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Sandeep Sahu

By Sandeep Sahu

Like most controversies of our highly toxic times, this one too had its origins in social media. At the centre of the controversy was a video, first uploaded on YouTube and later shared on Facebook (both deleted now), showing the burning of ‘Madhu Barnabodha’, the grammar primer for Odia language. What lent the controversy traction was as much the fact of the burning as the use of a picture of Padmashri Haladhar Nag, the eminent Koshali poet.

All that the needless controversy has done is to reopen old wounds, deepen existing fault lines in our socio-cultural life and inflamed passions on both sides of the linguistic divide. If proponents of the Koshali state have used the occasion to vent out their anger against the people of coastal Odisha, the latter have found in it an opportunity to show the other side their ‘place’. What was particularly painful in the whole unsavoury episode was the contemptuous dismissal of the poetic credentials of Nag. One worthy said on Facebbok that such ‘poets’ are dime a dozen in the villages of Odisha and Nag got his Padmasri through publicity and political string-pulling! [If the bloodlust continues, one wonders if some would question the poetic credentials of Swabhaba Kabi Gangadhar Meher some day!!]

It is obvious that the shooting of the video – nearly a year old, I am told – and its sharing on social media was an act of deliberate mischief designed to evoke precisely the kind of reaction that we have seen since it was shared on Facebook. That it needs to be condemned unequivocally and in the strongest possible terms goes without saying. But in launching what amounts to a virtual language war, aren’t we playing into the hands of the mischief mongers?

Unfortunately, the row has refused to die down even after the well known folk poet condemned the burning in no uncertain terms and made it clear that he had no knowledge of it since he was not active on social media. In a sign of the cynical times we live in, his condemnation was dismissed as an ‘eyewash’, ‘afterthought’ and ‘insincere’ by those outraged by the burning of Barnabodha even after the culprit was arrested and forwarded to court based on a complaint lodged by the poet. The reason they have cited is the poet’s espousal of the Koshali cause in the past, who had met Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to demand the formation of a Koshali Sahitya Akademy in the company of the person now arrested for spreading enmity between communities.

This writer, for one, finds no reason to be skeptical of the condemnation just because Nag champions the cause of Koshali. Nor is there any ground to disbelieve his assertion that he is miles away from social media and came to know about the misuse of his name and picture only after being told about it by some people. But large sections of our linguistic warriors would have none of it. For them, he is only trying to wriggle out after being caught on a sticky wicket. “What amazing acting!” exclaimed a particularly peeved young Odia writer.

Let us face it. There are historical reasons for the deep fissures between the people of coastal and western Odisha. There is no denying the unpalatable fact that there are sound political, social and cultural reasons for the grievances of ‘Sambalpurias’ against their counterparts in coastal Odisha. Some of our cultural icons haven’t helped by seeking, unwittingly though, to equate what essentially is coastal culture with the pan-Odisha culture and refusing to entertain the claims of Koshali or, for that matter, numerous other dialects spoken in the state - as a language. I am no linguist and hence in no position to comment on the merits and claims of Koshali as a ‘language’. But why should we be so upset about some people demanding language status for Koshali? I refuse to treat it as an act of ‘treason’ as some friends are doing. After all, ‘unity in diversity’ is the foundation on which the Indian nation stands, doesn’t it?

Having straddled both sides of the regional divide, this writer can vouch for the fact notwithstanding their deep-rooted grievances against what they believe is the ‘dominance’ of coastal Odisha, the vast majority of people in western Odisha are not particularly enamoured of the idea of a separate Koshal state. That is why the demand has never really got enough traction to be taken as a serious threat by our political leaders. People of western Odisha living outside the state proudly proclaim them as Odias.

The political integration of western and southern Odisha, which consisted primarily of numerous princely states before independence, was completed in 1947. But the cultural and emotional integration of these areas with the ‘mainland’ is a work in progress, which calls for empathy, understanding and compassion on both sides of the divide. Both sides must be constantly guard against attempts to deepen the fissures and harden attitudes. Anything that hinders comes in the way of the integration – like the burning of the Barnabodha - must be seen for what it is- an act of devilish mischief – and shunned by both sides.

Let us spread love, not hate!!

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are 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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