Being Called A ‘Madrasi’ Isn”t Humiliating, It Is Part Of My Identity

Posted on August 6, 2014 in Racism, Society, Taboos

By Srividya Viswanathan:

As a person born and raised in Delhi with my ancestral roots in Tamil Nadu, I have been fortunate to have been both a Delhiite and a Madrasi by ethnicity. Two languages, such different cuisines, cultures, traditions, many festivals. Yes, I have been fortunate like that. Recently, during a conversation with a friend from Bangalore, while talking about food, I happened to talk about ‘Madrasi’ food as part of my routine diet. My friend here interrupted me and told me not to use the word ‘Madrasi’. It was an insulting word, he said. Honestly, I was surprised. I am a person with my roots in erstwhile Madraspatnam that later became Madras and then Chennai. A rich culture, heritage, a beautiful language, where did the insulting part happen? How I have been brought up has a lot to do with this culture that was passed down from one generation to next. What should I be ashamed of?

madrasiAs I looked it up on the internet, Wikipedia tells you that in the early 1990s a political figure brought out the whole ‘let’s-make-fun-of-Madrasis’ idea. Terms like ‘yendu gundu’ were coined to ridicule languages from South India. ‘Madrasis’ were ridiculed in his writings and cartoons. Why or what doesn’t matter right now. But, I honestly wonder if most of the people even know that there exists more than one south Indian language in our country. Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil — sounds familiar? For now, let us not get into the stereotyping as that is going to take ages to talk about.

The whole, “you are fair but you are south Indian”, “you eat dosa and idli only no?” and all those statements are things that many of us are probably too familiar with. But other than that, consider the fact that many of us refer to people from Karnataka, Kerala, and Andhra Pradesh also as Madrasis.

Reality check 1: They are not from Madras.
Reality check 2: They speak a different language; have a different culture, different traditions.

But hey, we term anyone from the North-East as a ‘chinki’. I guess South-Indians ought to be grateful they are ‘classified’ as a part of India at least.

Similar case for ‘Biharis’. Oh my God. I just said ‘Bihari’. If I have to have a general opinion about my friends from Bihar, I’d say they are hard-working, helpful, cultured and people with integrity. So next time, someone calls someone a ‘Bihari’, take it as a statement of fact, not as a compliment and not an insult. Someone from Punjab is a Punjabi; Gujarat – Gujarati; Maharashtra – Marathi; Bihar — Bihari; Madras – Madrasi.

If I feel insulted in being called a ‘Madrasi’, I’d probably be encouraging this ridiculous illogical notion. Because, I am an Indian, a Madrasi, and I take pride in that. I eat with hands. Can eat with a fork and knife. I speak English well because I love reading. I am not dark-skinned. My Hindi is better than my English. I prefer roti to dosa. How would you ‘label’ me? If you call me a Madrasi, I refuse to be humiliated by it. Being called a Madrasi isn’t humiliating; it is part of my identity.