14 February 2007
The BJP’s pledge to make Sanskrit the second language of Uttarakhand will hopefully never see the light of day. Apart from carrying no benefit to the general population despite pandering to religious elites, it gives the impression that their only employment plan focuses on extensive temple building and subordinating the state to the rule of godmen and their goondas. The Gorkhas also supported religion and built many temples including Gangotri in Uttarakhand during their iron fisted rule, but no one would ever say their raj represented a golden age!
In fact, their Akali Dal partners’ request to make Punjabi a second language makes more sense, as that is one of the most common vernacular languages spoken in the state, followed by Nepali, Bengali, Bihari Hindi, etc… Neither of course evince any interest in the various native Garhwali and Kumaoni dialects at the core of the political cultural identity of the state. In this regard, the Gorkha Democratic Front’s pledge to put Garhwali and Kumaoni into the 8th schedule should be taken up. Ironically, only they have thus far recognized the legitimacy of the languages and the need to promote them, rather than dismissing them as some rustic variant of Hindi, which represents the supreme assimilationist arrogance directed against the region by the national parties.
Sadly, a lot of Garhwalis and Kumaoni elites, despite their parochial sentiments on everything else, feel the same contempt, which is why the region has always been sold out by its so-called leaders. The fact that these elites have had an easier time assimilating into general plains upper caste culture has further reinforced castism and the importation of alien ideas such as Karva Chauth and female infanticide (see Times of India Editorial, Karva Chauth Capitalism, for what this may entail). Meanwhile, the scheduled castes, themselves descendants of the first inhabitants, have remained since time immemorial the guardians of authentic hill culture through their music, ballads, and maintenance of oral traditions.
Thus, this distinction between “sanskriti” as in the living culture, and “sanskritization”, as in assimilation, remains a fundamental issue impacting identity politics throughout India and its diaspora. Given the hegemonistic pretentions of those who would exploit people’s sentiments so blithely for political gain, drawing this distinction is more important then ever.