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We, the majoritarian Indian states...

Who says we are a democracy, a state where the voice of the subjects prevails? The international media may wax eloquent in describing us as the world’s biggest democracy. They may marvel at how our elections are conducted under testing situations, and the mass participation in the process. However, truth is, India is a shining example of majoritarianism, i.e. the will of the majority pervades over everything else. General consensus be damned. In fact, our majoritarian streak is such that even the freedom to express allegiance to languages of our choice is, at best, a mirage. Perhaps we Indians could be the template on which the phrase “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” was modeled on.

Nothing exemplifies this better than the strenuous efforts by the Karnataka government on deciding the medium of instruction in schools in the State. The government received a setback on this issue in the Supreme Court. Eager to win a few brownie points when it was in dire need of some, a plea requesting that Kannada be made the compulsory medium of instruction in primary schools in the State was struck down in the Apex court. The court ruled that parents of the wards must have the option to select a medium of instruction of their choice, be it English or any other language.

Not to be outdone, the government is said to be planning a review petition – a decision that has gained traction among chauvinists (read Kannada activists and intellectuals, who claimed that this was to prevent decay to native culture) and the Opposition parties. Trust political parties to find common ground on a polarising issue. Forgotten was the fact that factors such as increasing reach of education and improvement of its quality were far more important. Forgotten also was the fact the offspring of most of the legislators behind the inordinate and ridiculous demand were educated in English medium schools.  

This isn’t the only setback to the Karnataka government in its zeal to enforce Kannada. Early this year, the state High Court threw out an appeal to display Kannada prominently on the name-boards of business and other commercial establishments. The issue pertained to a litigation between Vodafone and the state government over provisions in a relevant law. The disparity extends to other fields as well: the entertainment industry, for instance, where movies in other languages are levied an abnormally high tax rate. This leads to a situation where the ticket for a non-Kannada language movie costs twice (or more if it is at a multiplex) as much as that for a Kannada movie.

The fact that the city corporation of Belgaum -- which has a sizeable Marathi-speaking population -- is ruled by a party with Marathi roots, the Maharashtra Ekikaran Samithi, is proving to be a thorn in the flesh to such individuals. Unsuprisingly, bickering between councilors over issues such as Marathi nameboards in shops, is routine.

Unfortunately, Karnataka isn’t the only state with such unbridled chauvinistic sentiments. Maharashtra’s Shiv Sena and its offshoot, Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navanirman Sena, would perhaps top the chart, making Karnataka’s Vatal Nagaraj’s actions (of the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike) look like a schoolboy. With Marathi manoos (pride) as their guiding spirit, they’ve attempted every trick in the textbook of lingual chauvinism to ensure that the ‘native culture’ does not get tarnished. Some of the ways in which they have gone about achieving it include dismantling of Udupi food stalls in the 1960s and 70s, engineering of communal riots, vandalising of educational institutions, blackening of non-Marathi nameboards and the omnipresent vitriol-soaked editorials directed against all non-Marathis in their mouthpieces.

And then there have been some statesmen-like utterings from politicians in the Hindi heartland, which, if implemented, could push the region into the Stone Age. Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party had, in the run-up to the recent UP Assembly elections, promised to abolish English-medium education and computers from State schools. This, from someone who had had his son trained in one of the best Indian universities (University of Mysore) and in an elite Australian university.

The common factor in each of the instances has been the unlawful will of the majority wanting to impose itself on everyone.

Talking of opposition to a particular language, how can anyone forget the anti-Hindi agitiations of 1937 and 1965 in the erstwhile Madras Presidency? While the first was launched against the compulsory teaching of Hindi, the second was against its imposition as an official language. The protests led to the withdrawal/ modification of both decisions. In fact, a certain Muthuvel Karunanidhi played a key role in the protests and went on to cement his place in Indian polity. It may be outlandish to suggest that such a decision would evoke a similar response today, but a backlash may be guaranteed, at least from the English-medium school 
lobby. It's a different issue that MK's hypocrisy on the issue stood exposed when he criticised the decision of the Jayalalithaa-led government in Tamil Nadu to introduce English-medium education for all government schools. Jaya questioned his integrity by pointing out that the group of educational institutions run by Kalaignar's kin did not offer instruction in Tamil-medium. 

All this makes one wonder whether the re-organisation of Indian states in 1956, following the death of Potti Sriramulu, who staged a hunger strike until death for a state dedicated to the Telugu-speaking population, could have been avoided. The nation soon witnessed the creation of many more states on linguistic lines. Ironically, the first such state to be created, Andhra Pradesh, today stands vivisected – motivated by personal and political gain.

Sentiments of the non-majorities? You've got to be joking!

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