My first brush with being made to feel like a South Indian and distinctly different from the person in front of me is something that is strongly etched into my memory now. My father had insisted that all his children learn three languages at school – Kannada, the language of my state of Karnataka, English and Hindi (which he felt was our National language). We grew up with the pride that we could speak all three and did not consider that someday I would be looked down upon for speaking Hindi in a distinct south Indian accent. This incident happened in the early nineties on a visit of mine to Shastri Bhavan in New Delhi. Those were the days when the Boat club lawns was sort of a second home to me whenever I came to Delhi to follow up on the grants that were due to our organization from the Government of India. The concerned Desk officer at the then Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment was visibly upset that I spoke Hindi in a typical south Indian accent and even taunted me for that. It was his contention that organizations like ours should not be supported with Govt of India grants as we were not speaking Hindi in an accent that had his approval. Strange as it may sound, he was quite ignorant of anything beyond Madras (now Chennai) and even called my hindi as ‘Madrasi hindi’. It would have been a revelation to him to learn that people in Tamil Nadu are not very inclined to speak Hindi nor would they have appreciated his world view.
While I did feel humiliated, I felt sorry for this officer and his ignorance and never imagined that this north-south divide would be far more pervasive and possibly institutional too. I have always believed that India is too large a country to be viewed with any single lens and that it requires a diverse mix of people to even construct a reasonably realistic picture of the country. I was and continue to be of the opinion that we need to discover ways and means of celebrating our unity in diversity and not succumb to petty polarized divisions amongst the people and the state. And this needs to be reflected in the way the country is governed and administered. This view was further reinforced by an IAS officer turned friend who helped me deconstruct some of the ways in which this unification is attempted within the bureaucratic system. Some of the examples that he mentioned to me were the manner in which the IAS cadre allocations are done across the country and how Indian democracy and the political parties try and strike a balance in the way in which cabinet allocations are made.
The recent experience of linguistic discrimination faced by Ms Kanimozhi, the member of Parliament from Tamil Nadu resurfaced memories of my own experience and I wanted to re-look at the prevailing ecosystem and measure it against the yard stick of adequate representation within Government Institutions that have a bearing Nationally, in individual States and amongst the general citizenry across the country.
Prompted by this incident, i wrote an article on how challenging it is to bring about this ‘unity in diversity’ while at the same celebrating the spirit of ‘cooperative federalism’ that PM Modi believes in. Read more about it in the attached article below: