The other tongue: Tra­vails of Marathi speak­ers in Kar­nataka

Yel­lur, near the in­ter­state bor­der, has Marathi speak­ers in ma­jor­ity. They are grap­pling to come to terms with Kan­nada as the lan­guage of gov­er­nance

Governance Now - - FRONT PAGE - Amoolya Ra­jappa

On ei­ther side of the road to Yel­lur from Be­la­gavi (also known as Bel­gaum) in Kar­nataka lie che­quered fields of black, cot­ton soil. Women farm­ers stoop­ing down in knee-deep wa­ter to sow saplings of the aro­matic bas­mati rice, the re­gion’s much sought-af­ter premium yield, is a com­mon sight at this time of the year.

at the en­trance of the vil­lage stands a com­mu­nity hall built by the ex-ser­vice­men from Yel­lur, a vil­lage that does not wear the look of a typ­i­cal in­dian vil­lage. co­op­er­a­tive so­ci­eties, milk dairies, shops, bak­eries and Marathi schools dot both sides of the shivaji road, the main lane named af­ter the valiant Maratha ruler.

sit­u­ated just six kms from Be­la­gavi, Yel­lur sits at the foot of the ra­ja­hans­ghad hillock. The syl­van at­mos­phere of vil­lage’s lo­ca­tion makes it hard to guess that it was once the hot­bed of a vi­o­lent bor­der dispute.

The sea­son of un­rest

Four mon­soons ago, the peo­ple of Yel­lur were caught up in a fierce con­flict with the Bel­gavi po­lice af­ter the lat­ter took down the sign­board read­ing ‘Yel­lur, Ma­ha­rash­tra’. “We did so fol­low­ing a high court or­der. How­ever, the board was re­in­stated overnight by lo­cals who even closed down the en­try to their vil­lage by ob­struct­ing it with fallen logs and thorny bushes,” says a se­nior con­sta­ble at the Be­la­gavi ru­ral Po­lice sta­tion while point­ing to­wards pho­to­graphs from the July 2014 un­rest.

as per cen­sus 2011, Yel­lur has a to­tal pop­u­la­tion of 11,850 peo­ple, a vast ma­jor­ity of whom are Marathis­peak­ing. ac­cord­ing to 45-year-old Prakash ashtekar, direc­tor of the navhind Multi-pur­pose Multi-state coop, al­most 95 per­cent of Yel­lur speaks

Marathi, a nat­u­ral rea­son why many vil­lagers want to show al­le­giance to Ma­ha­rash­tra.

al­most ev­ery­one in Yel­lur be­lieves the 2014 un­rest was flared up by out­side fac­tion groups, mainly the Ma­ha­rash­tra ekikaran samiti (Mes), a re­gional party which claims to rep­re­sent the in­ter­ests of the Marathi-speak­ing peo­ple. Va­man Patil, 65, has lived in Yel­lur all his life. Re­call­ing the con­flict which forced a week-long lock­down of the vil­lage, he says: “The board has al­ways been there. it all started when a few brain­washed young­sters added Ma­ha­rash­tra to it.”

He be­lieves that the sit­u­a­tion was blown out of pro­por­tion. “a few in­no­cent peo­ple were also made to pay for all the vi­o­lence,” adds the se­nior cit­i­zen who has sent both his sons to serve in the de­fence forces.

Prakash is also of the opin­ion that it was mainly out­siders who de­famed the vil­lage. “it was some­one else who threw stones, but the po­lice lath­icharged us all,” he quips. With Firs slapped on over 400 peo­ple, the in­fa­mous bor­der con­flict of 2014 also re­sulted in sev­eral young­sters flee­ing the vil­lage tem­porar­ily.

The po­lice ac­tion might seem to have ended the bor­der dispute of Yel­lur, but a deeper and much com­plex prob­lem still per­sisted.

Ed­u­cated yet il­lit­er­ate

it has now been four years since the in­ci­dent that shot Yel­lur to na­tional lime­light. and yet Yel­lur re­mains one of the most eco­nom­i­cally pro­gres­sive vil­lages in the north­ern belt of Be­la­gavi. Twelve co­op­er­a­tive so­ci­eties with large turnover, ten milk dairies that pro­duce over 3,000-5,000 litres of creamy milk ev­ery day, four Marathi medium high schools, three large lakes that pro­vide for agri­cul­tural in­fra­struc­ture and a va­ri­ety of liveli­hoods that sup­port the hard­work­ing peo­ple of Yel­lur might just be a few high­lights that lo­cals boast about. But even the so­cial in­di­ca­tors serve as solid proof of the vil­lage’s over­all de­vel­op­ment.

Yel­lur has a lit­er­acy rate of 83.16 per­cent, much higher than Kar­nataka state’s av­er­age of 75.36 per­cent. ac­cord­ing to Be­la­gavi po­lice, the crime rate of the vil­lage is re­mark­ably low. “We set­tle most of the con­flicts at the vil­lage level. To­bacco and al­co­hol are banned here,” notes ashtekar, who heads Yel­lur’s big­gest co­op­er­a­tive so­ci­ety.

es­tab­lished in 1992, the Multi-pur­pose Multi-state Co-op of­fers fi­nan­cial sup­port to the vil­lagers in the form of low-in­ter­est loans and schol­ar­ships for lo­cal sport­ing tal­ents. cur­rently, the navhind so­ci­ety has a stag­ger­ing ₹205 crore in just fixed de­posits. The highly awarded so­ci­ety is also a suc­cess­ful case study for many other co­op­er­a­tives in Be­la­gavi city.

“in 1986-87, seven of the nine play­ers of the Kar­nataka kho-kho na­tional team hailed from this vil­lage,” says Yc goral, a phys­i­cal in­struc­tor by pro­fes­sion and the pres­i­dent of the navhind Kreeda Ken­dra. apart from kho-kho, the vil­lage has also pas­sion­ately sup­ported and nur­tured many sports­men in var­i­ous other in­dian sports like kabaddi and wrestling.

Most farm­ers in Yel­lur grow ex­port qual­ity bas­mati rice – sonam, shubangi to name a few va­ri­eties. oth­ers de­pend on crops like pota­toes and soya bean. The vil­lage is also well-known for its clar­i­fied but­ter, called ‘Yel­lur ghee’. apart from farm­ing, Yel­lur is also home to sev­eral skilled con­struc­tion

“One might ask why we want to side with Ma­ha­rash­tra de­spite all the de­vel­op­ment in the vil­lage. The Kar­nataka gov­ern­ment might have pro­vided us with enough fa­cil­i­ties as well. But we need to pre­serve our lan­guage and culture... We feel like a lion cap­tured in a golden cage.” Prakash Ashtekar Direc­tor, Navhind Multi-pur­pose, Multi-state Co-op

labour­ers and even teach­ers who have mi­grated to places like Kol­ha­pur, rat­na­giri and goa.

The vil­lagers of Yel­lur may be tal­ented, ed­u­cated and self-suf­fi­cient. How­ever, lo­cals be­lieve they are far from realising their true po­ten­tial. goral, 55, ex­plains: “our young­sters have a gen­uine prob­lem in ap­pear­ing for civil ser­vice ex­ams like those of

Kar­nataka Pub­lic ser­vice com­mis­sion (Kpsc) and Ma­ha­rash­tra Pub­lic ser­vice com­mis­sion (Mpsc). in Kpsc, they strug­gle with the Kan­nada lan­guage and they can’t give Mpsc ex­ams be­cause they be­long to Kar­nataka.”

a ma­jor­ity of schools in Yel­lur teach Marathi as their first lan­guage. This is fol­lowed by Kan­nada as the sec­ond and english as the op­tional third lan­guage. “our chil­dren are bur­dened to learn three dif­fer­ent lan­guages. And in the process, of­ten english learn­ing takes a beat­ing,” goral adds.

as Va­man Patil chooses to put it, “in a sense, the peo­ple of Yel­lur are ed­u­cated yet il­lit­er­ate be­cause they can­not un­der­stand in­for­ma­tion on var­i­ous gov­ern­ment schemes (which are is­sued in Kan­nada).”

shee­tal More was wash­ing clothes at the vil­lage’s largest lake when she was asked to share the kind of ev­ery­day is­sues women in Yel­lur face. “Though many peo­ple are bilin­gual in Be­la­gavi, peo­ple in gov­ern­ment hos­pi­tals and of­fices pre­fer to speak to us in Kan­nada. That has been a con­stant worry ev­ery time we visit the city,” shares the 31-year-old, mar­ried to a man who hails from a neigh­bour­ing vil­lage in Ma­ha­rash­tra.

The lan­guage of in­con­ve­nience

ashtekar ex­plains how de­spite a de­cree rolled out un­der the lin­guis­tic Mi­nori­ties act, al­most all gov­ern­ment doc­u­ments are still is­sued in Kan­nada. He an­grily throws an elec­tric­ity bill, say­ing, “look, what can we un­der­stand from this?” in con­trast, he also shows the pass­book is­sued by the navhind co-op and credit so­ci­ety, which is in Marathi. He shares how al­most all or­gan­i­sa­tions in Yel­lur have to manda­to­rily em­ploy at least one per­son lit­er­ate in Kan­nada. “other­wise, it is im­pos­si­ble for us to make sense of any gov­ern­ment cor­re­spon­dence.”

at the only Kan­nada medium pri­mary school at Yel­lur, ib He­ma­vathi re­veals how teach­ers are fre­quently re­quested by par­ents of the chil­dren to read and trans­late con­tents of sev­eral gov­ern­ment-re­lated doc­u­ments. “They come to us ask­ing help to fill cir­cu­lars to add their names in the vot­ers list. some­times they also want us to study for them cer­tain agri­cul­tural and prop­erty re­lated doc­u­ments,” says the 36-year-old Kan­nada teacher.

it was only re­cently that 27-year-old Mayur Masekar was posted to Yel­lur as a vil­lage ac­coun­tant. He cheer­fully shares how Pan­chayat mem­bers like Va­man Patil en­cour­aged him to learn Marathi to be able to help the vil­lagers bet­ter. “Though zila pan­chayat meet­ings and de­lib­er­a­tions are done in Marathi, all the pa­per work is in Kan­nada. some­times, that acts as a hin­drance and re­stricts peo­ple from gain­ing the real ben­e­fits of rev­enue schemes,” he says.

cur­rently, both the Pan­chayat and rev­enue de­part­ments rely on ei­ther the gram sabha gath­er­ings or the tech­nique of drum beat­ing to dis­sem­i­nate in­for­ma­tion re­lated to var­i­ous gov­ern­ment schemes.

“one might ask why we want to side with Ma­ha­rash­tra de­spite all the de­vel­op­ment in the vil­lage. The Kar­nataka gov­ern­ment might have pro­vided us with enough fa­cil­i­ties as well. But we need to pre­serve our lan­guage and culture,” shares ashtekar. “We feel like the lion cap­tured in a golden cage. a lion needs to be in the wild, in its nat­u­ral sur­round­ings,” he adds in a pal­pa­ble tone, clar­i­fy­ing that their fight is not against the Kan­nadi­gas.

How­ever, for Va­man Patil, the is­sue with Marathi is not about ‘ab­hi­maan’ or pride. it’s about con­ve­nience. He feels the lo­cal gov­ern­ment needs to make sure in­for­ma­tion reaches the peo­ple of Yel­lur in Marathi. even Prakash feels that ad­min­is­tra­tors need to be more em­pa­thetic while de­ploy­ing gov­ern­ment work­ers in the vil­lage. “They need to make sure of­fi­cials speak at least Hindi, let alone Marathi,” he opines.

Wrap­ping up, Prakash is quite clear about the kind of ex­pec­ta­tions he has from fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. “Three gen­er­a­tions of Yel­lur have suf­fered be­cause of the lan­guage tus­sle. How­ever, we hope our chil­dren con­tinue to grow as ed­u­cated, hard­work­ing, dis­ci­plined in­di­vid­u­als while also be­ing rooted to their land and culture.”

As seen in the Google Map, Be­la­gavi (Bel­gaum) is lo­cated close to the Ma­ha­rash­trakar­nataka bor­der

File photo of the board say­ing ‘Yel­lur, Ma­ha­rash­tra’, which trig­gered vi­o­lence on July 26, 2014

Marathi and Kan­nada sign­boards out­side the pan­chayat of­fice in Yel­lur

The only Kan­nada medium school in Yel­lur

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