India: the north-south disparity

Four of the top five states are from the south, with Kerala leading the list.  Tamil Nadu is at number two on the survey which ranks states across a three-year period.

A notable inclusion in the top three is the state of Telangana, which was created in 2014, carved off from Andhra Pradesh/

The bottom spots of the survey were taken up by states from the north: Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Bihar.

States in India have a wide remit with control over water, agriculture, land rights, public health and order, theatres and entertainment, even duties on opium and other narcotics, and in some cases are as powerful as an individual country in a continent such as Europe might be. Uttar Pradesh, home to 200 million people, would be the world’s fifth biggest country if it were an autonomous nation,

States are linguistically diverse, culturally and socially varied – for example, in the cluster of eight northeastern states which border China and Myanmar, people look eastwards for their cultural cues, eschewing Bollywood in favour of K-pop, and prefer soccer to cricket. Home to matrilineal societies, women are far more visible in everyday life than in the “cow belt” states of central India.

Kerala too, is markedly different from the north. It has the highest literacy rate in the country, at more than 93%, as well as a high life expectancy and the best gender ratio in the country. It also tops the UNDP-sponsored Human Development Index thanks to high standards in sanitation, health, education and poverty reduction.

But for all of its highs, Kerala – indeed, all of south India – is about as appealing to the central government as coconut oil in butter chicken. In north India, southerners are universally mocked with the pejorative “Madrasis” (a reference to the former name of the city of Chennai). South Indians are looked down on for their dark complexions, their mannerisms, even their diets. Keralites eat beef.

It might be worth noting that four out of the top five best-government states are not ruled by the Hindu-right BJP, but the party does preside over the three states that come last in the survey.

At the same time, a handful of social media posts claimed the floods were divine justice for the beef-eaters.


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I am 3/4ths Sri Lankan (Jaffna) Tamil, 1/8th Sinhalese and 1/8th Irish; a proper mutt. Maternal: Grandfather a Govt Surveyor married my grandmother of Sinhalese/Irish descent from the deep south, in the early 1900’s. They lived in the deep South, are generally considered Sinhalese and look Eurasian (common among upper class Sinhalese). They were Anglicans (Church of England), became Evangelical Christians (AOG) in 1940's, and built the first Evangelical church in the South. Paternal: Sri Lanka (Jaffna Tamil). Paternal ancestors converted to Catholicism during Portuguese rule (1500's), went back to being Hindu and then became Methodists (and Anglicans) around 1850 (ggfather). They were Administrators and translators to the British, poets and writers in Tamil and English. Grandfathers sister was the first female Tamil novelist of modern times I was brought up as an Evangelical even attending Bible study till about the age of 13. Agnostic and later atheist. I studied in Sinhala, did a Bachelor in Chemistry and Physics in Sri Lanka. Then did Oceanography graduate stuff and research in the US. I am about 60 years old, no kids, widower. Sri Lankan citizen (no dual) and been back in SL since 2012. Live in small village near a National Park, run a very small budget guest house and try to do some agriculture that can survive the Elephants, monkeys and wild boar incursions. I am not really anonymous, a little digging and you can find my identity.

44 thoughts on “India: the north-south disparity”

  1. The article lists a recommendation of direct dealing with different countries with individual states. I feel that recent events (UAE offer to Kerala) demonstrate that it will irk the Union Govt to no end.

    The N-South divide is exacerbated because of the current Govt being entirely North Indian Govt with token representation from east and South of India(like the muslim members of pre Independence Congress) The unwillingness of the Govt to “share the loot” with Dravidians/East Indians nobility/intellectual class has gotten them miffed and now they are tactically fanning this. Once a more representative Govt in India is in place(and they get their share of the pie), all this will subside. The sad part is academics (like the author) think that the one’s who are leading them to the garden path, really want to solve this issue.

    The N-South divide was not better/worse in economical terms in the previous Govt but you didn’t hear that much about it. The issue is about representation not necessarily about state rights, which the academics will soon realize.

      1. That’s the only reason it hasn’t boiled over. It was sort of a gentleman agreement b/w the diff political parties of India that you (North) dont talk about redrawing electoral constituencies(and dont have population as the biggest criteria to award fiscal amount to diff states) ,we (South) dont talk “much” about not getting our share of revenues. I am anticipating that since either side is no longer sticking to their end of bargain you might see the BJP tempted to unfreezing of electoral constituencies to slide the scale.

  2. Kerala is getting about the same amount of aid as the last major similar scale disaster in Uttarakhand did. Check out the table at the bottom of article for central govt aid to various states after natural disasters

    Indian governance is moving towards model of direct bank transfers and cutting out middle men. I believe a lot of the political cacophony about aid amount is because some individuals didn’t get to fatten their wallets.

  3. Besides the north-south disparity (Keralans eating beef is just a cheap shot), there’s also the north-west vs south-east disparity. I don’t have access to data to back my remarks at the moment, but I believe northeastern states like Nagaland and Mizoram also have literacy rates in the 90s, similar to Kerala. It’s good that they prefer K-p0p over Bollywood because mainland Indians treat them like shit anyway, although I doubt any of those racist Indians would dispute the fact that the northeast belongs to the Indian state. The BJP actually has high stakes in the Northeast although I would write that off as local interests, it’s not like they are going to ban beef there. At the end of the day, India is a huge country and despite their best efforts, an India based on cow belt ideals is unlikely to happen.

  4. Things missing from the article –

    The economic policies & how ‘Cow belt states’ were made & kept backward till economic liberalization via policies like “Freight Equalization policy”.

    Also note that no. of states which got damaged due to policy like ‘Freight Equalisation Policy’ have high no. of tribals whereas the regions which top these numbers have lower no. of tribals with exception of Andhra Pradesh & Telangana. – Cound not find the one similar

    How social Justice policies & too much politics has ruined & de-industrialized few regions of Northern states in the name of ‘social Justice’ –
    I am from Indore & have relatives in Ujjain which is predominantly ‘Schedule Caste’ population-wise {From Madhya Pradesh}. Now i have heard how many industries have been shut down in Ujjain due to the union politics & excessive protests whereas Indore got transformed into region’s industrial hub because these conditions did not emerge in Indore to the same extant.
    One example which happened right in front of me was a proposed dam which would have submerged Ambodia village thus requiring the people in village to rehabilitate {Yes i know the red tape & corruption etc.} but there were some politicians who wanted better deal & their land was in the same village so they used the ‘rehabilitation issue’ as a means to further their political agendas & the project is now in cold storage even though each year the people here {Indore, Ujjain & surrounding regions} have to suffer due to lack of water supply {As water tanker business is booming which is in control of politicians} & each year people suffer as water gets supplied alternatively {i.e. 1 day 1 time with little pressure for 2 days} for atleast 2-3 months each year.

    Last reason which often get neglected in most studies except in economic viability & other such professional endeavors is ‘Location’ & regional history {which mostly gets used for exploitative purposes to keep the churn going in the name of ‘Justice’}.

  5. let me assure u, there is lot of prejudice againsty north indians in south India too, they dont speak local language so get discriminated and in tamilnadu its deliberate. I for example am a bit on lighter side of skin color in my family. In my stay in Tamil Nadu, I was discriminated in terms of denial of service on various occasions. Until that is when I started speaking in some south Indian language, but guess what, discrimination continues. In tamil nadu, outsiders are kicked out.

    1. We are all carrying our prejudices and most of the time it is harmless. Bengalis in India consider ourselves the most superior within the subcontinent and we also attribute it to our diet based on fish lol. Matter of fact within my household there is a regular deference to Tamils as the only ethnic group higher than a Bengali in intelligence (rare that we would rate someone higher but hey) and that we attribute to tamarind. Maybe if Tamils were neighboring to us we wouldn’t be so kind.

      Anyway, I think this language like cow belt is kinda crass, it’s like using katuas for Muslim or ricebags for Christians. The point about political and socio economic trajectory of the grouping of states of UP, Bihar, Haryana, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand and Rajasthan can be made by referring to Hindi belt. Calling it cow belt doesn’t add value.
      As far as complexion goes this thing extends across ethnicities and if a dark skinned Tamil is getting crapped on for his or her dark skin it is because he or she is dark skinned not because they’re Tamil. A Kamal Haasan or Subramanian Swamy would be immune to that whereas a Nitish Kumar or Musharraf looking northern Indian would not be.

      1. “Bengalis in India consider ourselves the most superior within the subcontinent. Matter of fact within my household there is a regular deference to Tamils as the only ethnic group higher than a Bengali in intelligence”

        The reverse martial race theory. I think this might be the reason why you have the maximum proponent of “Idea of India” folks from this two ethnicity. Lol

  6. I am a bit surprised that the N (east)-South/west differences are not even more pronounced. The literacy, fertility and industrialization trajectory to “middle income state” category started ahead of actual economic growth. The demand for more economic and political rights started as early as 1962 by the first call from C.N. Annaduarai in the parliament. If the economic and social liberalization has started well earlier, the differences would have been even more pronounced. The union is more like the EU with the southern and the western states behaving like northern europe and cowbelt states lagging like southern Europe.

    There is a compact and agreement in several southern states regarding social and economic policy and switch between governments does not disturb this compact. The difficulty is that the states are not energy rich and need significant investment in infrastructure and energy to break free. The union government does not consider itself a co-equal with the states; if the BJP had not won in Karnataka, the south would have been completely ignored; which is good and bad.

    1. I would say its good. That way neither the south owes the BJP anything nor the BJP owes the South anything. It makes both parties “honest” in dealing with each other.

    2. The difference though is that Northern Europe still determines EU policy whereas Northern India (the Hindi belt) is still the biggest player in Indian politics..

  7. There is no south, only couple of years back, because few sand smugglers from tamilnadu were shot dead in andhra, andhra bank, shops were attacked in tamilnadu. Water conflict between karnataka and tamilnadu is also a known thing. There is no united south or north, its just an agenda drive entities trying to sell this frame, nothing like that exists. In anycase, its almost impossible for anyone to live happily with tamils considering a fascist like sub nationalism there. I saw people, ordinary people support ltte, even when asked about child soldiers and the fact that ltte killed other tamil leaders, all of that was fine for them, death of rajiv gandhi also is fine, infact they keep talking of conspiracy theories. gobbledegook, And these people are not idiots. even brahmins there are completely sold into this tamil identity thing.They have own subnational anthem that gets played more often than Indian anthem,one reason why supreme court asked for Indian national anthem to be played in theaters regularly.(they are watching). Its amazing , not to mention many of my friends both from north india and south India have suffered more discrimination in tn in workplace. Given an opportunity they leave immediately or get kicked out. my friend in IT there talked to me that his colleagues protested against Indian union when prabhakaran and his kid were killed. I am pretty sure, the rest of the southern states are getting tired of them and will eventually start adopting more aggressive postures against them if this continues.

  8. Hi Sereno
    “South Indians are looked down on for their dark complexions, their mannerisms, even their diets”

    care to give some evidence by way of personal anecdotes, opinion polls, etc ??

    1. Hi VijayVan

      This was an article I came across in NakedCapitalism links.

      Regards Sri Lankans in Sri Lanka

      To the Sinhalese, all Indians are Tamils so therefore they (think) are lighter skinned than any Indian North or South. Obviously, despite the evidence to the contrary.

      To the Jaffna Tamils, they know (think) they are smarter than anyone.

      Dont know personally any Sri Lankans who have lived in India (North or South). Know a few classmates who visit India to do jungle safaris. I doubt you could make them feel discriminated. Anyway never heard them mention.

      The very few who on an off talk about discrimination, are those living in the US and UK for a long time. And they are pretty much in the top end of their professions. Go figure.

      1. “To the Sinhalese, all Indians are Tamils so therefore they (think) are lighter skinned than any Indian North or South. Obviously, despite the evidence to the contrary.”

        LOL. Looks like the fair skin obsession is strong in Sri Lanka as well. Sometimes i wonder would we have ever been colonized by any African nation. The skin color of the Turks and the Europeans did have something to do with the ease at which we proclaimed them as our master.

      2. “To the Sinhalese, all Indians are Tamils so therefore they (think) are lighter skinned than any Indian North or South. Obviously, despite the evidence to the contrary.”

        I call BS, this sounds like an old stereotype that doesn’t hold true anymore. To my Indian eyes, the Tamils and Sinhalese in SL were almost identical in appearance and skin pigmentation. Without the aid of costume (Sinhalese women don’t wear saris but instead a western style skirt and top, and the men generally don’t keep moustaches) I would find it hard to tell them apart. As might be expected of a more southerly location, the skin colour of most Lankans of any ethnicity I found to be of darker hue than of Indians, even from TN.

        Most Lankans would guess quite easily that I was Indian, so the above stereotype probably doesn’t hold true anymore. The Sinhalese would be eager to practice their Hindi on me, and would actually be disappointed on finding out that I was a Tamil. Indian soft power is everywhere to be seen, but it is clearly no match for the omnipresent Chinese hard power (if the term exists!)


        1. Siddarth
          To the Sinhalese, all Indians are Tamils so therefore they (think) are lighter skinned than any Indian North or South. Obviously, despite the evidence to the contrary.

          You missed the Obviously, despite the evidence to the contrary.

          It is mostly (all) about perception and belief, regardless of evidence .

          The Sinhalese would be eager to practice their Hindi on me, and would actually be disappointed on finding out that I was a Tamil

          Think of Sinhalese as Tamils, Keralites or (Bengalis) who have become West Indians/Jamaicans in the past and Americans in the recent past.

          Similarly, many people of South India, Europe and SE Asia have intermarried into Sri Lanka. Once one buys into the Sinhalese identity you can claim to a 2,500 written history. Not much different from being “American”.

          1. I thought the Sinhalese would have been more “Aryan looking” than the Tamilians since the former speak an Indo-European Gujarati/Bengali language (it’s very confusing which is which)..

          2. I thought the Sinhalese would have been more “Aryan looking” than the Tamilians

            The Sinhalese have tried this theory too 😛

  9. I don’t know how you forget that goa is much better than kerala in all aspects and is ruled by ultra conservative bjp from last several years. Kerala is running on remittances and tourism. It is a bankrupt state unlike other southern states. Kerala gave no fund to any state but has given 5 cr to pak in past.

  10. Talking of ‘Madrasis’ , how prevalent is the usage of the word nowadays. ‘Madrasis’ had a ring in the days of Madras Presidency as a catch term for all south Indians. Madras presidency, madras State, madras city have all fallen by the wayside – is the word still being used? or is there is a granular view of south Indians outside SI.

    1. Never heard it used irl. Southern ethnic groups have enough visibility and prominence in modern India post 80s that people know exact names, languages and capitals of the 4 (now 5) Dravidian states. Otoh northeast is still called…northeast.

      1. It was used a lot in the 80s and 90s (speaking from personal experience as a Tamil born and raised in the north in those decades.) Don’t recall hearing it in this decade though.

        My mom spent her adolescence in Punjabi country back in the 50s and 60, and there was definite prejudice about what was perceived as Madrasi ways (especially dining habits), but if you spoke the local language (and were light-skinned enough, I guess), prejudice would evaporate.

  11. So what states do indians think is part of the cowbelt, beyond BIMARU? Jharkhand? Punjab? West Bengal? Uttarkhand? Would Bangladesh and Pakistani Punjab be part of the “cowbelt” in a united India?

    Is it like the American south — a clear core and disputed periphery (TX? MO? FL?).

    (I have heard the term ” Madrasi” sometimes in Karachi, and more often among Pakistanis in Dubai — where they actually encounter south Indians in person).

    1. So what states do indians think is part of the cowbelt, beyond BIMARU? Jharkhand? Punjab? West Bengal? Uttarkhand? Would Bangladesh and Pakistani Punjab be part of the “cowbelt” in a united India?

      phylogenetically punjabi is much closer to the hindi dialect continuum than bengali. i don’t think anyone would include bengal, assam or odisha as part of that broader cultural grouping.

      1. Yes I think Punjabi is a Hindustani incursion into the Lahnda sphere. It would be interesting to see if historical Punjabi texts (pre RAJ) are in the Majhi dialect or Lahnda..

    2. “So what states do indians think is part of the cowbelt, beyond BIMARU? Jharkhand? Punjab? West Bengal? Uttarkhand?”

      Haryana, Uttarkhand would be part of it. Gujarat, Maharastra , Jharkhand, Orisa are mixed areas but i would say the dominant discourse is still N-Indian Hinduism which is a definitive characteristic of Cow belt. Even though these states have dormant to sub active sub nationalism , they still get subsumed by Hindu politics

      1. The term cowbelt is often synonymous with BIMARU, and represents peculiar defining features of the indo-gengetic plain; this includes, an overbearing concern regarding caste; high fertility; low educational and other HDI attainments; in my mind, a move to industrial revolution needs a discard of caste mores as workers are of different castes, and supervisors can be a lower caste than workers. In my experience with BIMARU workers, caste constraints overwhelm work culture; workers seek white color jobs, which is viewed to equivalent of caste structure. As such, Punjab and jat-dominant Haryana cannot be considered as extensions of Bimaru, as both, the Sikhs and Jats do not consider field work as something that impinges on caste-given dignity. On the other hand, some features of Gangetic West Bengal represent the cow belt in: lack of irrigation; use of tenant farmers extensively in agriculture; seeking rent seeking white color occupations. The cowbelt can be considered to extend from western UP to Gangetic WB including swathes of Jharkand; and includes MP, Rajasthan and riverine Uttarakhand. Gujarat cannot be included in cowbelt, as large numbers of Patidars are strong workers in fields; the caste domination does not start at Brahmin level. The Gujaratis are sympathetic to cowbelt values though, but are not practical exponents.

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