Two incidents in my apartment complex resulted in a lot of debate related to religion and language in India:
1. Religion – It was discovered that two maidservants who identified themselves with Hindu names were actually Muslims. The residents’ association banned these individuals from the complex since their integrity was now in question. Debate:
- Did the maidservants choose to identify themselves as Hindus because they were finding it difficult to find jobs otherwise? If this was the reason, were they justified in passing themselves off as Hindus?
- Did their religion have anything to them being banned?
2. Language – Some residents expressed frustration that some of the apartment staff (security, reception, etc.) spoke only the local language, “Kannad”. Someone suggested that all staff should know Hindi, the national language of India. There were a couple of quick responses – a) it is Kannada, not “Kannad” and, b) Hindi is the official language of India, not the national language. Debate:
- Shouldn’t Hindi speaking people living in non-Hindi speaking places try to learn the local language?
- How do we solve the communication issues across India? There were three options that came up during this incident – English, Hindi and Sign Language!
I am sure debates like these happen all across India every day. I think our community was lucky that this debate was civil (keeping my fingers crossed). I realize not every community is this lucky. I am only reassured by the text in one of my favorite books on India, “India After Gandhi” by Ramachandra Guha. To anyone who has ever wondered why India stays united, I suggest they read at least the prologue and epilogue of this book. The prologue is titled “The Unnatural Nation” and frames the paradox and challenges that define India. The epilogue is titled “Why India Survives”. For the most part, Guha steers clear of a definitive answer to this question. But in the last line of the book, he offers this:
So long as the constitution is not amended beyond recognition, so long as elections are held regularly and fairly and the ethos of secularism broadly prevails, so long as citizens speak and write in the language of their choosing, so long as there is an integrated market and a moderately efficient civil service and army, and – lest I forget – so long as Hindi films are watched and their songs sung, India will survive.
Go out there, catch the latest Bollywood movie, sing the hits and help India survive.