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