Monday, October 25, 2010

Idea of a Nation - ii

I think we are living in a time when many non-English speaking developed countries are reassessing their definition of nation. It may soon be an issue with English speaking countries eventually, however, considering English being the global communication lingo these countries are somewhat immune to idea of multicultural nation at present.

Incidentally, today* after reading German Chancellor Angela Merkel's denouncement of multiculturalism I came across this piece by the English author Aravind Adiga's call for action to Kannadigas.

Indian identity, for many, is India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru's unqualified observation, "unity in diversity". This rhyming observation has been taken as some kind of unwritten rule. What was lost in this witticism was that the cultural dominance and influence of all diverse identities were not uniform and the diversity was never going to remain a status-quo. I'm sure Nehru might have known, with his vast knowledge of history, that diversity had always been uneven and a dominant unique identity had assimilated many diversities. And isolation have created too many linguistic identities.

Many people of course forget that, in India, linguistic identities have changed for multiple reasons. I would divide the linguistic history of India into two periods.

A. Pre-1950 India: 
In this period there was a lack of idea about nation state and linguistic identity.
1. Migrations:
    There could be two cases, individual migrations and community migrations. The shift in linguistic identity in the case of individuals  could happen in couple of generations. Migrations have changed the linguistic identities of many communities as a whole too.  Based on community strength this would take around 800-1000 years for a such shift in language to happen. I have come up with this number based on herders, artisans, merchants and priests' migration to South India and their migrations within South India.

2. Religion:
    The language of religion can spread through neo converts of different linguistic identity. Many Dravidian converts to Islam had renounced their Dravidian languages to an Indo-Aryan language(Urdu). But this requires a non-native ruling class with which the natives share the religious identity. This may be a quick transition taking around 200-300 years.

3. Sedentarism:
   As tribals make the transition from tribal way of life to sedentary life, they would take up the dominant sedentary language around them. In central India, nearly 50% of Dravidian Gond tribals have taken up surrounding Indo-Aryan languages.

4. Assimilation with caste or religion:
    Through intermarriages the migrant community would take up the native language eventually. However, the caste identity and religious identity may make linguistic identity stagnant (which probably is the dominant case in India).

5. Ruling class linguistic identity:
    The language of prestige is generally associated with the lingo of ruling classes. However, I'm not sure how strong these languages if they weren't represented at least in a section of masses. Even though Persian was the language of the court and that of the royal families during Islamic rule in parts of India, it never became a mass language.

B. Post Independence India
In this period linguistic identities have been legitimized.
6. Language of prestige and commerce:
    This would initiate shift in mobile educated masses. But stagnancy in mobile working class people who speak the language of commerce. English and Hindi are mostly doing that job in India respectively. Applicable to post independence India.

7. Sense of identity:
   This situation is applicable to post-independence India with linguistic states. This situation arises in regions where two linguistic population meet. In such border regions, the language of the province or state would be adopted by the communities quickly, within a generation or two,  if they don't have any strong sense of linguistic identity. However, would be resisted by other communities with a strong sense of linguistic identity. Few years back I read a pro-Kannada writer's (Patila Puttappa) article where the author lamented that in border regions of Maharashtra mostly traditional Kannada speaking communities have switched over to Marathi except for Brahmins. I'm not sure how universal is this case in India since in Andhra Pradesh I have observed many Kannada Brahmins have become Telugus. But if this is true in certain cases, I suppose that boils down to a sense of identity because of their historical literacy in that language.

As we have seen, in modern day India the situation is different from the past. Now the linguistic identities have been legitimized. But there are too many differences across the nation.
 - There is no equal sense of identity across all linguistic groups
 - Also, the cultural identity associated with that linguistic identity is not uniform in many regions
 - Because of numerical strength and reach Hindi has become a dominant language. Its film industry has become its imperial machine by attracting talents from across India (including non-Hindi speakers)
 - Southern states like Tamil Nadu and Kerala because of socio-economic mass movements, that used the movie media and literature respectively (Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu and Communism in Kerala), have given a strong sense of identity even to faceless working classes

With these background, let us consider linguistic regions without any socio-economic mass movements (eg. Karnataka). These regions have to face multiple issues.
- Lack of sense of identity among many groups
- Migration of groups to this region with a strong sense identity and migration of groups with linguistic stagnancy as they speak the language of commerce

According to Aravind Adiga the migrants should feel they own the cultural icons of the land(speaking in the case of Karnataka). Of course, owning cultural icons is something very critical for the development of sense of belonging. Though it wouldn't make sense for a person who wasn't born and brought up in that region, it would be tough for his/her next generation too to embrace the cultural icons. When we know that even stagnant(for few centuries) sons of the soil would embrace cultural icons that are in thing and global(giving a nominal respect to their own icons), it might be unjustified to force  migrant sons of the soil to own local cultural icons.

And there we see a ray of hope to states like Karnataka. Kannadigas should be like Scots and Irish before them or Gauls and Franks before them. Renounce your language. Take up a global language. Retain your ethnic identity. Kannada or Hindi would both limit their growth. Aravind Adiga has shown the way. English is the way to become globally relevant. That hasn't made him a lesser Kannadiga.

* I started writing this post on 17th Oct.

4 comments:

Maju said...

It's an interesting post, specially the analysis you make for "pre-1950 India" (wouldn't it be more like pre-1920 India?) because it is an analysis, a casuistic, that is pretty much universal. When France was invented as nation (and not merely feudal realm) in the advanced Middle Ages the trick was to make a widespread language the official language, instead of using Latin, Provenzal or German Frankish. The same happened to England, Castile-Spain, Russia and even to some extent Germany and Italy, where the dialect continuum was rather suddenly overlaid by an official dialect. In China too imposition of a unified Mandarin dialect is part of the persistent process of national unification.

The logical thing to do in India, would it follow the same model, would be to make Hindi official, rather than English, which is more like a Latin of sorts.

"... it might be unjustified to force migrant sons of soils to own local cultural icons".

Well, when you emigrate you are bound to assimilate (f not you, your children) into the host culture or remain marginal and forever foreign (marginal). So it's logical for immigrants and their descendants to embrace the local culture in all aspects if they do not wish to remain as perpetual outsiders, with all the risks and disadvantages such status implies.

Also it is a sign of respect for the host population: if they are going to adopt you and your family, the least you can do is your best to become one with them.

Anyhow, in most cases, the descendants of immigrants belong in fact to the host population, unless they are a xenophobic sect... and even then. There's no way you will go to school and spend your youth among locals and not become one.

milieu said...

@ Maju:

So it's logical for immigrants and their descendants to embrace the local culture in all aspects if they do not wish to remain as perpetual outsiders, with all the risks and disadvantages such status implies.

It is logical but sometimes and especially if the host community is relatively more free and perhaps less homogenous, it is not necessary. Usually people do not like to change what they have, and they will adopt due to reasons that you suggested. But in many parts, eg jews in europe, many other ethnic communities like the parsis in india, there is no serious disadvantage to not assimiliating.

I think that has been the strength of India too. And it would be sad if such revival movement hamper this spirit.

manju said...

The logical thing to do in India, would it follow the same model, would be to make Hindi official, rather than English, which is more like a Latin of sorts.

Hindu-Urdu is nothing but your Serbo-Croat.

Why English is Latin? Legacy of Imperialism? It's irrelevant as Imperialism doesn't exist. I can even argue that Indian languages are vehicles of slavery considering the limited world view they gave to a big chunk of castes.

Also it is a sign of respect for the host population: if they are going to adopt you and your family, the least you can do is your best to become one with them.

So you are telling them to be grateful for inviting? I suppose legal immigrants may feel it was your necessity that made you to invite them.

Anyway, in India you don't go to any other linguistic state as a migrant but as a natural citizen of the land.

Well, when you emigrate you are bound to assimilate (f not you, your children) into the host culture or remain marginal and forever foreign (marginal).
You missed the first part of my statement. I mentioned in many linguistic regions even the stagnant sons of soil might be fans of cultural icons of different regions and not their own. In such cases, you cannot expect migrant sons of soil to have any respect to the native cultural icons. It is a learnt behaviour to have the view that your culture is superior or par with other cultures in the world or you should live with the burden of your culture. It's a different matter that you can develop it further.

Maju said...

@Milleu: I see those sects you mention as sectarian cults, whose effect in society is divisive. That's why religion must be only a private matter and never a public (social, political) one.

Anyhow they are religious exceptions. More interesting are the Roma, who have embraced mainstream religions yet remain segregated and show little interest in integration.


@Manju:

"I suppose legal immigrants may feel it was your necessity that made you to invite them".

That's never the case. Oligarchs may "need" immigrants (cheap labor or whatever) but the bulk of natives do not (it's competence, not just in the economic aspect but also in the ethno-cultural one). So xenophobia makes sense and the only way to overcome it is becoming one with the host people, adopting their roots and concerns, becoming one of them.

"Anyway, in India you don't go to any other linguistic state as a migrant but as a natural citizen of the land".

The legal status is less relevant, the cultural one is instead. In the Basque Country the bulk of immigration has been historically from nearby Spanish regions (Castile, Galicia). Second generation people often embrace their Basque heritage anyhow, though others act as Trojan horse for foreign interests (that also happens with some natives, of course).

I think that will also be the case for more modern immigrants from tropical Africa or Latin America. Muslims from North Africa however have an extra barrier to overcome: their religion (and all the fancy and often shocking customs it comes with such as ritual castration, negative status of women, not eating pork, etc.). Chinese immigrants have none of these religious barriers but as they tend to organize themselves along family lines separated from the society the fall in, they may tend to remain separated for some time longer - however in several generations they should be assimilated because there's no really deep cultural barrier.

Of course, assimilation is a lot easier if immigrants come in drops rather than in floods.

It is important that immigrant distinct communities tend to be dissolved in any case.

I'm talking as descendant of immigrants, partly so. I've seen the original ones not really integrated (with all that means), the second generation ones much more integrated but sometimes keeping a weak spot for their foreign roots and the third generation ones totally part of the host society. This varies a lot depending on the individuals and how they face their migrant reality: there are first generation immigrants that blend almost perfectly too. Those are the best ones (and they do not need to renounce to anything, just embrace something else).