Linguistic States in India

In an otherwise uneventful journey, recently, I had the pleasure of talking to the driver of a bus who was plying between Indian state A and state B. He was ruing about how commercial and other state transport vehicles do not let you overtake based on the letter code on your number plate.

Anecdotes are the lowest forms of data, that is if it can be considered data at all. That said, the story about overtaking(or the lack of it) is an excellent example of how linguistic sub-nationalism surfaces in India in strange ways.

The movement for linguistic states in India existed much before Independence, but became a reality due to the unfortunate death of Potti Sriramulu who fast unto death for the creation of a separate Andhra Pradesh. Linguistic states are a now reality and have, depending upon the situation, been a matter of great elation and/or chaos.

Creation of linguistic states has had many advantages but it has also had several negative effects. First, boundary tensions exist between several states. Second, water-sharing agreements between higher and lower riparian regions are still sorted. Third, multilingual scholarship has been the casualty as a result of linguistic states —  it has become the job of another state to promote their own language.

It is undeniable that strong sentiments are attached to languages. The sub-continent itself has witnessed civil wars and creation of an independent nation on the basis of a language. Therefore it is important to be cognisant about this sentiment, but it is also important to ensure that sentiments do not get the better of us.

Are linguistic states a ticking countdown for something bad? Or will they continue to strengthen the Indian state with a sub-nationalist layer? This topic deserves holistic analysis and should not be pushed into the realm of taboo.

Varun Ramachandra is a policy analyst at Takshashila Institution and tweets@_quale