The Supreme Court’s Supreme Wisdom in the Kaveri Matter, Explained

The combined population of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu is 142 million poeple, but of course, a handful of us know better. We have passed a judgment in our supreme knowledge and authority, and you better behave.

Many states share a river in this world. Dissatisfaction about water sharing is common everywhere. But the issue is almost completely handled by the states in question without a third party poking its nose into the matter.

But India, as Gandhi would have liked to say, is…

A state “like none other in the world”

So we’ve very much got the Third Party. It’s called the Govt. of India and it wants to completely decide the matter. In fact, it would like Karnataka and Tamil Nadu to stop having any say.

In fact, the Third Party is not convinced that the people of these two states (or any state for that matter) can behave appropriately. In the interest of world peace, and in order to hasten the process of making thy kingdom come, the Third Party can’t let the barbaric races of the world make decisions.

No wonder, therefore, that the judicial wing of this Third Party, a.k.a. the Supreme Court of India, whose pronouncements continue to be echoes of the colonial whip, had the following to say about the ongoing Kaveri river water protests:

“Behave”

We expect the inhabitants of both states, TN and Karnataka, shall behave and the executives of both states are under the constitutional obligation to see that law and order prevails.

The combined population of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu is 142 million poeple, but of course, a handful of us know better. We have passed a judgment in our supreme knowledge and authority, and you better behave.

We know your water. In fact, it’s not your water. We can’t trust behaviorless people with water, so it’s ours.

We have plenty of proof that you aren’t very good at behaving. We’ve been observing it from several millennia. How can you be when you don’t even?

So leave everything to us and learn to behave. We’ll teach you how to do that. In fact, that’s our burden. Only we, with our with superior blood, we who follow the only true religion, know how to behave. So learn from us, or else.

And you two – the executives of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka – make sure what we, the Third Party, have ruled, is implemented without any events. If required, get your police (with their toys) to scare all those behaviorless people away, or just give us a call. We’ll be there with our army which, of course, is something for people with behavior.

Hey, who’s that standing in the corner?

Did you see him? I saw him. He’s called Uncle Sam (the Queen’s grandson), and he wants to apply the same logic for river-water sharing between India and Pakistan. He has ample proof that India and Pakistan are much more ill-behaved. And of course, behavior is his middle name. Uncle Behavior Sam.

Only Rapes, Murders, and Legislators Watching Porn?

Multilingual, multicultural nations have one big problem to solve in the media-driven world. It’s this. Minority languages and the stories of people who speak them are almost completely suppressed on ‘national media’. Anyone browsing through Indian ‘national’ newspapers, tv channels, radio stations, etc., finds hardly any news about a State like Karnataka that its people would like to call news. If you go by these media houses, you’d tend to think that the only things that happen in States like Karnataka are rapes, murders and legislators watching porn in the assembly.

Multilingual, multicultural nations have one big problem to solve in the media-driven world.

It’s this. Minority languages and the stories of people who speak them are almost completely suppressed on ‘national media’.

Anyone browsing through Indian ‘national’ newspapers, tv channels, radio stations, etc., finds hardly any news about a State like Karnataka that its people would like to call news.

If you go by these media houses, you’d tend to think that the only things that happen in States like Karnataka are rapes, murders and legislators watching porn in the assembly.

Okay, add that colonial game to the list: cricket.

In reality, this image is false. It appears true because the national media is looking for news with shock value. The only thing that appears like a shock to it is rapes, cricket, and the like.

You know what really carries shock value in a State like Karnataka? Almost every single move made by the Centre. But the national media can’t call it a shock because it is hand-in-glove with its lawful advances on the liberty of the people.

I carry the hope that one day, social media will completely overtake mainstream media. It’s an important part of the overall democratization of India. In fact, if we all decide to stop watching mainstream media today, that day is today.

Obviously, the forces that suppress the voices from within the States won’t keep quiet when social media overtakes mainstream media. But it will be a much more difficult battle for them.

We can make it even more difficult if we start today.

Violence by language

The idea of a pan-Indian lingua franca is violent. The question is not which language must be the lingua franca, but why any one language must be. The most common answer is that Indians need a common language to communicate with each other. But what is conveniently forgotten is that any lingua franca expands to become the one and only language that ultimately prevails. As I write this, I myself find it next to impossible (even a major waste of time) to write in two languages.

We are also made to conveniently forget that we need to alienate ourselves from the people closest to us to support an all-India lingua franca. For example, elite Kannadigas who think India needs a common language also necessarily give in to the violent idea that it’s okay for them to divorce themselves from tens of millions of Kannadigas. Let the idiots catch up if they have what it takes, or let them be wiped out by ‘survival of the fittest’ – this is the unstated feeling we have for our own brethren.

Patriotism is the offered justification for this violence, but the real one is simply the insatiable desire to get ahead of others in the race for material resources. Far, far non-violent than this is to have state-level lingua francas. That is, Kannada in Karnataka, Tamil in Tamil Nadu, Bengali in Bengal, and so on and so forth. Of course this does not eliminate the violence entirely, but it reduces it by degrees of magnitude. There is no perfection in the material world; the question is whether one is moving towards it or away from it.

An autobiographical note

I am a Dravida Brahmana. I did not choose my caste; it chose me. I use the term Dravida Brahmana to mean ‘a Brahmana whose mother tongue is a Dravidian language’. The term has been historically used to include Marathi or Gujarati speakers also, but I don’t use it in that sense. I attach the modern meaning in linguistics to Dravida.

If we go some fifteen-hundred-odd years ago, it should be possible to find among my ancestors a marriage between a migrant Brahmana from North India and a non-Brahmana woman from South India. I am glad it happened and gave me a chance to be what I am today, although I do not approve of many other things that came to happen in society because of such marriages. We belong to a Brahmana subdivision called Deshastha. The word means ‘one who stays in the country’. The country is very likely north Karnataka or south Maharashtra. But clearly, we haven’t ‘stayed in the country’. Here I am in Mysore.

We Batnis are Kannadigas. I have heard of a few who have matrimonial links with Marathi Brahmanas such as Peshwas, but their percentage is negligible. My father’s name is Batni Raghavendra Rao, and quite a few Batni Something Rao’s are found in Shimoga and Mysore. Batni is supposed to be a place near Sagara, Karnataka. Nobody has found it either on the ground or on the map. Someone suggested to me that it must be a submerged village. I am told that all Batnis belong to the Agastya gotra and I find this to be interesting in many ways. I certainly do belong to this gotra.

We are not just Deshastha Brahmanas but Madhva Deshastha Brahmanas (I think all Batnis are, but I can’t be sure). Someone in my ancestry must have taken Madhvacharya or one of his disciples as his guru. He is not my guru, though I have read and continue to read him. I have also read and continue to read Shankara’s as well as Buddhist and Jain works. Every spiritual text written in India interests me. I think I can take all the great saints of India together as my gurus but not any one of them individually. Whatever I have learned from these saints is due to personal interest; I have no formal training in the scriptures or Sanskrit.

I am yet to come across a living guru of the Brahmanas (often the head of a Mutt) who can fill me with a feeling of respect; they are mostly administrators who don’t write anything worth reading or do anything worth following. I don’t approve of organized religion in the first place – it leads to things like The Pyramid of Corruption. I consider spirituality an individual pursuit and I am an ardent spiritualist.

Some people think I hate Brahmanas. I don’t. The best among them have made extremely important contributions to the knowledge of the world. But I dislike the superstition of the others and their stated or unstated acceptance of The Pyramid of Corruption (not the book but what it’s about). I don’t think all of them choose these evils consciously, though.

There’s a lot of reform work that needs to be done within the Brahmana community. Superstition of all sorts must go – it’s more prevalent than one can imagine in these modern times. It’s not acceptable that most Brahmanas have no clue about the spiritual core of Hinduism – the Upanishads – but stand up to defend the worthless shell: things such as the caste-system and Sanskrit’s exclusive claim to divinity. The less they understand the Upanishads, the more they defend the indefensible.

All this must change, and I have some plans to bring about this change in my own small way. If you are interested or know someone who is, please contact me. For the work I have in mind, you should be a Kannadiga reasonably well-versed in the Upanishads, consider yourself a poet, and be willing to write in Ellara Kannada. Being a Brahmana is neither a qualification nor a disqualification.

I could go on and on, but I just wanted to add this brief autobiographical note to answer a few questions some of my friends have been asking me.

Bangalore to Bengaluru: the Untold Story

While the ‘national media’ is fixated on things of ‘national importance’, the media in Karnataka, both Kannada and English, is abuzz with the news that the Centre has agreed to the Government of Karnataka’s proposal to ‘rename’ several cities in the state. Bangalore is now officially Bengaluru, Mysore is Mysuru, Belgaum is Belagavi, and so on and so forth.

Despite all the hype, celebrations, and the occasional mention of the late U R Ananthamurthy’s name (he stood for this cause), it’s important to pause and understand what exactly has happened here. Are the names really new? Who are they new to? In which language or languages are they new? All in all, does it matter?

These names, Bengaluru, Mysuru, Belagavi, etc., are not new to the people of these cities or of Karnataka as a whole. Nor are they new entrants to the Kannada language. Nobody has ever used the words Bangalore, Mysore, Belgaum, etc., in Kannada; it has always been these ‘new’ names. It is, in fact, impossible to use them because it’s foreign pronunciation. British pronunciation, to be precise.

So what’s happening now is not ‘renaming’ from the point of view of those Kannadigas who take their own language more seriously than others. Yes, it’s true that the India outside of Karnataka is going to try and use the same names as used within Karnataka. I say ‘try and use’ because Kannada names cannot necessarily be pronounced by non-Kannadigas. The ‘l’ in Bengaluru, for example, is not pronounced north of the Vindhyas – at least not any more.

So, is this whole thing a sort of an achievement? Does it call for a celebration?

To get some perspective, consider the fact that Germany is not pleading with the EU to be ‘renamed’ as Deutschland; The Netherlands is not pleading to be ‘renamed’ as Nederland; France isn’t pleading to be ‘renamed’ as République Française; the number of such examples is not even countable. In fact, people worldwide have their own names for all the countries and cities they’ve had the opportunity to talk about.

To take one example of a city, what the British call London is known and written in some of the world’s languages as follows: Llundain, Londër, Londain, Londan, Londe, Londen, Londhíno, Londinium, Londona, Londonas, Londra, Londres, Londrez, Londyn, Londýn, Lontoo, Loundres, Luân Đôn, Lundenwic, Lúndūn, Lundúnir, Lunnainn, Reondeon, Rŏndŏn, Rondon, and Londoni. Is this a let-down of the people of London? No. In fact, it’s a matter of Londoner pride for their city, like all living things, to have a Vishnu Sahasranama of its own.

So then, why did some Kannadigas ask for this, why do they call it ‘renaming’, and why are they celebrating now? There is only one answer. They have resigned to the fate, decided for them by the Government of India, of Hindi and English being more important than Kannada. To ask for the Kannada names to be approximated in Hindi and English is, first and foremost, to accept the over-lordship of these two hegemonic languages. Even U R Ananthamurthy advocated for Hindi’s emergence as a pan-India link language; I don’t think he worked out the full impact of such a disaster on Kannada. Perhaps it gives the celebrators some solace now to think that the hordes of migrants who are coming into these cities from the North will at least try and preserve the names of their cities – if not Kannadigas’ existence in them.

First Published: IBNLIVE, 18-10-2014