The price of Unity for India’s Dravidians

My title is somewhat controversial but it’s based on a passing thought.

I was seeing Drew Binsky’s video on the Afghani diaspora in Hamburg and I found it interesting that Afghanistan’s population is only 35mm (I could have sworn it was 20mm around the turn of the century).

Even though Afghanistan has a relatively tiny population, compared to many Indian states, its influence on world affairs dwarfs them and approaches Indo-Pak.

For the 4 Dravidian states; their sub-nationalism disappears in the global stage in the face of Indian nationalism.

This isn’t to stir discord; it’s a thing of wonder that 90%+ of the world’s Hindu population is in a single state. In fact if 90% of the world’s Muslim population were in a similarly federalised state; it would be so much better (even just the contiguous bits).

However I wonder if the more exotic Indian minorities do not feel that their presence in the global stage is somewhat marred. Sovereignty, while disruptive, has a charm all of its own.

After a people who aren’t used to their nation will see that nation dwindle away due to apathy.

Many will impute that I support independence movements or further political sovereignty; far from it. But I was thinking of the British Lions model and the world of sport.

There are times when Britain competes as one (in the Olympics) and at other times devolves into the Constituent nations. In fact in most sports Ireland competes as an island (Ulster joins Ireland rather than any of the other nations) even though the political atmosphere is so messy.

Aside from IPL (and the huge shadow cricket casts on the subcontinent); it would be nice to have some sort of South Asian game or cultural event where linguistic (sub)nationalism is given priority. It would be perhaps alleviate the intense communalism of South Asia’s political setup and also provide context to the “young states” that there are some very old “nations” in South Asia, which precede them.

Maybe it’ll be a bit tricky with Punjabis, Pathans, Baloch teaming up across their various borders or even Tamils for that matter but it might also help *mature* identities as well.

I’m a trustee of a Theatre company in Cambridge and I really enjoyed the definition of a “minority”; one who self-identifies as such. In many ways that’s how I would categorise a language family/nation. Languages are also a form of subjective identity rather than just objective reality.

A language is a dialect with an army..

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104 Replies to “The price of Unity for India’s Dravidians”

  1. I have to agree that dravidians could’ve done well off(both culturally and economically) without being part of india. But, our leaders chose to see the civilizational unity which most of today’s Dravidian youth cherish. Being abroad, I can see how little about this rich Dravidian culture is known around the world or heck even amongst the hindians. I have to put the central government in the spotlight as they did a great job in portraying India as Hindia. I am not revolting but just complaining. The future only looks bleaker as the Dravidian birth rates are lower than some of the most developed countries. Instead of the sudden death from any potential invasion, I think the slow death of dravidian culture because of the Indian civilizational unity is preferable.

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    1. To map it to the US

      Indian Muslims are Aframs. Politically and cultural very prominent but huge segregation exists (the only Muslim Hindus want their daughters to marry is SRK & his ilk)

      Dalits & OBCs are like ethnic whites; they are defaulting to a WASP model but the more shrill (and successful) of them are like liberal Jews.

      The Dravidians are like Hispanics; very distinctive culture (and arguably very indigenous) but also very assimilative into the mainstream..

      Gujjus, Bengalis, Rajput’s are a bit like Northwestern white Americans; off-WASP.

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    2. @Dravidarya

      Agreed. I think Dravidian culture and languages will be dead within two to three generations.

      @santosh

      “Saurav, I tend to agree with you that the south, excepting Karnataka, has only been marginally “Hindu” in its core psyche (if not for Vidyaranya, we would mostly have all been Muslims by now and quite happily too maybe I think because our typically opportunistic and uncivilised culture does not bother much about the past, civilisational identity, etc.) compared to large parts of north India, but I have one major question.”

      In some ways, I think the South preserved Hinduism when the North was getting wrecked. Bhakti movement; Shankaracharya, Ramanujacharya, Madhvacharya; Vijayanagara Empire.

      On the other hand, I agree that many southerners can be culturally opportunistic. Kind of like say Indonesians. Hindus come they become Hindu. Muslims come they become Muslims.

      While a few Tamil nationalists will get all the news coverage, most southerners have no affection, respect, or loyalty with respect to their culture.

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      1. Indeed! It’s almost like the duty of south India is to act as a librarian of sorts for books published after original research is conducted elsewhere. Apparently even Carnatic music is some kind of a fossilised preservation of some ancient-phase north Indian music (some also apparently argue that this is not true and that there are very significant British/Western influences on Carnatic music) while Hindustani is that branch which kept changing organically with time.

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      2. “On the other hand, I agree that many southerners can be culturally opportunistic. Kind of like say Indonesians. Hindus come they become Hindu. Muslims come they become Muslims.”

        I think you are being too hard on S-Indians. (Yes i just said that)

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  2. I don’t think there is anything called Dravidian nationalism amongst the vast majority of south indians. That never took off anywhere apart from Tamil Nadu. So it is incorrect to talk of a sub-nationalism. Probably more accurate to talk of a subculture common to south.

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    1. I don’t think there is anything called Dravidian nationalism amongst the vast majority of south indians.

      True. But this was because 70 years of Indian nationalism was an inclusive one. This inclusion was primarily aimed at a religious inclusiveness given Partition history, but it instinctively resulted in a broader cultural-linguist inclusion of various cultural / linguistic / religious minorities in the South.

      Given the sharper edge of the present Hindu cultural nationalism, and although South is overwhelmingly Hindu, these things don’t typically work downstream as neatly. This is true even if Modi has learnt his lesson and doesn’t push Hindi further. Edgy nationalisms tend to have unintended consequences. Even in his first term, Modi triggered calls for Dravidian autonomy and even Dravida Nadu. Heck, there is even a twitter page for the DN government!

      As supporters of Modi-nationalism enthused by the current victory go overboard, the more sharper these cleavages will get and at some point, may get irrevocable (unless delicately dealt with).

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      1. An “inclusive” Indian government created the problems of Punjab and Kashmir and set in motion Hindu resentment against perceived Muslim appeasement. I am glad we are done with them.

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          1. Well, considering many on the Hindu-right explicitly state their goal is to cleanse all Muslims from India (and South-Asia eventually), its quite accurate to say there is Muslim appeasement in India. That they are still living and breathing in India is appeasement to them.

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          2. Actually disagree with DevJi here. There is some truth to it, but only in parts.

            He ignores the entire anti-modern practices that are shielded by appeasement in the Muslims community in India, be it triple talaq bill/shah Bano case, or uniform civil code or nikah halala ban etc.

            It was a good podcast, but I wish you challenged him more on the specifics. And I don’t blame you for this, considering none of you grew up in India to be able to speak to specifics that run contrary to Devji’s narrative.

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          3. @AmericanIndic

            He ignores the entire anti-modern practices that are shielded by appeasement in the Muslims community in India, be it triple talaq bill/shah Bano case, or uniform civil code or nikah halala ban etc.

            I posit the so-called Muslim appeasement is indistinguishable from Hindu caste group appeasement. The entire argument is a monstrosity of a fraud perpetuated on the Indian people and unsurprisingly, the most important argument in the Savarkarite arsenal. This is the deepfake before deepfakes were a thing and historians of the future will marvel how such an easily demolished argument was used so extensively and so effectively.

            Are you not aware of anti-modern practices used in appeasement of Hindu caste groups? How about the opposition to entry of women into Sabarimala (against SC order) and the pro-Sati environment around Roop Kanwar’s death?

            Incidentally, in both these cases, both Congress and BJP were/are on the same side and made numerous excuses to support clearly regressive attitudes. And we have touched only on Nair-appeasement and Rajput-appeasement, with a few thousand more castes to go!

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          4. “@arjun I suggest you listen to the Prof Devji podcast ”

            You should suggest to Prof Devji that he listen to me. 🙂

            But seriously, I have given examples of what I mean by Muslim appeasement before. No amount of intellectual obfuscation (not to mention the bombast that appears immediately above this comment) can undo that.

            The truth is not up for popularity contests or official recognition.

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      2. Dude that Twitter page has under 500 followers. The country band that play at your local bar is bigger than that.

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  3. it’s influence on world affairs dwarfs them and approaches Indo-Pak.

    they’re influential like ted bundy is famous.

    pakistan is also more influential than bangladesh. would anyone want to be pakistan rather than bangladesh?*

    * this may even not be true due to bangladesh’s textile exports, but that’s not charismatic influence.

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    1. they’re influential like ted bundy is famous.

      This is exactly what Pak’s equation with rest of the world is. Like, stop us before we go full on Jihad-crazy!

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      1. I disagree – the best equivalence to Pakistan is either Indian Punjab (Sikh) or Indian Muslim.

        Most Pakistanis would opt for Pakistan in that basis. Security of a majority etc.

        Also for instance full Partition in Cambridge for the Annual Garden Party; PAK Soc & Bang Soc are collaborating while India Soc & Hindu Soc are collaborating. TNT has finally found its footing in diaspora.

        Pakistan is dramatically more unequal but that does mean that the elite are much more “elite.”

        The Indian Elite are now on a different stratosphere; DC pays home to Lakshmi Mittal for instance.

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        1. SE is right tho in how others *perceive* pakistan.

          in the USA it is the “great frenemy.”

          tho now that it’s china’s client-state not even sure that applies much.

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          1. @razib with Chin-Pak all-weather friendship; it’s not inconceivable that Pakistan will always stay at “par” with South Asia; not ahead but not too far behind.

            I remember once stating that Pakistan is the only South Asian society not Brahmin influenced and you asked me about Bdesh.

            I do think it’s problematic that Bdesh has virtually no latitude to operate vis a vis India.

            Cultural output does arise from prosperity but also from adversity. I think Pakistan’s “adversity” (it’s identity crisis etc) makes for a very compelling nation. It occupies the minds and attention of its neighbour in a way very few nations do.

            For a plucky little-defined ethnic group (Muslims scattered across northern India); a real sense of nationhood has cohered..

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          1. @saurav yes of course..

            Pakistanis are the along the dominant voices of pan-Islamic sentiment in diaspora..

            They nominally play second fiddle to the MEs (Persians, Arabs & Turks) but they are the most vociferous ..

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    2. If the current trajectory holds for the next ten years, if Bangladesh continues to grow at 7% while Pakistan languishes at 4 – 5%, will Pakistan still feel that being more famous (infamous) is more important? National trajectories are very very important, dynamic and less understood in the early period. Thing chnage very greatly within a few decades.

      I bet in the 1960s most North Koreans were feeling quite superior to the American slave/entertainer/client in the south. They were probably very smug about their plucky position in the world.

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      1. @Shafiq this isn’t about smugness – Pakistan is not North Korea. It has an extraordinarily diffuse and connected elite.

        Economic growth rate is key but writing off Pakistan simply because of its low growth rate is a mistake. AfPak is a strategic piece of the world and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

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        1. Economic growth rate is key but writing off Pakistan simply because of its low growth rate is a mistake. AfPak is a strategic piece of the world and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

          but for whom? if afpak wasn’t a terrorism threat, the USA could ignore. there are resources, and we don’t need warm water indian ocean ports.

          (contrast with the persian gulf, where oil makes it important)

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          1. Well it’s less important to us after the Shale Revolution…our relationship with KSA persists on inertia alone.

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        2. I think perhaps the answer lies in the middle. To me historically Pakistan stature in the West , does not only flow from being headache or terrorism front (which is post 2001 thing) . It was the most likable/ similar country for the Westerners out of the Subcontinent vis-v Indian(poor,dirty ) and Bangladesh (dark skinned). There was always a hint to racism there. It will take a lot of time for that cultural capital to deplete irrespective of economy.

          I am more with Zach here, Pakistan cultural output will stand wrt to Bangladesh irrespective of its GDP. It will take time for BD to really rival Pakistan in terms of mindspace (good or bad)

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          1. Pakistan’s stature is west merely because of the elite smoozing the power circles in DC. Most ordinary Americans have a pretty negative perception of Pakistanis, unlike India where the perception is mixed tending to positive.

            Pakistan is just one major policy misstep away from being dumped. It’s ‘deeper than mountain’ China friendship might come back to bite it, if relationship between US & China go sour.

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  4. People often say that India is a British construct. I somewhat agree but not for the usual reasons.

    The idea that we were played against each other and exploited is deeply ingrained in Indian psyche. And that is why ‘unity’ is such an important meme.

    We’re more than 70 years past and it’s still holding strong. It’s sort of a PTSD reaction.

    What you say is the way of the future but it will take time. India has been ‘de-centralizing’ at its own gradual and non-monotonic pace.

    It will speed up with economic development.

    For southern (and western states) – as the economy grows, culture will move out of the realm of state patronage to become more community or philanthropy driven.

    When the BIMARU states develop a sophisticated enough economy to be able to support tech hubs and sports franchises, they too will start to feel confident enough to go on on their own and leave the nest, so to say.

    This shall further weaken the centre and hasten the process of enlargement of regional identities.

    India will become more of an umbrella civilizational entity.

    Might take a few decades to a couple of centuries.

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    1. Why do you assume the ratchet would turn towards localization and diversity rather than homogenization? All the countries of Western Europe became less diverse and more homogenized, linguistically and politically, as time went on. It seems to me that the smart bet would be on India following the course set forth by 19th century France, Germany, Italy. If you go the other way, you’re betting the odds.

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      1. “Why do you assume the ratchet would turn towards localization and diversity rather than homogenization?”

        Mainly because in the early years of the Indian republic, there was little surplus capital and culture was tied to patronage by the state (primarily the central government) or to a few rich cliques (Bollywood).

        Rising prosperity will mean more funding for culture even at a local level. Consider the rise of undivided Andhra Pradesh and its investment in culture (Baahubali) + its influence on the diaspora (high number of H1B).

        This does not mean there won’t be more pan-India things. There will be. But there will be much more local stuff as well.

        Homogenization will also be more at a local level as regional identities might get hardened like Europe (eg – Kannada vs Marathi).

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  5. ” But, our leaders chose to see the civilizational unity ”

    ” But this was because 70 years of Indian nationalism was an inclusive one.”

    LOL. The delusions.

    No one should be naive enough to think that one fine day the tamil separatists just woke up on the right side of the bed, and saw the supposed “civilizational unity ” (pretty sure they were seeing that alright in the 50s and the 60s) . They demanded their “price” from the Union and then they reached a compromise. That’s how the story always goes.

    “Given the sharper edge of the present Hindu cultural nationalism, and although South is overwhelmingly Hindu, these things don’t typically work downstream as neatly.”

    I wonder why does this sound contradictory? That could mean only two things

    A) The south is not “Hindu”
    B) There is no “Hindu cultural nationalism” in the North

    Take your pick 😛

    ” the more sharper these cleavages will get and at some point, may get irrevocable ”

    Oh I would love to see them try. The stronger any “movement” is in East/South ,the stronger it makes Modi in the North.

    India remains united because major part of it just happens to be Hindu majority , thats the crude truth admits to.

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    1. Saurav, I tend to agree with you that the south, excepting Karnataka, has only been marginally “Hindu” in its core psyche (if not for Vidyaranya, we would mostly have all been Muslims by now and quite happily too maybe I think because our typically opportunistic and uncivilised culture does not bother much about the past, civilisational identity, etc.) compared to large parts of north India, but I have one major question. I want to accept that there is “Hindu cultural nationalism” in the north in addition to more easily accepting that the south is not “Hindu”, but I just want to do so after comparing the present state with historical happenings in north India regarding the domain of culture and religion. I am not at all knowledgeable about history and I will likely look it up when I find time – was the natural state of being in north Indian society always very similar to what is happening now in that features like demanding some amount of cultural assimilation from Muslims into upper-caste-/lower-caste-Hindu/Jain culture, low amounts of casteism, etc. were always present in north India?

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      1. Santosh

        I think there is major difference in South and North and that is the religious-ness of the subaltern. In the North even smaller marginalized community had their heroes and Gods, Valmiki (dalits) or Sabri (tribals) . So even marginalized community in a way can succumb to “Hindu-ness” argument. What was missing was the political outlet to this massive subaltern “Hindu sentiment ” which the BJP has galvanized. South/East has it but far too little. That;s why to cut off ethnicity/caste from religion was far more easier where Dravidians were able to do so.

        Just to give one example, Mayawati has been threatening to convert much like Ambedkar but why doesnt she, while in the South no dalit who is political will have any compulsion in converting or saying nasty stuff about Hinduism. There lies the tale. If you want to know any region/community/ethncity listen to what their political leaders are saying. They know which way the wind blows.

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        1. Okay this makes a lot of sense to me coupled with your other post on that other thread today about Hinduism surviving not because of historical upper castes but despite them (even your note about caste-religion relationships I’m realising).

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    2. Yep…the subregions of India that are not Hindu are the parts where the Indian republic has run aground, at least temporarily (eg Kashmir, Punjab, Mizoram, Nagaland). Meanwhile, the substantially Hindu parts have ups and downs, but they do fine.

      That’s a pretty strong clue that Hinduism matters in bringing India together. I’m NOT saying it’s ALL that matters! But it’s not nothing either (as people who claim an Indian identity is purely legalistic, a popular argument in some circles, argue.)

      Indonesia has operated similarly, but with Islam instead.

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  6. Too much is being read into North’s high fertility rate compared to South.

    It doesn’t take long for the fertility rate to plunge precipitously in a single decade.

    Don’t be surprised if Bihar reaches replacement level FR in next 10 years.

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    1. On the other hand, I actually want the fertility rate thing to be a debate . Lets go the full course on this, where Bihar, UP are penalized by not getting that extra money. Who will be the folks who will finally suffer. The poor, dalits, muslims (who have higher TFR) whose champion the supposed left liberals/Dravidan-ist are . Whose life wont get affected much, the rich dominant UCs and OBCs (who will keep on voting the BJP) .

      So yeah i say bring it on.

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  7. This is actually a great post. Shahenshah has found just the right solution for the problems of the post colonial post communist world.

    Letting people team up across international borders will boost international solidarity, and loosen up people’s obsession with international borders.

    Too much obsession with borders is unhealthy. This is exactly what Sunil Khilani called the “pornography of borders”.

    Cross border teams will allow subnational cultures to find an expression. it will dissipate frivolous secessionist movements via giving them a healthy vent.

    If corporations can be multinational, why can’t sports teams? I believe Google or Facebook employees, wherever they work in this world, already have a sense of “asabiyya”. This can be extended to other spheres of life too.

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    1. @Vikram- France, Germany & Spain are nations that have held the world in thrall.

      I’m not effacing the Indian national triumph but I’m merely contextualising that Sovereignty brings another level of respect.

      The “Dravidian South” is not internationally sovereign; Scotland isn’t but find ways time and time again to assert her ancient rights ..

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      1. It brings a level of respect until they are all at each other’s throat, or are Frexiting or Gerxiting or Spaxiting. The last 70 years of peace is an anomaly in Europe’s long history, I would rather have each of those states be absorbed in a paler and peaceful pan-European identity than a small & strong sovereign identities competing for space.. These country’s glory comes from colonial loot and hegemonic expansion, which gave them an air of majesty.

        IMO the glory of being a Pakistani is hardly worth the trouble, considering both the present state & little civilizational importance attached to it, on a world stage.

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  8. Some thoughts:

    – I’m no fan of the Hindu-Hindi-Hindustan mentality of many, or the Punjabification of Indian cultures, or how the world at large thinks India is basically Hindu-Hindi.

    – The federal structure of the Indian Union and the pragmatism of India’s leaders has quashed separatist tendencies and given South Indian states sufficient autonomy (for now). I think as we move forward, there will be potential issues. For example, the Indian government may decide to redistribute seats in the Lok Sabha on the basis of current population (which has become very skewed to the cow belt because of successful birth control policies in South India). But I think there’s enough flexibility in the system and pragmatism among leaders to make sure that there is a satisfactory compromise, even if it is not ideal for either side.

    – I think as the profile of India grows, more people will become aware of the distinctiveness of South India. It’s like how Canadians know quite a bit about the US but Americans don’t know that much about Canada. If India’s international importance increases, more people will have an understanding of India that goes beyond a very basic low resolution Hindu-Hindi understanding. Increasingly, I find Westerners who conceive of India as a bit of a European Union, in the sense that different states have different languages and cultures.

    – Culturally, all of the South Indian states except Tamil Nadu have an interesting relationship with the culture of the north. The reality is that South Indians like North Indian culture and try to associate with it. Sanskrit, the northern language, is the high language that has replaced much of the native vocabulary. Without Sanskrit, southern languages (except theoretically Tamil) cannot be used to communicate complex ideas. Learning Hindi is a matter of pride for many southerners. Weddings are becoming more Punjabified. Attire is becoming more Punjabified. Our key religious sites are in the North. We try to look like a northerner. Fair-skinned South Indians will be complemented (and will tout proudly) that they resemble a North Indian. South Indian actresses will often be North Indians. Jatis will have origin mythologies pursuant to which they hail from the North. This is your typical non-TN South Indian. North Indian culture is to South Indians what Persian culture is to Pakistanis. We try to be like them and we identify with them and seek their acceptance. That said, in terms of attitude, the South and East remain distinct from the North and West.

    – I hate things like the imposition of Hindi and if it is taken too far we could see some nastiness. But at the same time, I think the marketplace of ideas and values and cultures should be allowed to play out. And while there are growing pains, it’s pretty clear that things are headed, from a bottom-up sense, toward more of a convergence with Punjabi / Northern culture. If kids in the South want to learn Hindi, call Deepavali Diwali, wrongly celebrate it for Ram’s victory instead of Krishna’s, have a barat and sangeet for their wedding, and dance to bhangra, then that’s their (poor) choice.

    Not a fan of imposition but if it’s bottom-up choice, then let it play out.

    – The South isn’t united and water scarcity issues make things complicated. It’s four major distinct cultures. It’s like saying Spaniards, Frenchmen, Portuguese, and Italians should unite together instead of having one big European Union that includes the Germanic people and Slavs.

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    1. Indeed! At least Telugu regional culture is a cake layered with the prehistoric part that brings some stuff like the cross-cousin marriage, the language, etc. and the classical Indian civilisation with origins in the Indo-Aryan north (in addition to some other thinner parts).

      And lol the Dipavali victory is not really of Krishna too but of Satyabhama I guess, who was the person who (had to play) played a major role in the killing of her son Naraka. (And I cringe like anything at using the word Divali when speaking Telugu but I standardly use Hindi words like Divali, Arhar dal, Tur dal, etc. whenever speaking English. Somehow Telugu phonotactics make it sound quite bad/crude when trying to inject Telugu words into English speech lol.)

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    2. ” call Deepavali Diwali, wrongly celebrate it for Ram’s victory instead of Krishna’s, have a barat and sangeet for their wedding, and dance to bhangra, then that’s their (poor) choice.”

      Hey Hey Hey, easy there 😛

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    3. Lol these days all I am singing while in bathroom is tU ghaNTI big beeeeeeeeeeeeeeN dI pUrA laNDan ThumakdA… But so unspeakably cringeworthy though – having mehendis, shervanis (especially shervanis; especially when hung on skinny stick figures like me; oh lord this triggered that memory of mine when I was so extraordinarily dumb and wore a goddamn shervani at my aunt’s wedding; may Santosh have a good rebirth because he’s gonna die of cringe within some while now) and all at weddings. Oh my God! Such an abomination indeed.

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    4. ” I think as we move forward, there will be potential issues. For example, the Indian government may decide to redistribute seats in the Lok Sabha on the basis of current population ”

      This wont come to pass, because both the major parties have stake in North and South. Its like a soft understanding b/w all parties to not play with it and not make an electoral issue. But that is dependent on the whole “South is financing the North” argument. If Southern Parties make financial devolution an electoral issue (few rambling here and there is ok ) then the BJP and the Congress would have to choose one side over other.

      Thats’ why when Congress folks in the South started making financial devolution argument they were quickly hushed up while the last time the redistribution date came up it was pushed to later date by the BJP Govt only.

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    5. If kids in the South want to learn Hindi, call Deepavali Diwali, wrongly celebrate it for Ram’s victory instead of Krishna’s

      I think nationally, “Deepavali” has gained ground in formal announcements (like in the media).

      I’m Tamil (though born and raised in the north), and I’ve always known of Diwali as being a celebration of Ram’s return to Ayodhya.

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    6. Sanskrit, the northern language, is the high language that has replaced much of the native vocabulary. Without Sanskrit, southern languages (except theoretically Tamil) cannot be used to communicate complex ideas.

      Tamil too. Since I started reading books and essays about linguistics, I’ve been astonished at how much of my Tamil vocabulary is Sanskrit-derived. And we tend to pronounce the words in the old Sanskritic cadence a lot more than Hindi-speakers do.

      The Tamil nationalists have been trying to excise Sanskrit out of Tamil for the better part of a century now, but I have the sense that it hasn’t caught on among the masses; it’s a niche elite phenomenon within TN. But I’ve never lived in TN myself (visited a few times), so I’m willing to be corrected on that.

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          1. “purest aryan” is just nonsense as any pure or purer or purest .
            About Sanskrit, this is recently from an indologist

            We hope too that it will remind readers of the diversity of the Sanskrit literary tradition. Sanskrit for many people in India today is associated with conservative social agendas held by those who often think that a return would be desirable to some imaginary golden past of religious righteousness in accordance with precepts that sages of the past expressed in brahminical treatises in Sanskrit. But the Sanskrit literary tradition is in fact astonishingly plural. For while Sanskrit is of course the language of many Hindu religious works, it is also the language of rejoinders and refutations by Buddhists and materialists and many others, indeed of all manner of philosophical debate, and it is at the same time so very much more than that as well. For it is also the language chosen for treatises on every kind of knowledge, both religious and secular, as well as a language of imagination, of poetry in verse and prose, resorted to by countless generations of readers and writers of many backgrounds who wished to receive or to communicate ideas. It is, in short, the language in which the bewilderingly diverse cultural memory of millions is stored. Certainly, it is the language of the relativising moral vision of the Bhagavad-Gîtâ and of the caste-bound strictures of the Manu-smriti; but it is also that of neutral — or sometimes decidedly amoral — writings on medicine, on gemmology, on archery, on political acumen (the Arthashâstra), on the care of elephants (the Pâlakâpya), on music and stagecraft and on almost anything else you might care to think of besides.

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          2. /reconstruction of PIE depended on Sanskrit/
            Yes and no. Sanskrit esp Vedic touched off interest in historical linguistics, but reconstruction of PIE is an ongoing thing with inputs from dozens of languages. Hundreds of linguists have slogged on that and still do so.

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          3. Indeed. I read somewhere that one of the most significant breakthroughs in Indo-European reconstruction, especially the reconstruction of the vowel system, came after dethroning of Sanskrit from a previously exalted position attributed to it by people thinking that it was extremely conservative (which it was not and Pre-Indo-Aryan/Pre-Indo-Iranian (I’m not sure which) merged several vowels together into the vowel a and languages like Greek apparently preserved the ancestral system in a more intact manner).

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        1. Sanskrit was called vadamozhi (northern language) in some precolonial Tamil literature. It clearly came to represent part of the northern cultural stream amongst many non sanskrit speakers in Tamil Nadu.

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          1. You cannot impute to Sankrit if someone calls it by some name like Vadamozhi

            About this Vadamozhi thing , there is a subtext; Tamil is known as Thenmozhi i.e. Southern language , i.e. Tamils knew Tamil is a regional language. So they called anything coming from north as vadamozhi, and this included Prakrit, Pali and sanskrit . It was Prakrit which had more influence on Tamil in early days.

            The long and short of it is that Sanskrit never regionalised itself like Tamil

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      1. \I’ve been astonished at how much of my Tamil vocabulary is Sanskrit-derived\

        Don’t tell this to most ‘linguists’ in Tamilnadu or they will hit the roof. They will say all those words went from Tamil to Sanskrit. The patron saint of this tendency is Gnanamuthu Devaneyan aka Pavanar. He ‘derived’ his name ‘gnana’, ‘muthu’ , ‘deva’ and ‘neyan’ as all pure Tamil and borrowed into sanskrit. The cultification of his ideas and himself is at the core of Dravidian movement . He adorns an Indian stamp, needless to say promoted by the Dravidian parties when they were in the coalition at the centre.

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        1. This Devaneyan Pavanar guy (among some others probably), knowingly or unknowingly seems to have done some serious damage to the Tamil scientific spirit when it comes to linguistics. So much so that I sometimes find it remarkable that a lot of the most eminent Indian researchers in the field of Dravidian linguistics like Bh. Krishnamurti, P. S. Subrahmanyam, G. N. Reddy, D. N. Shankara Bhat, etc. have all been from non-Tamil peoples. Please don’t mistake me – there are absolutely brilliant Tamil linguists like Kumaraswami Raja (and I obviously am not familiar with a lot of others because of my very limited amateurish exposure to the field) but I certainly would have expected more stalwarts in the field of Dravidian linguistics from Tamil Nadu as a lay person but it seems they are all equally distributed more or less, or even with more representation from the other Dravidian-speaking states actually.

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      2. @ Numinous

        “Tamil too. Since I started reading books and essays about linguistics, I’ve been astonished at how much of my Tamil vocabulary is Sanskrit-derived. And we tend to pronounce the words in the old Sanskritic cadence a lot more than Hindi-speakers do.

        The Tamil nationalists have been trying to excise Sanskrit out of Tamil for the better part of a century now, but I have the sense that it hasn’t caught on among the masses; it’s a niche elite phenomenon within TN. But I’ve never lived in TN myself (visited a few times), so I’m willing to be corrected on that.”

        You’re correct that normal Tamil, both conversational and formal, has a significant amount of Sanskrit. Formal tends to have less Sanskrit. I recall reading somewhere that the de-Sanskritisation process has reduced Sanskrit vocabulary for abstract nouns from 40% to 20%. The Sanskrit influence is quite significant, but far less than other South Indian languages. There are, however, dialect and sociolect differences. Brahmin Tamil has a lot more Sanskrit.

        The idea of Tamil being able to communicate ideas without Sanskrit is rather theoretical. No one does it formally or otherwise. But as a theoretical exercise, I think some Tamil academics have contended that you could produce a text without Sanskrit. Granted, this would mean (i) using neologisms built off Old Tamil, and (ii) in instances where it is unclear whether a word is of Sanskrit origin or Old Tamil origin, we assume that it is from Old Tamil.

        But that kind of hypothesis would be outright untenable for the other South Indian languages.

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        1. /de-Sanskritisation process has reduced Sanskrit vocabulary for abstract nouns from 40% to 20%. /
          This goes as a rumour rather than any academic studies. In people’s daily communication, Tamil has far less place now than say 100 years back. That is coz English has taken over parts of communication.
          This will accelerate as parents even from rural background send their children to English medium even for elementary school. In 20 years one can see the result. Tamil cult will grow as it is used less.

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          1. “This will accelerate as parents even from rural background send their children to English medium even for elementary school. In 20 years one can see the result. Tamil cult will grow as it is used less.”

            Agreed. Tamil will be dead in a generation or two, along with the other Dravidian languages. It’ll just be Hindi and English.

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          2. \Tamil will be dead in a generation or two\

            That is an overstatement. Tamil won’t die . It’s cultural roots are deep. In modern registers , it’s presence will be symbolic and also ran.

            On the whole I agree with Mikhail Andronov who wrote

            “All efforts of Tamil linguists were not directed at studying modern Tamil, at determining its norms and preparing it for new functions in society, but at artificially galvanizing the dead literary language.” (Andronov 1975:188).”

            In an effort to recreate a dead literary language, they missed the boat for the future.

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  9. During the initial days of my amateur Dravidian linguistics studies, I used to be so damn excited about every small connection between Telugu and Gondi-Manda. I wrote reams and reams about it on Quora and some other such websites too but I slowly came to realise that many people were not even responding at all to what I felt and thought, either positively or negatively! The reason I realised was that the linguistic connections probably never translated into strong cultural connections in the psyches of Telugu and Gondi-Manda people (I used to be quite naive then; I also used to so damn extraordinarily stupidly think that people try so hard to make Telugu descend from Sanskrit due to sheer stupidity).

    In exactly the same manner, a Dravidian cultural identity on the basis of the discovered language family of Dravidian languages simply does not exist in south India even after all these years since the discovery of that language family. There are only individual cultural units on the basis of thoroughly individual languages having origins in geographically separated tribal speeches of prehistory – there is simply no Dravidian cultural identity. So as long as Telugu and Kannada people survive in this world, no overarching Dravidian cultural identity can ever emerge and we will never let that happen.

    5+
    1. +1 for Santosh. It is same in N India. Bihari feels no particular affinity for Punjabi, or Gujarati for Marathi.

      This is why North-South debates of 50s and 60s petered out. There is no collective N Indian or S Indian consciousness. It is fine grained to the province/language level.

      6+
      1. Lol yes but I realised just now that I have been kinda clubbing all north Indians together as “north Indians” all along in my mind lol. But I really club all Indians as extremely similar to each other in more important ways than silly things to do with language, racial affinities, etc. though the conservatism of north India and the conservatism of south India (conservatism is the default nature of India as likely of most countries of the world) slightly differ in my view in that the former seems more classically civilised Hindu and religious and the latter is more tribal-like.

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      2. Bihari feels no particular affinity for Punjabi, or Gujarati for Marathi.

        Perhaps. But that’s not the main point. Virtually all Biharis (and Jharkhandis) speak some kind of comprehensible Hindi, if only as a second language. And all IA-speakers (Gujaratis, Punjabis, Marathis,…) consider their languages to have kin-relation to Hindi, and don’t mind Hindi being considered the national language at all.

        Most north Indians have no problem with south Indians speaking their languages as long as they speak some Hindi too, at least as a second language. And this process is already happening. I’ve mentioned earlier than one would find Bangalore far more Hindi-friendly now than 20 years ago. And even people in TN have been learning Hindi. When I first visited there in the 80s, literally no one understood the language.

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      3. In a way Hindi in the language of blue collars. Its going to “win” (just like English won) not because it has been imposed or it is superior or whatever, but because its “convenient” . And at the end of the day , that the only thing which matters.

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        1. Yes sad. The mistake the Hinditvas did was to base their newfangled Hindi on Khari Bholi/Hindustani/ Urdu instead of Braj (the language of Lord Krishna) and Awadhi (Tulsi Das Ramichantras – sic)..

          It’s built an inferiority complex for the Hindi language vis a vis Urdu..

          1+
      4. “It is same in N India. Bihari feels no particular affinity for Punjabi, or Gujarati for Marathi.

        This is why North-South debates of 50s and 60s petered out. There is no collective N Indian or S Indian consciousness. It is fine grained to the province/language level.”

        I feel like North Indian collective consciousness and identity is basically Indian collective consciousness and identity, which is why we have trouble pinpointing it sometimes. Most of the things people consider to be “Indian” is North Indian. There’s not as much subnationalism because their subnation is the nation. The more you are like them, the more Indian you are. I know Indians who think people who don’t speak Hindi are unpatriotic and not Indian.

        There’s also notions like “Aryavarta”. Other building blocks of a common identity for North Indians includes shared experiences (particularly with respect to Muslim invasions and rule), shared political views (Hindutva), shared sub-religious stuff, and a shared language (Hindi — speakers of other IA languages readily tend to give it up for Hindi).

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    2. \Dravidian cultural identity on the basis of the discovered language family of Dravidian languages simply does not exist in south India \

      That is true of all language groups. Language groups are a different logical category than cultural groups . It is 19th century error to make language family , a “race” or a “culture”.

      Languages families are only in our mind ; it is not out there as a social reality

      1+
        1. Kurds’ immediate oppressors are Turks and Arabs. That can be the reason of affinity to Persian or larger indo-european languages. When Kurds were used as a battering ram by the Ottomons against Armenians or other minorities no such affinity was there. With the change of fortunes, different dynamic at work.

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    3. @Santosh:

      ….there is simply no Dravidian cultural identity.

      Would disagree. There is already a distinctive latent South-Indian identity, and these identities get strong after cleavages arise (and good arguments made to support one’s case).

      So the identity remains latent till something like Hindi imposition blankets the news. It takes some time to percolate down and find purchase among its audience.

      Agree with you in the sense that creating identities take work and in a sense are invented (as e.g. a pan-Indian Hindu identity may be). But it simply is false that the S. Indian vs N. Indian psychological distinction does not exist among either/both groups, one that can be exploited easily and extensively.

      Already see this play out in Kerala. Where thousands of migrant “Bengalis” are rapidly acquiring cultural relevance. There is exaggerated fears of increasing crime, exaggerated suspicion of Bengalis (many of whom are actually Hindi-speaking or Biharis) and of course a deluge of Whatsapp forwards. As someone partial to Bengali culture, find it disappointing that the Bengali in the Keralite imagination has gone from an intellectual socialist to a low wage laborer within a decade. In earlier decades, it would be Tamils who took up roles Bengalis now take but the former never evoked the instinctual suspicion that Bengalis/UPites/Biharis face, maybe because of similarities in language.

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      1. Now that you say this, I want to say that there indeed is some type of pan-south-Indian cultural identity in addition to the basic physical fact of geography- I have seen several completely non-political Telugu people say things like “those north Indians treat us south Indians [and not Telugu people] like this only [with negative connotations obviously]” when the antagonists are some type of north Indian people. But I think this arises majorly from the type of Hinduism practised in the south – exactly those features of south Indian Hindu culture Hoju mentioned like the Narakasura-related mythology behind Dipavali, Vinayaka being the elder son of Shiva as opposed to Kumara being so, etc. and probably some type of racial dynamics are also involved there (and I am missing a lot here obviously as my dumbness is going on increasing as days pass). This means that a major share of the contribution to the pan-south-Indian identity is indirectly because of Hinduism via the south Indian Brahmins (who by virtue of having common ancestral origins when compared to other types of more divergent Brahmins might have spread similar types of Hinduism in all states of south India (maybe except Kerala)) and none of it is because of the fact that the languages are related. When I wrote the comment yesterday I was majorly referring to the Dravidian-language-family-based identity-formation. And that this does not exist. I now realise probably not anyone here argued for that possibility in the first place. I made a very cute logical error as usual while obviously completely oblivious to myself also. I anyway comment on this website these days mostly when I go nuts and bonkers so it does not matter much to me lol.

        And indeed Kerala is like some other world only lol; while all other south Indians conceive of north Indians as “north Indians”, Malayalis of course conceive of north Indians as “Bengalis”. But I find it remarkable that they somehow feel a larger distance in the case of even the “Bengalis” (thinking how West Bengal and Kerala are both such Jan-Jigris) compared to the Tamils as you say in the post – maybe the language plays a role; Tamil is extremely close to Malayalam sans the Sanskrit vocabulary of Malayalam; could you by any chance let me know what Malayalis (edit: from wherever the more modern cultural centers of Kerala tend to be – Palakkad, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram, Alappuzha perhaps?) living in Kerala think about Telugu people and Kannada people?

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      2. “Would disagree. There is already a distinctive latent South-Indian identity, and these identities get strong after cleavages arise (and good arguments made to support one’s case).”

        Is that really true, though?

        If Modi went to Kerala, Karnataka, AP, and Telangana and told them that Malayalam, Kannada, and Telugu would be outright banned, and required that they all speak Hindi from now on… what do you think the reaction would be?

        Most South Indians are culturally opportunistic and have no loyalty or affection for their culture. I think they would eagerly adopt Hindi and a generation from now they’ll be pretending that they were always Indo-Aryans. Until the North tells them what to do next culturally, at least.

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        1. For starters why would he say that to South Indians. I think you have this view that North Indians are scheming day and night to make South Indians some “pure” Indians or something. What North Indians have for the south is neglect. Do they think that perhaps south should know hindi? Yeah Do they spend their time thinking how to push hindi to the south. No.

          It just like the way South Indians feel North Indians are all cow belt walas. And uneducated and couth. No one mostly gives a damn of what the other does or whether the other speaks or does not speak some language .

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  10. I remember once stating that Pakistan is the only South Asian society not Brahmin influenced and you asked me about Bdesh.

    also maldives, sri lanka and bhutan.

    the only brahmin influenced societies really are nepal and india.

    For a plucky little-defined ethnic group (Muslims scattered across northern India); a real sense of nationhood has cohered..

    you’re conflating pakistan’s identity with mohajjirs, who are what, 10% of the population? and you are making observations of ‘brahmin-influenced’? what are mohajjirs if not the brahmins of pakistan.

    6+
    1. what are mohajjirs if not the brahmins of pakistan.

      Way off the mark. It may have been true for the first 20 years of Pakistan’s existence, but not any more. Muhajirs now live with a sense of marginalization, even persecution. Many even believe they have no stake in the Pakistani enterprise.

      Sunni Punjabi middle class probably fits the bill more closely.

      2+
  11. There’s no doubt that India is the heart of the subcontinent and it’s geographically fringe ethno-linguistic identities (Tamil, Bengali, Punjabi, Kashmiri) bleed across its borders into neighbouring countries. Hence the rather half hearted acceptance that these peoples have of the larger Indian national identity (especially that espoused by the Sangh) and their sympathy/identification with their kin across the borders. I’d wager a similar dynamic plays out in Pak with the Pathans and Baloch and in SL with their Tamils.

    Reg linguistics, I see the Tamils in India as the last holdouts against the creeping Hindification spreading from the North. That said, the Kannada seem to have regained some of their ethnic mojo with the rising prosperity of Bangalore. But one does notice things like English news anchors switching to Hindi when interviewing North Indians or covering North Indian events, much to the chagrin to the poor southerners. There seems to be an implicit understanding that Hindi is the defacto national language, all others be damned, and demographics is destiny. It’s also interesting that Hindification is seen as Hindutva-fication and the anti-hindi movements go out of their way to embrace the religious minorities. The coming years shall be interesting.

    As a Tamil who grew up in Mumbai and equally if not more comfortable in Hindi, I can’t deny the utility of being able to communicate with the largest fraction of Indians (and Paks) in their native language and the value of being able to tap into the national pop-cultural zeitgeist through Bollywood, etc. Increasingly, the deep Southern states seen to me like cultural backwaters, cut off in a way. But equally, being able to tap into Tamil culture gives me the pleasure of partaking in something that’s clearly so different and superior in many ways and I can’t help feeling it would be such a shame if it were ever to get diluted.

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    1. Increasingly, the deep Southern states seen to me like cultural backwaters, cut off in a way.

      I can understand Hindi as fluently as the next guy.

      I look at Malayalam cinema and its constantly experimenting literature- and then Bollywood and (sorry) the rump of a literature that Hindi is, and my backwater conclusions come out a little different than you…

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      1. Watching Bollywood to know about state of Hindi literature is like watching Silk smita movies to determine the state of Malayali literature.

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        1. Watching Bollywood to know about state of Hindi literature is like watching Silk smita movies to determine the state of Malayali literature.

          Maybe I wasn’t clear.
          Evaluating both cinema and literature independently. Try to follow the broad culture, and not aware Hindi literature is great shakes in last 2-3 decades, though it did have some sort of a momentum in ’50s-80s. Possible I have missed something.

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  12. There are currents within currents. Bollywood is getting suffocatingly Punjabi-fied.

    If only the language was not so intolerably nasalized. 🙂

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  13. Perhaps it’s just me but this language wars are mostly blown out of proportion. The reason why it does not enthusiase the politician much because ordinary folks are getting less and less riled up on this issue. That and people see the hypocrisy of children of South Indian politicians going to private schools learning hindi and English , while their own children learning the local language and sub standard English in government schools

    1+
    1. “That and people see the hypocrisy of children of South Indian politicians going to private schools learning hindi and English , while their own children learning the local language and sub standard English in government schools”

      I generally agree with your point that language is not as much of an emotive issue (although it can be brought back to life under some conditions), but I’ve almost never heard anyone in TN lament that the rich are indulging themselves with Hindi classes. The kind of Hindi you may need to get by socially and on the street if you end up in Delhi or Mumbai (places where southerners are migrating to less and less because of Bangalore / Chennai / Hyderabad) is easy to pick up if you want to by choosing it as an elective in school and/or watching a lot of Bollywood.

      Most people in TN like in UP want their kid to learn English well (in addition to their respective mother tongues) so that they can attend a good university and get a good white collar job in Delhi / Mumbai / Bangalore / Chennai / Hyderabad / Kolkata.

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  14. In all the North South debates, I sometimes feel for our North East Indian brethren. It’s hard to think of a group of people who are less commonly associated with their country in debates. Are the people of Mizoram, Nagaland, Manipur etc etc ever going to be considered fully Indian? I’d love to see a post sometime from someone living there or a debate on the future of their relationship to the Indian Union.

    4+
    1. \Mizoram, Nagaland, Manipur ………….. from someone living there or a debate on the future of their relationship to the Indian Union.\

      That is why Hindutva is no substitute for Indian nationalism.
      India is bigger than Hindus or Hinduism

      5+
  15. Zack,

    I’m not sure what problem you are trying to solve here. There’s been no clamor for sub-nationalism from any part of south India, other than Tamils protesting the imposition of Hindi (a problem that was handled through a political compact, exactly the way it should have been.) Other than that, more nationalization of some kind (my preference is a civic nationalism) is not just good but necessary for India. Without that, we won’t be able to build a high (or higher) trust society (I’ve heard people on the right explicitly desire this.) Without a high trust society, we just can’t develop and provide a better standard of living for our people.

    Calls for cultural diversity and for the maintenance of particular small-scale cultures as a paramount value is an elite conceit. For my part, I’d rather see the people of my country advance the same way people in rich countries have rather than be museum props.

    6+
  16. \Languages are also a form of subjective identity rather than just objective reality.\

    This statement is true even though rest of the post goes over me.
    What we call Hindi or Tamil or French are vast generalization and at different times what it means to them has changed over time and place

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  17. There is no dravidian as distinct from hindu identity. Hindu identity is dynamic process which started with early sanskrit speaking society headed by brahma( priest) and Rajan(elected tribal chief) and culminated with caste system of india that we have today.

    Early vedic aryan (punjab, haryana, RJ, UP) which was ‘tribe’ based(buddha was from shakya tribe/oligarchs of nepal) and dravidian farming ‘castes’ based in river valleys of south india (cavery, krishna, Godavari) and even possibly Western Mah, Gujarat and sindh(yes probably sindh too!) are its major contributors.

    Brahmins initial role as chiefs priest ( who performed fire rituals known as yajna for kings victory) later transformed into a temple/shrine priest whose deity was patron ancestor/deity of that elite kings (Rama for ayodhya chiefs, Krishna/vasudeva for shaursenis etc.)

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  18. \There is no dravidian as distinct from hindu identity\

    People were perhaps not versed in the phylogeny of languages to have a feeling for a category greater than their own . That said, I wouldn’t rule out that there was a sense of southern speech, worship and folkways that differed from the north. How long did it take for pan-slavism or germanism to become a self conscious idea? Probably as the known world expanded in the average man’s perception, his sense of difference grew. Its quite natural now that since southerners have had recent sustained interactions with other types of indic peoples, they begin to consider their own distinctive nature.

    0
    1. maybe I should rephrase as ‘ There is no religious dravidian identity as distinct from hindu religious identity.’
      Their core belief of religion is also same as north indian hindus i.e. ‘live and let live’ as opposed to semitic faiths. modes of worship folktales, custom may differ but it would not cause fissure in the society.

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      1. I can think of a number of differences that would cause fissure in society between southern and northern hindus. Meat eating is the norm amongst southerners. Animal sacrifice is still practiced by mainstream communities. Many major southern temples don’t allow non-brahmins in the inner-sanctum, many of my north indian friends are offended by this. While Ramayan is deeply enshrined in southern culture, the fanaticism of Jai sri ram culture of the gangetic people is bizarre. We would like the freedom to view these texts as myth if we choose to. Southerners have a stronger monastic culture as manifested by Mathas as important institutions. North India seems to have more of a Baba culture. I wouldn’t attribute too much virtue to what seems like an ethos of tolerance in a culture that is fractured into endogamous groups. We discriminate against people by excluding them from interaction and opportunity, not by forcefully assimilating them.

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        1. the fanaticism of Jai sri ram culture of the gangetic people is bizarre

          This is a very recent phenomenon; by product of Ram Janmabhoomi movement.

          Many astute observers have noted that the common greeting among the people of gangetic belt in old days was “Jai Siya Ram” (Hail Sita and Ram). Feminine aspect of divinity was acknowledged and revered equally. Ram Temple movement converted the comforting and familial greeting to an exclusively masculine, battle-cry sounding greeting of Jai Shri Ram.

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