Maharashtra And India’s Linguistic Divide

Maharashtra And India's Linguistic Divide

Recent order from Maharashtra state of making Marathi the language of official use adds to its long history of regionalism and division based on language. Let us understand the linguistic divide of Indian states.

Crux of the Matter

Marathi Made Mandatory?
Recently, the Maharashtra state government passed a circular which ordered “departments, local authorities, officers and employees” to use only Marathi language for the official work. No increment would be provided if Marathi language is not used in the annual confidential files. Earlier in 2020, Maharashtra passed a law to make Marathi compulsory for all students belonging to 1-6 standard in the state.

Hostilities Against Migrant Labour
In 2008, a clash occurred between the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) workers. The situation deteriorated after the clashes as MNS workers attacked workers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

MNS leader Raj Thackeray then criticized Amitabh Bachchan for being “more loyal to UP” than Maharashtra where he worked as a Bollywood actor.

Further hostilities ensued as MNS workers wrecked shops that did not have signboards written in Marathi. Eventually, a law was passed for shops that directed the to have their boards compulsorily in Marathi.

Raj Thackeray was once arrested after his party workers assaulted north Indian students appearing for the Government Railway Board exams, after which the hostilities decreased.

Hostilities From The Past
Bal Thackeray, who was the founder of the Shiv Sena, started a magazine called Marmik in 1960. In the magazine, Thackeray blamed people from other states for the unemployment of Marathi youth. While founding the Shiv Sena in 1966, Thackeray blamed the “South Indians” for “stealing” the jobs of Maharashtrian people.

After acquiring significant power, Thackeray reportedly incited local people to assault UP and Bihar workers and called the people of Bihar a “burden” on the country. While Bal Thackeray described the Chhath Puja as “not a holiday”, his nephew Raj Thackeray described the festival as “drama”.

History Of Linguistic Divide In India
The first notable demand for separation based on language occurred in 1895 for the demand of Orissa. The demand was eventually fulfilled in 1936 when Oriya speakers of Bihar and Bengal formed the Orissa state out of them.

In 1953, several Telugu speakers of the Madras state separated on the basis of language and formed the state of Andhra Pradesh.

In 1956, the Mahagujarat movement began which demanded the creation of a separate state for the Gujarati and Marathi speaking people. The movement acquired success in 1960 when Gujarat and Maharashtra were formed out of the Bombay Presidency.

Constitution on Linguistic Divide
Article 345 of the Indian Constitution allows “the Legislature of a State to adopt any one or more of the languages in use in the State or Hindi as the language or languages to be used for all or any of the official purposes of that State”.

Some prominent Indian leaders have expressed doubts about the linguistic divide of India. One of them was B. R. Ambedkar.

In a linguistic state, what would remain for the smaller communities to look to? Can they hope to be elected to the legislature? Can they hope to maintain a place in the state service?

This does not mean that there is no case for linguistic provinces. What it means is that there must be definite checks and balances to see that a communal majority does not abuse its power under the cover of a linguistic state.

B R Ambedkar, Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee and a social reformer

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