Musings on Utkal Dibasa
Yet another Utkal Dibasa is upon us. Like previous years, elaborate plans have been drawn up to celebrate the occasion. Most cities and town in Odisha are already wearing a festive look with colourful ‘Chinesse’ lights illuminating all government buildings and institutions. Social and cultural outfits too are organizing a host of events to mark the occasion. Choirs are conducting last minute rehearsals to get their notes on ‘Bande Utkala Janani’ perfect. Politicians and other public personalities are giving finishing touches to their speeches extolling the contributions and sacrifices of the makers of the modern state of Odisha. Paeans are being readied to be sung to our glorious and ancient maritime traditions.
Given the festive mood all around, it is hard not to be overtaken by an outpouring of emotions for your beloved land, for your ancient language (that has duly got the ‘classical status’) and its enviable history of being a confluence of the purest and finest strands of religion and spiritualism manifest in the universalism of the Jagannath cult. But far from being elated, I feel a sense of emptiness within. Forgive me for being a spoilsport, but I find precious little to cheer about. Let me tell you why.
Is there a cause that unites all Odias (unless, of course, you consider voting for a contestant from the state on a reality show as a ‘cause’)? Why is it that despite having a head start of nearly two decades over other states formed on a linguistic basis, the social, cultural and emotional integrity of the state is still a work in progress? Why are we so riven by divisions – coastal vs. western, British-ruled areas vs. princely states (gadajaats), upper caste vs. lower caste, English educated vs. Odia educated and so on – in a land that prides itself on its all-embracing ethos? Why do we feel pangs of Odia pride when an impeachment motion is initiated against CJI Dipak Misra but are blissfully unperturbed when the same pride is trampled upon inside the state day in and day out? Why are Odias in mainland Odisha so eager to shun the trappings of their Odia identity and embrace elements of a pan-Indian (read pan-North Indian) culture even as non-resident Odias (NROs) are working overtime – and often at great cost to themselves – to preserve the essence of their Odia identity?
The recent government decision to impose fines on shops and commercial establishments that don’t have their names in Odia displayed prominently on signboards brought out how deep the fissures have gone. Some people in western Odisha dubbed it ‘language terrorism’ (forgetting the pivotal role that the region played in the language movement leading to the establishment of a separate state of Odisha in 1936) while others, who can give a run for money to anyone from coastal Odisha when it comes to writing in Odia, proudly declared that Odia is NOT their mother tongue. It is not difficult to understand that this resistance to what they call the ‘imposition’ of Odia comes out of a deep sense of hurt at being constantly neglected and slighted by people from the relatively more developed coastal Odisha. On their part, the people of coastal Odisha, in their conduct and utterances, have strengthened this sense of alienation among people living in other regions. The ridiculing of the legitimate demand for a language status to Koshali (and linking it to the demand for a separate state of Koshal) reflects the same mindset that some Bengalis displayed in rubbishing the claims of Odia to be recognized as a separate language (saying “Udia ekta Bhasha Nayen”) before independence. There is a growing feeling among people living in other areas- and not just in western Odisha – that what is being sold to the outside world as ‘Odia culture’ is essentially the ‘coastal culture’ that has no place for other strands of culture from various regions.
It is the same sense of alienation that drives the people of Kotia village to the lap of Andhra Pradesh, allows the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) to still retain a measure of support in Mayurbhanj and people living in the border areas to have greater economic, trade and cultural exchanges with the people in other states rather than those in the coastal region of their own state.
There is, however, no point blaming either side for this state of affairs. There are social, historical and political reasons that make the emotional union of the state difficult. But that should not stop those among us who are concerned about the issue to keep working towards bridging the gap.
This Utkal Dibasa, let us resolve to work towards dismantling the barriers that have kept Odias living in various reasons apart from each other.
Bande Utkala Janani!