Madrasi vs Bihari

Swami Gulagulaananda said:
"Generalisation is wrong - unless you are building a machine learning model."

An incident prompted me to write this post. I happened to read this article where two cars met with an accident on Marathahalli bridge. One of the drivers inspected his vehicle to check if there were any damages and proceeded to drive away. Suddenly, the driver of a water tanker (completely unrelated to the accident) held him and started beating him. This driver, who was not involved in the accident, was agitated that a North Indian driver was creating a traffic jam in Bangalore.

At the outset, one might be keen to dismiss this incident as the actions of one lunatic is inconsequential. However, I started reading the comments and was astounded by what I saw.

There was a barrage of comments from two groups - North Indians and South Indians. There were some South Indians who were asking the "Northies" to return to their home states. The "Northies" said that the "Southies" didn't own the place. Then there was some name-calling and generalisations. Someone called North Indians 'rapists' and said that South Indians were soft. They went on to say that people were taking advantage of their softness and corrupting the city. Some people insisted that the North Indians should learn to speak in Kannada so that such incidents don't happen. The North Indians also made several remarks - Here is the comment section for those who have some time to kill and an aspirin.

On the one hand, we talk about India becoming a superpower. On the other, I see arguments of inferior quality. We talk about "Unity in Diversity" and then go on to call one another as Madrasis and Biharis.

Now, I am by no means a pacifist peacenik who goes around preaching words of 'love one another' and gives out free hugs outside a mall. And I am not attributing blame to either group. The fact is that there is an element of truth in what the commentators are saying and we should not rush to call everyone bigoted morons.

I have been in Bangalore my whole life. I consider Bangalore as a cosmopolitan city. Every team that I have been in has had people from different parts of the country. However, despite spending several years in Bangalore, most of them don't learn Kannada. On asking why they don't learn the language, they say that they don't find the need to do so. "I can get by very easily since most people understand English or Hindi". Since people aren't required to learn the language, they don't.

Of course, the next question is, "Is this right or wrong?" One side argues that "We are accommodating and understanding. But that doesn't mean that you talk to us in a foreign language. It is understandable in the beginning but not after a couple of years. Why don't you learn Kannada?" This argument is not incorrect because most other cities are unforgiving. When I tried to speak broken Tamil and Kannada to a bus conductor in Chennai, pointing Google maps to him and telling him where I wanted to go, the conductor angrily mumbled something in Tamil and gave me a ticket to the last stop and said, "Get off wherever you want". Such behaviour makes visitors feel unwelcome. Similarly, imagine a Bangalorean speaking Kannada or English in a North Indian state. While English may somewhat pass, Kannada would fall flat.

The counterargument, which is flawed, is that Hindi is the national language and it is everyone's responsibility to learn it. It is flawed because Hindi is not our national language (although I feel it should be). A few others are of the opinion "Don't fix something that's not broken". They don't want to learn it as they don't need to. There is no right or wrong answer. In my opinion, people should learn the local language if they plan on living in a new place.

Similarly, when people move to a new location, they should try to meld with the local culture. The Parsis, they say, added sugar to a glass of milk and said - "After we come, it will look the same, but we will only make it sweeter". Alterations of demographics are bound to make the locals sceptical and nervous.

However, what concerned me more was people drawing boundaries. The calls to return to their places of origin is not for Indians (for Rohingyas and illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, definitely). If we are unable to live together amongst ourselves, we don't need an external enemy to break us apart. Fragmentations due to languages, caste, religion etc. make us vulnerable and weak. A strategic blow by an enemy will shatter the nation.

As part of nation-building, we should educate our brethren and children to gel well with everyone. We have a lot to learn from one another. A country can grow to heights only when there is mutual trust among the citizenry. And people should respect the local culture just like they do in foreign countries. Ironically, it appears that Indians seem to be more Indian outside India.

My parting line is to avoid painting all people with the same brush. One jerk doesn't mean that everyone of that group is a jerk. Generalisation is wrong - unless you are building a machine learning model.

Recommended Reading:
Breaking India: by Rajiv Malhotra

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