Thursday, August 05, 2010

Mr. Gumaste, Belgaum is not about the city only

By now, most of the net-savvy people must be aware of the border dispute between Maharashtra and Karnataka, related to the district of Belgaum. And every nationalist has something to say against "regionalism" and every regionalist has something to say about the importance of local language and the injustice meted out to the disputed areas in Karnataka. In all this, took efforts to publish an article by a common man from Belgaum, Vikas Gumaste. He argues how language shouldn't be at the centre-stage and that development is more important and all other nationalistic and historical clichés.

And of course, I would like to differ with Mr. Gumaste, not only because I am a Maharashtrian, but also be the issue needs deeper thinking than what Mr. Gumaste has written about. He begins the article, bragging about how he cornered a family member with unanswerable questions like
Does it really matter if Belgaum becomes a part of Maharashtra or not? Are you prevented from running Marathi schools or learning Marathi in Belgaum? Do you feel like an outsider when you walk down the streets of Belgaum? And are you discriminated against when you apply for jobs because you speak Marathi?
Well, Mr. Gumaste, it may not matter to you. People might not have been prevented from running Marathi schools. But, what if all state government documents are published in Kannada only? Will your Marathi education help you in grasping all that those documents have to say? Now, you might be able to read the English part of the document, since our governments would be proud in publishing the text in English, but not publish it in a language that is locally dominant. But, what about those people in small towns and villages, where vernacular language is still the dominating medium of instruction? Or where, they do not have people who can speak or understand the impeccable English in government documents? For them, it is most convenient if it is published in Marathi. Now, won't you feel like an outsider, if the government does not give you its documents published in Marathi language?

Then, Mr. Gumaste goes on to point out how he is a Marathi from his father's side, but Kannad from his mother's and hence he is confused about the identity of a Marathi. Well, Mr. Gumaste, for that purpose, we all evolved from monkeys (if you believe in the Theory of Evolution). Does it mean, we forget our regional identities? And you may be of such mixed ancestry, but what about people who know their ancestry upto a large extent? Just as you put forward being confused about what constitutes a Marathi and hence argue that Belgaum need not be a part of Maharashtra, some one can come and argue about being a Marathi and hence Belgaum should be a part of Maharashtra. Yours is an individual case, and a movement cannot be based on individual considerations.

And finally, Mr. Gumaste points out to the provisions in the Official Languages act, 1963 and 1981, which say that "areas where the linguistic minorities constitute 15 per cent or more of the local population arrangements have to be made to translate government circulars, orders, extracts and land records into the minority language." Well, acts in India are good on intention but not on implementation. While local bodies may do that, but what if the state level bodies refuse to do so?

These violations might be open and therefore difficult to commit in the days of news-hungry media channels, but there may be subtle discriminations. Like, enforcing the necessity of Kannada language for state level jobs, or not putting up official boards in Marathi language, etc.

All, in all, Mr. Gumaste, I would like to say that you are skimming the surface. You may never feel discriminated, because you speak English and Kannada, and fortunately, Marathi. But, Belgaum is not only about the city, but hundreds of villages that surround it, where there are people who have no access to English language education and Marathi is probably the only language they know. By forcing Kannada upon them or marginalising them by not accepting Marathi language, the Karnataka government is definitely making a case for the merger of such places with linguistic minorities into Maharashtra.

P.S. Before any reader tries to educate me in nationalism, please realise this: You may feel I am a regionalist and anti-national, but then isn't the Karnataka government too anti-national? When it suppresses the border area people and their aspirations by not accepting Marathi as their medium of communication and hence getting official work done in Marathi too? Isn't it promoting regionalism?And no one raises an eye-brow, when Karnataka government contemplates to make Kannada education compulsory even in CBSE/ICSE schools.
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  1. Marathi may be the language they speak, but I don't see how making Belgaum a part of Maharashtra solves their problems.
    Every state border in India has porous languages. That is how we have evolved. People do not restrict their business just to people who speak their mother-tongue or the official state boundary. Business flows irrespective of state boundary and most of the border village people, even just for business needs would use Kannada.

    Your argument can be extended anywhere. Business in India is in English and we are marginalizing non-native English speakers (all of India) by forcing English on them.

    IMO, nothing is wrong with Belgaum. Maharashtra govt has more important things to take care in the state that they have: Vidharba. will they yield for Vidharbha to get a separate state status? I guess not!

    Belgaum is a problem because it is a "prosperous" border town. I have definitely no doubt that the K'taka govt is doing whatever that Maharashtra govt would do for the people of Belgaum.

    It is just money, linguistic patriotism (if I may call that) is just a veil.

  2. @Kaushik,
    If left to the people, they will do business in whatever language possible. But, it is when you deal with the government agencies that problems start rising. When they insist the form be filled in Kannada or English only? And not in Marathi.

    With the Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti winning so many elections in Belgaum, aren't the people there expressing their views about whom to stay with?

    I agree that Vidarbha has received less attention compared to the rest of Maharashtra, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't pay attention to what is happening in Belgaum.

    Your argument about K'taka govt.'s work can be extended even to the British. They have done a lot for us, probably more than what Madam Mamata is doing. But, we wouldn't want to be governed by them!

  3. Hello Vinay,
    Well I am kannadiga born in Belgaum, brought up in Nipani.
    Have a couple of questions for you.

    1) If Belgaum goes to Maharashtra, do you believe Maha govt would be kind enough to provide the govt. documents in Kannada??
    2) Do you have any idea of the kind of propaganda Maharashtra does about so called 'atrocities on Marathi Manus" in Belgaum and other border. where as it has been the otherway round.. i know I hurt your sentiments, but being kanndiga who grew up Nipani in 80's I can bet my shirt on that..

    Honestly I believe, maintaining status quo is the best possible solution for this issue.

  4. Hi Vishwa,

    With the Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti winning so many elections in the district of Belgaum, I do not think their agitation is completely baseless. Exaggerations may happen, why even the Karnataka govt. exaggerates about what it does for Belgaum, so the talk of propaganda is not of much use.

    I am trying to point out that a city-based person's view cannot become the view of the entire Belgaum district.

    Is the Karnataka state government providing documents in Marathi to the people in the disputed areas? So, do not expect largesses from Maharashtra, if Karnataka itself is not doing it.

  5. Well having myself lived in belgaum for a few years, I can vouch for the fact that at the ground level, there is absolutely no tensions between marathis and kannadigas, if at all, the so-called agitation is confined to fringe groups like the MES who were wiped out in the last assembly elections.Regarding your absurd arguments are concerned, each state has its own lingua franca and those who are staying ought to respect it and marathis are no exception to it.You being a highly educated person, it surprises me as to how you were carried away by the propaganda of maharashtra govt whose aim is to just gain political mileage.Lastly you should gloss over the fact of your govt's exemplary treatment of fellow marathis in vidharbha.raj thakre has voiced his sensible opinion on this issue, plz do think over it.

  6. @Sanjana,
    I am not swayed by propaganda only. I too have relatives in Belgaum, whose experiences shape my opinions. Yes, each state has its lingua franca and everyone should respect it. Again, all I'm saying is a city-based person's view cannot form a view of the whole district. About Vidarbha: yes, the state government has acted correctly for its development. This doesn't mean that I shouldn't place my opinions about what I perceive as incorrect in Belgaum.

    And about MES being wiped out: You are referring only to perhaps the past 2 elections. But they have been getting elected for years before that. If you are saying they were defeated because Belgaum residents do not support their pro-Maharashtra stance, then you are getting it completely wrong. For one, I can allege that the Karnataka government is populating Belgaum with Kannadigas and hence reducing support for MES. But, I'm not here to make allegations.