Sunday, August 19, 2007

More on India@60

Earlier on this blog, I wrote that the reason India has stayed together as one nation is democracy. Today, I'll try and refine my reasons some more, and hopefully knit a better weave of the country's unity.

One reason why people of different religions, languages and castes live together in India is because your primary identity can be anything while you can still be an Indian. Consider the case of Pakistan, that split over language or Sri Lanka that is fighting an ethnic conflict whose roots are in language. Now, Tamils and Bengalis are in India. Why is it that they don't want (at least a majority of them don't want) a homeland carved out of India?

It is because the aforesaid countries supressed those languages, discriminated against those who speak those languages - all in the name of national unity. If speaking Urdu became the "Tabbott test" of being a Pakistani, where would all the Bangla-speaking citizens go? If being a Muslim is the definition of being a Pakistani, where can all the non-Muslims go?

When the founding fathers of India rejected the idea of India being a Hindi-speaking, Hindu Pakistan, they knew what they were doing. When Nehru conceded the demand for linguistic states, much against his ideas, he knew that Newton's third law of every action having an equal and opposite reaction applies as much to politics as it does to physics. Which is why, India is a country that does not react to the veils worn by Muslim women (like in France) or the Kirpans worn by the Sikhs. We have learnt that a truly secular state that values freedom of expression, also allows religious expression. We have learnt that the best way to make Hindi a link language is by not forcing it down people's throats (the UPSC for instance, conducts its exams in 18 languages, a record anywhere in the world), but by enriching Hindi with so much content (works of Gulzar, for instance), that it becomes irresistable. And we've learnt, sometimes painfully, that patriotism has nothing to do with being a Hindu, or speaking Hindi or even being religious. Consider for example, the case of our Lok Sabha speaker, who is a firm atheist. You don't find anyone contesting his patriotism!

What is the root of such tolerance? Or maybe tolerance isn't the right word - it should be acceptance. Why is India a country that accepts everyone? Is it a product of the freedom movement, or is it even more deeply rooted? I'll examine this in my coming posts.

Stay tuned.


gayathri said...

While I completely support democracy, we are not 'acceptive' of all linguistic identities as you have projected...take TN for eg-Lingusitic chuvanism is so blatant. The anti-Hindi movement of the Dravidian parties should make my case. There are factions, even today working to carve out a Tamil Homeland in India...13 are in a Bangalore jail. Or the Kannada activists here.

Anonymous said...


I was referring to the governments, particularly those of the 50s. Yes, the people are still fanatics...but imagine what would have happened to India if the government had tried to impose Hindi (not that they didn't try, but they backed down in time). Or if they hadn't conceded the demands for linguistic states?

Anonymous said...


I agree with you. The linguistic chauvinism that is expressed in the hindi belt is quite blatant and explosive. This can be seen in their intransigent attitude towards other languages which they NEVER learn.

In fact, the 3-language policy wanted the hindi belt to learn a south indian language as the third language which was not implemented. As a direct consequence of this move by the hindi belt states, TN gave up on the 3-language policy in January, 1968.