By Radhika Ghosh:
“You are a very ‘nice’ North Indian”, the echo still haunts.
Born into a family where my four grandparents come from four different religions and cultures, I have always considered India’s multi-ethnic fabric a source of pride. I would secretly boast about the ‘co-existence’ of the diverse lingual groups and communities, living coherently together within the boundaries of one nation. Having spent my childhood abroad, I was oblivious to the inter-faith problems that existed in our country, as the world I knew was one where Indians and Pakistanis lived as neighbours with no evident tension (at least not to the child’s eye) and in fact learnt of the Partition later than I would imagine most of you did.
That was my bubble. Even as I grew older, and became increasingly aware of the tensions boiling and sputtering just below the surface between different religions; I was still blind to “geographical racism”. For that, I credit not only my family, but my hometown, Bombay (Mumbai). Even though there are pockets of the population who do everything in their power to express the fact that they do not want outsiders to live in their city – the city I grew up in was a melting pot of culture – yet pockets of all the different communities across India had their own space within the city walls.
And then I heard this. In my third year of residing in Bangalore, I came into contact with a group of youngsters in which I was the only “outsider” i.e. non South-Indian. I wasn’t treated differently, nor was I made to feel uncomfortable deliberately. In fact, the statement, “You are a very ‘nice’ North Indian” was made by one of my closest friends – who didn’t think he had said anything wrong or offensive. He was merely making an observation, some of the others pointed out, as they mulled over the statement wondering how it had never struck them, that I was from the “North”. (Any one who considers themselves as ‘North Indians’ and fellow citizens from my hometown Bombay, would agree that Bombay isn’t North India at all – but to those hailing from the South, what isn’t in the South is North.)
I have always said that I’m Indian, when asked, and that my mother tongue is Hindi. But that answer doesn’t seem to be the one anyone is looking for anymore. As my cocoon started unravelling, and my protective bubble burst, I don’t find myself growing cynical but angry.
Why can’t we be Indians first? Why can’t we accept people who speak different languages, and originate from different parts of the country? Why are we forcing ourselves to live within these brackets and divisions – and only unite, if at all, when we step beyond our national boundaries?
Did the North-South India divide happen as a result of the Sanskrit-Dravidian divide? Are we ready to accept excuses for this “backwardness”? Yes, I dare call it that. Laugh at me if you will. Like many others who have laughed at me when I mention how India’s diversity should be a fabric that weaves us together, and not the scissors tearing us apart.
The Southern states, are the few where Hindi is not accepted as a mode of communication. Living in Bangalore, I know the problems are less than they are across the border in Tamil Nadu, but I feel it exists, on the basis of my own personal experiences.
Perhaps in Delhi and other areas of the Northern states, they have a fixed definition of what ‘South Indians’ are like. I have heard jokes shared across the spectrum involving stereotypes of people from different communities. And if Sikhs and Parsis are ridiculed in humour, who is to say that other communities are not subjected to it? Some may feel that I am being melodramatic bringing “Surd” jokes into a serious discussion, and some Gujaratis have also raised their opinion that they are the butt of jokes in films – I believe there is a difference, when we make an individual the subject of jokes; and when a whole community is targeted.
Many have raised the point, that the language divide derives its strength from fear. The fear that children whose mother tongue is a language other than Hindi, will not learn the mother-tongue. A fear that because the schools put so much pressure on learning the ‘national language’ that it replaces other languages. Well my solution is that parents should speak up and demand that the children have the opportunity to also learn the language of the State (to simplify matters, as schools can not adhere to taking up several languages as a part of the curriculum).
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