A Campaign Of Humbug: Why Karnataka Elite’s Anti-Hindi Protest Is A Sham
Karnataka’s elite seems to have abandoned the underclass to fend for itself while they concern themselves with ‘important’ issues like #HindiImposition in Namma Metro.
Karnataka’s elite is an incredibly funny lot. They know that they have to perform the role of the buddhijeevis of the Kannada society and protect its interests. Their cultural hubris ensures that they usually end up projecting their fads as the genuine interests of the Kannada society. Sadly, they manage to attract a few rooted and well meaning Kannadigas as fellow travellers.
Take for example #NammaMetroHindiBeda campaign on Twitter. It is a campaign which almost entirely involves the Kannadiga IT crowd and a certain institution called ‘Munnota’. What are they protesting against? Bengaluru Metro (Namma Metro) uses three languages (Kannada, English and Hindi) on its signboards instead of two (Kannada and English). Before I proceed further, I want to clarify that I certainly am against signboards seen at one point of time in the Bangalore International Airport which relegated Kannada to a third position in smaller fonts. What happened in Namma Metro, however, is something different. It was the case of using an additional language for the sake of functionality with Kannada still being the first language in every single signboard that I’ve seen on the metro.
Most will ask (I certainly did. So did my father who usually sympathises with Kannada activists), what is so wrong as to warrant a huge Twitter campaign on this issue? Aren't there more important issues for these folks to focus on? They do have an answer to this query.
#1. They believe this is the first step towards pushing Kannada to irrelevance in official use. What they are implicitly arguing is that Bengaluru’s demography is changing so rapidly that Kannada being pushed to irrelevance in the city is increasingly possible. I understand and share the concern about the demographics of Bengaluru. I will take a look at the same at a later point in this article.
#2. The other major concern, given how little of Bangalore’s populace is Hindi speaking, is purely the Central government establishment (BJP and INC) which are trying to impose Hindi on us, proud Kannadigas. They point out that there are more Tamil and Telugu speaking people than Hindi speaking people. Why extend the privilege to Hindi only? Again, I understand this concern and will address this point shortly.
#3. The third and the more insidious allegation is that this three language policy in our metro is a conspiracy hatched by a few scheming sanghis sitting in Delhi to impose their hegemony on a southern state. Since this charge was only heard from the usual ‘secular’ quarter of the Kannada Twitter, I believe it is not worth anyone’s time.
Questions to the activists
#1. Given that you are afraid of the demographic change that you are seeing in Bengaluru, what do you have to say about the Government of Karnataka running a large number of Urdu medium schools? A report by the Centre for Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy in the National Law School of India University tells us that in the academic year 2014-15, the state of Karnataka ran 2,276 Lower Primary Schools (classes I to V), 2,425 Higher Primary Schools (classes VI to VIII) and 561 High Schools (classes IX to X). Wouldn't this amount to imposing Urdu on our state’s Muslims, given how they too are Kannadigas?
Forget the above for a minute. Take a look at your own class (and for the Brahmins among you - caste). How many of them send their kids to schools where Kannada is taught in a non-careless manner? How many of them buy their kids Kannada books to read? With the next generation of the Kannada elite not learning the language that their forefathers wrote in, you really don't need to worry about the inward migration and high fertility of sections of the population. Your class and caste have already accomplished most of what you feared.
You may answer - we support the three language policy with special importance accorded to learning Kannada. I’d want to point out that I was taught three languages with Kannada as my second language until Class X. I stopped reading and writing in Kannada after that and had to relearn reading and writing in Kannada when I was doing my undergraduate course (thanks to my father for that). Most of my friends - Kannadigas from the Vokkaliga and Lingayat community - have not made the effort to relearn Kannada and won't do the same anytime soon (I did see one of them sharing a screenshot of a #hindiimposition tweet though). Moreover, try to impose these rules or more comprehensive rules strictly in schools run by institutions with Art 30(2) protections (minority-run institutions). The resulting screams about the assault on secular values as well as the eventual judicial strike-down would be enough to shut most of you up for good.
#2. With regards to the second major concern about Hindi being used when a negligible proportion of Bengaluru’s population are native Hindi speakers, when compared to Tamil and Telugu, I do concede that you have a point. Bengaluru as a city has historically had a close cultural association with Chennai. The Bayaluseema region that surrounds Bengaluru isn’t that different from the Rayalaseema region of Andhra Pradesh. It absolutely makes sense to have Telugu and Tamil additions to the signboards. In fact, it makes more sense than having English signboards. (I’m sure that many of these protesters would be against the removal of the English signboards as it would render the metro inaccessible to the next generation of their class). Removal of Hindi from these signboards also makes complete sense. Let’s replace it with Sanskrit signboards in Devanagari Lipi so that it is accessible to those from the many parts of India with versions of the Nagari Llipi. Hindi imposition would be completely and comprehensively fought back by such a measure.
More Important Issues Ignored - The Elite Betrayal Of The Rest
The focus on a rather small issue has meant that more pressing issues have been put on the backburner. The elitist focus on signboards on Namma Metro has ensured that the more important issue of the Metro staff having a huge proportion of non-Kannada (usually Hindi) speakers is ignored. This includes the security guards from the agency who has been given the contract. This is not an isolated case. The Karnataka government has offered a contract for the state’s version of the Amma Canteen i.e. Indira Canteen to a firm from Tamil Nadu. Many of the new Uber and Ola drivers barely speak Kannada. Has the Kannadiga IT crowd which spent considerable time trending #StopHindiImposition deemed these issues worthy of a twitter campaign?
Many of the regular activists who joined this campaign are regularly consulted by the state government (at the very least, the powers that be of Karnataka listen to them). Have they lobbied for an education policy which would co-opt the minority as well as non minority educational institutions of the state to agree to a policy which makes teaching subjects like history, geography and environmental sciences exclusively in Kannada mandatory across the state? It is entirely constitutional to do so for it will enable linguistic minorities as well as native Kannada speakers to have a working knowledge of the official language of the state. Moreover, the state of Karnataka wouldn't have to be witness to a situation where many cabinet ministers have bare minimum levels of proficiency in the official language.
Have they lobbied for the Karnataka state to invest in a massive translation programme which involves translating important texts and literature in all major languages into Kannada (including science and technology textbooks)?
The Kannadiga elite seem to have abandoned the underclass to fend for itself while they concern themselves with earth shattering issues like #HindiImposition in Namma Metro.
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