The title of this blog is deceptive. Ofcourse, I’m going to talk about the controversy surrounding adoption of a script for Konkani in Karnataka. But most of the ramblings will be on my own confused linguistic identity.
Linguistic populations in Karnataka:
Unlike other South Indian states that have single linguistic population around 85-95%, Karnataka has a highly diverse population. According to 1991 census the language wise distribution of Karnataka is given below.
Kannada : 64.75%,Urdu (9.72%), Telugu (8.34%), Marathi (3.95%), Tamil (3.82%), Malayalam (1.69%), Tulu (3.38%), Konkani (1.78%), and Hindi (1.87%), Kodagu (0.25%). Present day Kannada population is around 5.2crores(52m).
Konkanis forming less than two percent of the population have made significant contribution to financial, educational and cultural landscape of Karnataka(Nothing great. Most of the migrated minorities excel in their adopted land. I suppose every region should have a majority migrated population and minority natives).
Not really Irish of Karnataka:
Konkanis have enriched Kannada language immensely. They were at the forefront of the literary scene since the dawn of ‘Hosagannada’ (New Kannada). In the past, literary figures like Panje Mangesha Raya, Manjeshwara Govinda Pai, Gulvadi Venkata Raya experimented with works in New Kannada. Among present day Konkani Kannada writers Girish Karnad stands out having received highest literary award ,Jnanapitha, given to Indian writers. Nevertheless, they also kept their distinct Konkani identity intact by keeping their language alive.
Native movement during globalization:
Konkani is the state language of
Goa. Once I read that more than 50% of Konkani population lives in Karnataka. I do have the exact figures too. However, my figures put their percentage at 5% of Karnataka population. Census figures give a different picture. And I will go by census figures and according to it Konkani population in Karnataka and Goa might be roughly equal.
Around 12-15 years back, Konkanis in coastal Karnataka(where they are mostly concentrated) started Konkani awareness movement. After centuries of separated existence Hindu and Christian Konkanis came together for a common cause. Infact, it was Hindu Konkani awareness. Christian Konkanis both in
Goa and in Karnataka had kept the language mainstream in their religious services.
Konkani was written in Roman script by Goan Konkani Christians for the last five centuries. Kannada script was used in Karnataka for the last 125 years. However, since Konkani was included in the eighth schedule of the constitution the script for Konkani has become very controversial. The Central government institution for Indian literary works recognizes Konkani written only in Nagari script( Sanskrit script, used most of the north-Indian languages including Hindi). The reason behind this decision might not be all that innocent and scientific(Nagari script suits Konkani better since Konkani is part of Indo-Aryan linguistic family).
Konkani in Schools:
The Konkani movement has succeeded in persuading Karnataka government to introduce Konkani as one of the languages in schools. And now the biggest question is script. Konkani Language academy conducted a survey. 88% of Konkani run schools and 65% of Konkani intellectuals favoured Kannada script. However, noted literary figure like Girish Karnad supported Nagari script on the basis that it’s an Indo-European language. No, the issue is not settled yet.
Why I’m talking about Konkani?
I’m not a Konkani. However, Konkani identity makes me defensive about my identity. I’m not cosmopolitan either. Frankly, I don’t know what it really means.
I was born to Malayali parents and brought up as a Kannadiga though officially I’m a Malayali and I don’t have any confusion or dilemma about my Kannada identity though basically I’m a malayali. To keep the matters in clear perspective , every Konkani, Tuluva in Karnataka also identify themselves with Kannadigas. However, there is one difference. While they speak Kannada outside, at home they speak their mother tongue. I never picked up my mother tongue and have made Kannada as one. Unlike Konkanis who migrated to Southern coastal Karnataka 500 years back, my family was always part of the region(since it doesn’t remember its history for more than one century). Though it was part of Karnataka, it borders Kerala, the
speakers. land of Malayalam
Unlike Europeans, Indians were never known to give importance to linguistic identity until they came in contact with them. However, my family didn’t lack the so called pride in one's linguistic identity. They were not detached from the mainstream. On the contrary they were one of the highly politically conscious Malayali families…and most of the Malayalis are…
Let’s go back to 1950s. My grandfather, a small time Congress party worker, was attending a pro-Karnataka meeting in Kasaragod that became part of Kerala after the formation of linguistic states in 1956. He was the only Malayali to attend that meeting. Before independence he was the president of Hindi Prachar Sabha, Kasaragod. It’s an organization founded primarily to promote Hindi among non-Hindi population in the name of unity and nationalism. To make the matters complicated, Kasaragod, a border region between Karnataka and Kerala, was culturally, at that point of time, part of Karnataka. The Kannadigas of Kasaragod are Tuluvas, Konkanis and a small group of Kannada Brahmins called Havyaks. And Havyaks speak a dialect of Kannada which is as intelligible to say a person from n
orth Karnataka as Konkani.
However, my idealist grandfather ,a Malayali with a nationalist outlook, had become a Kannada nationalist which he felt was the right way for an Indian nationalist since Kasaragod was actually part of Karnataka. Not all Malayalis are Malayali chauvinists. Given a beautiful idea they can become chauvinists for other languages too. My grandfather wasn’t the only person who became Kannada nationalist. Many of my other relatives were also staunch Kannadigas. However, pro-Kerala Malayalis were politically stronger than pro-Karnataka Malayalis. Kasaragod was merged with Kerala. My grandfather never accepted being part of Kerala and sent my father to Karnataka.
My mother(his daughter-in-law) told me he discouraged my parents talking to us children in Malayalam when we were small. By this time my father had found a job in Karnataka so at home and outside the environment became Kannada. As I grew up as a Kannadiga and wondered why I spoke Kannada, my mother would talk about my grandfather’s instructions. I thought it was really romantic. I became a Kannada chauvinist. However, my Kannada chauvinism was short stinted as I moved from Kannada medium to English medium after ten years of schooling and found myself totally ignorant of realities of the world like why
China is still behind in IT. I realized the irrelevance of the language and pride in one's language. No, I’m not talking materialistically. Perhaps my disillusionment with Kannada might not have been so severe had I studied in English medium. Well, that’s the whole point. You are naturally a Kannada chauvinist if you think Kannada is the English of the world. It’s a naïve, non-materialist world view but I did think it’s not only idealist but rationalist too. In my opinion, it was the best way to integrate with local population if you are an immigrant. However, Konkanis have shown losing one's mother tongue is not all that necessary to integrate with a native population. India
I don’t miss Malayalam as I have seen language is only a tool(unless imposed). And I still care for Kannada. I feel Konkani should adopt Kannada script. However, I think Nagari might suit better but considering the fact that Roman script has been used for the last five centuries it might be having a better claim. Anyway, Konkanis can put the matter in clear perspective unlike my grandfather. Nevertheless, I’m still fond of my late Malayali grandfather’s Kannada nationalism.