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Column: The Questions We Odias Should Be Asking Ourselves

By Sandeep Sahu

[My sincere apologies at the very outset. The time for this particular piece was yesterday, which was the 84th Utkala Dibasa (the day Odisha was born as India’s first linguistic state back in 1936). But the issues it discusses, in my view, will remain relevant not just a day after D Day, but even when the next edition of Utkala Dibasa comes along. It is with this confidence that I seek your indulgence for this rather belated article.]

Utkala Dibasa is – or should be – a time for retrospection for every Odia, who takes pride in his state, its rich cultural heritage, its abundant natural resources and rues the fact that a good 84 years after emerging as India’s first linguistic state, Odisha continues to be counted among the least developed states of the country, at the very bottom of the development pyramid. Introspection, as we all know, involves asking questions to self and trying to find answers to each one of them. The following are the questions that I thought about and wrote out, in Odia, in the form of a long questionnaire on Facebook on Utkala Dibasa morning. I know that the answers would be different for different people and hence I am not offering any answers. But the questions – none of them asked for the first time here, I must admit – are the ones that I think must be of concern to all thinking Odias. So, here they go:

  • Why exactly do we take pride in being Odia? Os it because of our rich history and heritage, our glorious ancient past or is there something in our present day status too to take pride in? If there is, what is it?
  • Where are we vis-à-vis other states that were formed on linguistic basis long after us?
  • Why Odisha continues to be counted among the poorest and least developed states in the country despite being blessed with bountiful natural resources? And a related question: who is responsible for it?
  • Why has Odisha failed to emerge as one of the most industrialised states in the country despite its abundant natural resources?

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  • Why is Odisha lagging far behind other states in agricultural productivity and crop diversification despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of Odisha’s 4.5 crore population are still engaged in – and dependent on – agriculture or allied activities in one form or other? And a corollary: why do our farmers continue to wallow in poverty, misery and utter despondency? [A polite request to friends in the ruling party: For heaven’s sake, don’t give us the crap about Odisha winning the ‘Krishi Karman’ award four times in the last five years! Everyone knows what is the plight of the average Odia farmer.]
  • Why have all our rulers since the days of the Janaki Ballav Patnaik government in the 1980s run after industry and been more than eager to hand over the precious resources of the state on a platter to industrialists from other states, none more than the present dispensation, when Odisha, with its enviable and varied tourist wealth (I don’t have the slightest doubt that no other state comes even close to us when it comes to places and things of tourist attraction for every taste and preference.), has the potential to emerge as the No. 1 tourist destination in the country, edging out even God’s Own Country? Tourism can not only become the biggest revenue earner for the state, but also the largest employer of Odia youth, something that no amount of industrialisation will never achieve because of the very nature of big business.
  • Why do lakhs of Odia youths keep migrating to other states in search of work every year? Why have we failed to give them gainful employment right here?
  • Have we contributed to this sorry state of affairs of the state, its language, culture and tradition in some way? Do we take enough pride in being Odias? Do we speak Odia at home and with our friends outside it? Do we buy/read Odia books, magazines, newspapers and encourage our children to do the same? Do we protest when outsiders make fun of us, our state, its language and culture or just smile sheepishly?
  • Why have some of us become so insecure about our language, culture and tradition? Why is parochialism growing in a state known for its all-assimilating tradition right through history?
  • Do we take pride in our rich cultural and artistic heritage, our magnificent handicrafts and exquisite handloom weaves, our intricate applique and silver filigree work and so on only while talking to outsiders or do we also do our bit to keep these dying artistic and cultural traditions alive and kicking by patronizing these art and crafts and giving them pride of place in our drawing rooms and socio-cultural life? Do we tell our children about our glorious artistic and cultural traditions?
  • Is the ‘political stability’ that many of us take great pride in a boon or a bane? Has it helped Odisha get its rightful place or has it proved to be a stumbling block? Has it taken Odisha forward or backward?

I know there are many Odias who are ashamed or apologetic, not proud, of their Odia identity. “I don’t know Odia because I lived outside all my life and studies in an English/Hindi medium school,” (as if that is enough reason not to know Odia!) they would tell everyone, a tinge of pride unmistakable in their voice! They too should be asking a few questions to themselves. So, here they go:

  • Why are we ashamed of being an Odia? Have we done what we could have to remove the reason(s) for the shame?
  • What have we done to bring pride back in being an Odia?

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  • If we hate to be called Odias, what would we like to be known as? And a related question: does the linguistic community we feel part of accept us as equal partners?

If most, if not all, Odias ask themselves these questions (and a few more too), I am sure the process of change for the better would have begun even though we may not find the answers readily.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)

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