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Op-Ed: Who Is An Odia?

Who exactly is an Odia? What does one need to do – or, not do – to earn the title? What are the attributes that one must possess to be called a true blue Odia? Going by the opinion of a large number of people I have been following both on social media and in real life, the list of attributes of a quintessential must include the following. One must hate, despise or, at the very least, disparage all other languages. Whether one can write a sentence of correct Odia or not, one must not read or write in any language other than Odia. One must not wish Happy New Year, Merry Christmas or even Happy Birthday to friends, colleagues or acquaintance. And the most important of them all: one must not send his children to an English medium school. It is actually utter blasphemy and automatically disqualifies one as an Odia. [There are some who think spelling Odia as Oriya – and Odisha as Orissa – is the ultimate test of Odianess!]

Most ‘proud’ Odias have a problem with English. It is almost as if one cannot read, write and speak in English and still demand to be called an Odia. There are others who have no problems with English, but are up in arms over Hindi. Still others have a problem with Bengali. There are some who would not countenance even Sambalpuri/Koshali. It is all very well to take pride in the antiquity of our rich language, its long and glorious heritage and its classical status. But do we really need to embellish our love for our language/culture with hatred for other languages/cultures?

I am afraid this petty-mindedness is not going to take us Odias anywhere. Nor is it going to help the cause these self-appointed culture warriors believe they are upholding. They don’t realize this craven attitude will show Odias to the outside world as a parochial bunch, something that we clearly are not. In fact, we must take pride in the fact that we have, over the ages, welcomed anyone from anywhere and any language or culture with open arms. The Land of Jagannath is justifiably proud of its glorious all-welcoming, all-embracing and all-assimilating heritage. Let us not spoil the fair name of the state by raking up the kind of parochialism we accuse other linguistic communities of.

I am as proud an Odia as any of these (mostly) ‘cyber warriors’. Unlike many of them, I have fought some real life battles to assert my Odia identity whenever my state, language and culture have been mocked at. That’s precisely the reason I have lent my full support to the ongoing ‘Rajo Nuhen Raja’ campaign launched by Rudra Prasanna Rath. But I have never felt the need to hate any language to establish my Odia credentials. These dimwits are too consumed by intolerance to understand the simple truth that one does not have to be an ignoramus in all other languages to be counted as a ‘real’ Odia. Who will explain to them that it is possible to be a proud Odia and still acquire a degree of proficiency in English, Hindi or some other language.

In my book, one would fail the ‘Odia’ test only if s/he is unable and/or unwilling to read, write and speak Odia. If s/he can also pick up another language or two, well and good. If not, s/ he still remains as Odia as anyone else. But s/he loses the right to be called a ‘true’ Odia if s/he starts spewing venom against other languages. Instead of deriding other languages, the effort should be to learn as many languages as possible in a lifetime. That would give us a more rounded worldview. The ‘frog in the well’ syndrome would take us backward, not forward!

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(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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