[lg policy] India: Kannada becomes both hipster and political

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Fri Feb 9 10:24:33 EST 2018


Kannada becomes both hipster and political
Rohini Swamy <https://theprint.in/author/rohini-swamy/> 9 February, 2018
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[image: A Namma Metro signboard being repainted]A Namma Metro signboard
being repainted in Bengaluru

*Even before the assertion of Kannada pride under Siddaramaiah, non-native
speakers started learning the language. But imposition remains a thorny
issue.*

*Bengaluru*: Last week, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed a
public meeting in Bengaluru, he made sure that he began and concluded his
90-minute speech in Kannada. It certainly wasn’t the first time a prime
minister or a national leader resorted to what is now a fairly common
tactic to connect with local crowds around the country.

But Modi’s lines were the longest sentences spoken by any non-Kannada
speaking leader from Delhi in recent memory. With just months to go before
the state elects a new assembly, the messaging did not need any translation.

Not only was the Prime Minister trying hard to identify himself with the
people of Karnataka, the effort was also seen as an attempt to counter
Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who has, in the last one year or so, given
such importance to Kannada that it has turned into an issue of Kannada
identity or ‘asmita’.

In the last few months, Siddaramaiah’s Congress government
<https://theprint.in/2017/07/19/exclusive-no-need-for-centre-to-impose-hindi-in-karnataka-cm-siddaramaiah/>
has consciously ensured  that announcements on ‘Namma Metro’ (our metro) in
Bengaluru do not follow the customary three-language formula. Instead, the
announcements follow the Tamil Nadu model, where they are made only in
Tamil and English.

Pro-Kannada organisations have appreciated this, as they believe it has
restored some identity of the Kannadigas, the booming capital city of whose
state has seen a huge influx of people speaking different tongues from
around the country in the last two decades.

“Why should Hindi be imposed on us when it is not our national language? In
several parts of Karnataka, many central government agencies are not using
Kannada even on their boards,” said S.G. Siddaramaiah, chairman of the
Kannada Development Authority (KDA). “Yes, we must follow a three-language
policy, but top priority must be given to Kannada.”
*Efforts to teach and learn*

While the government’s new efforts to promote Kannada have an obvious tinge
of politics, migrants to Bengaluru have been learning Kannada for multiple
reasons, including bargaining with the ubiquitous auto-rickshaw drivers.

And there have been several independent efforts to propagate the language.
One such is the online and offline classes organised by a group of
youngsters under the name Kannadagotilla.com (which means ‘I don’t know
Kannada’). With nearly 9,000 students, a wholehearted effort is being made
to teach people from the age of 16 to 60 to speak Kannada.

“We Kannadigas are very accommodative and tend to learn the language of
those who are speaking to us – be it Hindi, Tamil or many others,” said
Ranju Krishna, part of the Kannadagotilla team. “We are linguistically very
adaptive, so people don’t find it necessary to learn our language. But only
if we inculcate that pride among local Kannadigas can we encourage others
to learn. We should not judge others; we should encourage them.”

There is also a newly-acquired passion among parents from other linguistic
backgrounds to get their children to learn the language, as it has become a
compulsory language to be learnt. And to help their children, parents have
started learning to read and write Kannada too.

“If I have to teach my daughter at home, I have to learn Kannada first,”
said Sarmishta, a parent. “We don’t look at it as an imposition, because
wherever we go, we have seen that learning the local language is a must. If
we were in Kolkata, my child would have had to learn Bengali, so it is the
same here.”

“Teaching and using Kannada to help get jobs is fine. But it’s not fair to
force a language on someone,” she added.
*Against imposition*

Singer-composer Raghu Dixit is among those who feel there’s no need to
impose. Dixit, who has in his own way modernised Kannada folk songs and
brought people from all parts of the world closer to Kannada language and
culture, feels the effort to acknowledge one’s Kannada roots should begin
with oneself.

“Several auto and taxi drivers speak in Hindi naturally to clients. I would
urge them to first speak in Kannada, and if the client does not understand,
then speak in a different language. That way, you are upholding your
identity as a Kannadiga, and also accommodating others who do not know the
language,” Dixit said.

“If you use the Karnataka state flag during the Rajyotsava, I would very
proudly salute the flag or wear a badge which reflects it, as it is a
matter of pride. But using the language or the flag as a tool to create
violence and get political mileage, which is what we see today, is not
acceptable,” he added.
*A different take*

Ramzan Darga, a prominent writer and a Muslim who teaches Basava philosophy
and Veerashaivism, has a different take.

“Who is a Kannadiga? A person who can understand and speak Kannada. Kannada
culture has no particular logic,” he said.

“If a person comes from Kashmir and understands the language, speaks it and
embraces its literary world, he becomes a Kannadiga for me,” Darga added.
“A Kannadiga is not bound by any cultural or geographical limits.”

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 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com
http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/~haroldfs/

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