The Kerala floods seem to have opened another flood gate- a simmering conflict between the North and South of India. The trigger I suppose came when the centre took its own sweet time to respond to the disaster while countries outside – especially the UAE announced relief assistance for the state. Meanwhile some hate messages started doing their rounds on social media asking Hindus to contribute to only Hindus because apparently the Muslims and Christians were raising their own funds, other messages saying that Kerala being a consumer of beef should suffer!
This was also the time that an article was published in the newsminute which used data to show that while the five southern states of India contributed to the country much higher in terms of revenue they received very little from the centre. The article argued very strongly about how the decisions are taken by the number of seats in the parliament which is far higher for many of the northern states thanks to their larger population and therefore ability to send in more representatives.
This was followed by other articles that showcased the communal harmony in Kerala during the disaster, all of which did not go down well with many of my north Indian friends who felt that one should not say that communal harmony was only something to do with the south. This post is being written to clarify a few points
Let me first begin by saying that people in the north know very little about the south except to club us all as “Madrasis”. There are five states in southern India and about 7-8 languages. Most may not even know that Tulu is a language in Karnataka and that Bollywood stars Shilpa Shetty and Aishwarya Rai belong to a community for whom this is the native tongue!
Coming back to the religious diversity of southern India. Kerala was the state where Christianity was first introduced by one of the apostles of Christ – St. Thomas around 52AD, - long before even the west became Christian, there were Christians in Kerala! Very few in India know this. Few also know that the first mosque in India – Cheraman Juma Mosque was constructed by Arab traders in the Kundagallur Taluk in Thrissur district in Kerala in 629 AD – way before the Muslim invaders came into the north.
So, Christianity and Islam existed in the south before the British, Portuguese or the Mohammad Ghazi, Mohammad Ghori and the rest of them began propagating them. Also, it must be mentioned here that introduction of these two religions came peacefully, Islam especially by way of trade and not as a result of war. Therefore, the way people have accepted these religions have also been different – without the bitterness and hatred that comes because of war, imposition of Jaziya tax and more.
Further, on account of the fact that both these religions have existed for such a long time they have integrated better into the social fabric of these states. A Muslim from Kerala or Tamilnadu would identify himself / herself more as a Malayali / Tamilian first and a muslim only later. The same goes for Christians. Cuisine is more or less similar. All religions consume non vegetarian food – beef in Kerala is not limited to non-Hindus.
Additionally, because of the location of these states down in the Indian peninsula, the southern states were well insulated from invaders from Central Asia, Persia and Afghanistan. They were also not affected by the displacement caused by partition and the anger and resentment that people carry with them because of that. No one in the South has to live with neighbouring countries formed out of our unified land and so it is easier to accept Muslims as our friends and not as representatives of a foreign /enemy country. This is something that I as a South Indian empathize with my north Indian fellow citizens
Coming to the question of class -many of the southern states did not have the feudal zamindari system of land ownership where the peasants did not own land, as a result of which there has been fewer class related problems. The south followed the Roytwari system where the British collected land revenue directly from the peasants unlike the zamindari system where a local feudal lord collected the revenue on behalf of the peasants who were the owners of the land.
The Christian missionaries who settled in Southern India contributed a lot to the health and education sectors which cannot be denied. Everyone benefitted from this- no one was excluded because of their religion.
And finally, we have had social reform movements in at least two of the five states which has tried to address caste and class issues. Periyar and his Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu and Narayan Guru and his social reform movement in Kerala addressed a number of caste dominance problems. Additionally, the communist movement in Kerala addressed class issues that went closely with caste resulting in large scale policy changes like land reforms, reservations and social development programs. Tamilnadu was the first state to win an election on the promise of addressing malnutrition! The Integrated child development services – ICDS which is the largest program in the world that addresses the issue of malnutrition among children and women has its beginnings in the Tamilnadu Integrated Nutrition Project.
Given the fact that there were less socio religious problems, that political parties could take advantage of, they were forced to deliver programs for development. I am extremely proud to say that no child in Tamilnadu is unnaturally short, has streaked hair or protruding bellies!!! These classic symptoms of poor nutrition do not exist in Tamilnadu and a large part of the south!
Development is often a balance between demand and supply. Unless people demand for their entitlements there is a likelihood that outreach would be poor. The south with its longer history of education has more numbers of people who have are educated and therefore the demand for better services has been higher resulting in better performance of schemes.
The relatively peaceful situation in the south (except may be for Kerala which like West Bengal has not attracted investment on account of the detrimental effects of too much of trade unionism) has also attracted corporate investments leading to development of urban centres like Bangalore and Hyderabad. We have not been able to see the development of any such centres anywhere else in India except may be for Pune in Maharashtra.
The people of the south having been relative undisturbed by the turmoil of wars, partition are more stable with less aggression in their blood. With lesser need to invest in their brawn, the focus has been on the brain, leading to better education resulting in an ability to solve problems in a more logical manner. Education also means that less people fall for brain washing by vested interests.
India as country is federal in nature but unitary in spirit say our political science text books. With representational politics deciding the national policies it is not surprising that with a small number in the parliament the south is not able to make the required noise to get their demands heard. The present wave of right wing thinking seeks to vest identities around religion which does not work for us in the south! Our identities are beyond religion. It calls for a very nuanced understanding that has to take in a lot of grey shades which is demanding too much from a party that cannot see beyond saffron!
But the South is no Utopia. We have our social problems but let me assure you, religious intolerance is not one of them! We have moved beyond that and this is something that others in our country need to understand and be open to learning from us. My answer to all those who are angry with us for asserting our south Indian identity is to come and visit us- live among us and learn our language and understand our culture! I live in Bangalore, the IT capital in India but the language I hear around me is not Kannada- I only hear Hindi. How is it that when we South Indians migrate out of the south we learn the local language while when we have in migration into our cities we do not have our fellow country men and women even making an attempt to learn our languages? We are happy to be home to all Indians but we would like those who come to live among us to learn about us and adapt to our culture – otherwise it will be in no way different from the what my north Indian friends are never tiered of narrating – how they were victims of invasion by the Mongols and the Persians who imposed their religion and culture on them.
So, friends, let me assure you that being South Indian is also about being Indian. We are as proud of our sub culture as we are of our nation. We invite the rest of you to understand us and our history better before you take offence to us asserting our identity. India is not just the Himalayas. It is also the Western Ghats. Ganga may be a holy river but so is our Kaveri, Godavari and Krishna. The Gupta and Mauryas may have been great Hindu kings but so has been Raja Raja Chola and Krishanadevaraya. Tipu Sultan – the tiger of Mysore is one of the first few to take on the British. The Salt Sayagraha also took place in Vedaranyam at the same time when it happened in Dandi. Sarojini Naidu – the nightingale of India was from Hyderabad. Durgabai Deshmukh was one of the women who was closely associated with the freedom struggle. She has set up the Andhra Mahila Sabha –an organization that continues to provide health and social services to all needy. Some of our serious films that have been made without masala , have also run to full houses! They did not have to be seen only in international film festivals. We could see them at the local theatre. Our music is not just Carnatic music. We have folk songs, folk dances and folk instruments that few know about. Our classical musicians are fighting fundamentalism by ensure that Carnatic music is made inclusive so that all religions can use it for worship.
Our grouse is just that our fellow citizens north of the Vindhyas are not interested in understanding us. The moment we call out to be understood we are referred to as people who are trying to be “divisive” or wanting to break away. We may not vote for right wing parties like many of you do but that does not mean our sufferings a to be scoffed at and when we come up with our own solutions that transcend petty divisions then the least we expect from you is insecurity and envy!