Friday, February 06, 2009

The audacity of tolerance

Do you get pricked or offended when you are called a Madrasi? Do you think that Tamil is the most beautiful language in the world? Do you feel that you are not treated as respectfully as you would expect by the rest of the Indian populace just because you are a Tamil? Do you think that racial discrimination hurts the international Indian Diaspora? If yes, then this post is for your reading pleasure.
There definitely is an openly acknowledged political agenda to promote the pride and the venerable heritage of the Tamil language amongst everyone. But beyond the political influence of it, there is a blind and fanatic drive to oust and ridicule every other language and person in the name of it. The refusal to accept the national language and the outrage over the use of it within Tamil Nadu are direct examples of that. I have seen my undergraduate classmates do it by randomly walking up to people speaking in other languages and muttering movie names in the language loudly until the person takes notice and stops his use. The Indian states were originally made on the basis of linguistic differences for purposes of ease and a driven non-subscription to religious lines to separate people as it already was being a major negatively divisive agent. The national language was chosen to be Hindi for the same reasons that English is the universal language, by a government that contained prominent Tamil leaders. Why then is there unrest? Do you believe that the decision was one-sidedly made to favor the “north Indians”?
I come from a cosmopolitan background and have had the pleasure of association with members of nearly every state of India. I was the Madrasi and my friends included a bania, a bhaiya, a rana, a jassi, a gujju and a nalla. I have never known a single person so far who has Hindi for a native tongue. Every state has its own native tongue and in addition to that, Hindi is sufficiently learnt to effect communication with the rest of the nation. The Tamil political agenda of the sixties and the seventies pushed the fanatic Tamil drive to oust Hindi and succeeded quite well. But the fact that the people of a state of nearly total literacy have continued the idea in their primary psyche is highly distressing. Indeed, Tamil may be a beautiful language – ancient with wonderful poems and writing. But let not the pride in the matter become a blind arrogance. Let it not veil you of the fact that other languages including Hindi hold a capacity for beauty that can be admired. Choose to learn more than just movie names and reserve the insecurity that you have to learn it rather than mock the ones that speak it. For promoting Tamil, help the ones that carry extreme degrees in the language spread it in a positive and harmonious way.
The term Madrasi was created before independence to refer to inhabitants of the Madras province that contained the current southern state of Tamil Nadu and parts of Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Karnataka, thus making the term equivalent to Bihari or Bengali. Why then is the term offensive? Why does it prick you? A person or Keralite or Andhra nativity would be as much a Madrasi as you would. Do you still consider it to be a lowly and demeaning way of referring to you? Do you wish to be called something more respectful? Then why do you use the terms Seth and mallu and the truly offensive golti? Maybe Seth is a way of getting back at the offending “north Indian”. But then why drop the g-bomb on your fellow Madrasi? The answer again is the fanatic arrogance that nurtures a highly sensitive ego that will not tolerate hurt but will engender an arsenal of offensive expletives to describe others. This is what makes you blindly stereotype everyone else. This is what makes you hail a racist, chauvinist and uncontrollably hate-inspiring commercial movie industry. I remember a fellow classmate of mine who moved to Chicago mention that he hates north Indians because they did not accommodate him in their plans during a party. Would it be their fault for not including him or would it be his fault for being inept in attempting to move around with them and speaking to them confidently in a common tongue so that they actually would remember him? Another,friend, I remember, held his cool and told him that he was wrong to generalize that way.
Probably this is the reason for Tamil Nadu’s self-obsessed, aloof yet arrogant attitude as a member-part of India. Probably this is why there is not commonly used Tamil word for India and Indian. Probably this is why a patriotic song in Tamil only speaks out to a certain Tamilzha and not Indian…
We are accelerating towards a scenario of a world sentiment where national and international borders will hold a frail meaning in comparison to the growth of people’s global sense of union and equality. Therefore evils like racism are frowned upon and criminally treated. Indeed, Indians are getting used to this ideology and demanding equal treatment from the rest of the world’s races. Why then do we have a blind, openly racist, xenophobic society? Why do we say chinki and use various regional language terms for black and white? Is it that it should be tolerated within our circuits but an outsider dare not use a racially charged expletive against us?
It was a pathetic scene when the Indian cricket team and the BCCI - as the most powerful cricketing body in the world - stood behind an expletive hurling Harbhajan who pled guilty for what he said though he insisted that it was not in racist connotation. Some felt that since it came against the Aussies who are noted as easy hecklers, it was very much within the limit of humane. To me and a third person, the result is that Cricketing India has shown itself to be no different from the unholy Aussies. My own classmates who have moved to various parts of the United States for higher studies refer to African Americans with their own twist to the word black. If one were to ask these people, they would say that it was never meant to be offensive at all. But how can someone who is so sensitive to inflicted hurt be so insensitive to his own words? Indeed this is by far the most shameful thing about the new progressive Indian generation. The ‘Chalta hai’ attitude – the insensitive and careless and arrogantly lazy use of charged words and actions without a sense of social and societal responsibility; It is alright when we do it amongst ourselves. Is this the use that we make of our exposure? It is surprising that Indians actually get respected despite such a spectacularly poor display in the world scene.
Let us give up on such disregard. Let us develop a sense of responsibility for our actions. Let us not fall for narrow ideas and intolerant subscriptions. Let us give up social lines for purposes of humanism. Let us leave a more open and cheerful world for our successors. Let us be more receptive to the good things in all social and racial lines. Indeed we may be great. But that is not what will make us improve.
At this point, you may probably think that this guy needs to cool down. I rest my case.

No comments: