India Table of Contents
In the 1990s, the central government has seemed far more willing than previously to grant demands for regional political entities within states, acceding to more demands and doing so after less agitation. This change may be part of a wider willingness to decentralize manifested in the recent trend of serious support of panchayati raj , granting more taxing, legislative, and development powers to panchayats at various levels and holding long-delayed elections to them. The demands on money, time, and military and police personnel caused by the disturbances in Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, and the northeastern states, and other military actions, such as that in Sri Lanka, may have made the central authorities more reluctant to resist demands if resistance might require military suppression. This trend to concede substate entities presages a number of possible outcomes for the Indian polity.
It should be noted that any of these regional changes, from the purely legal point of view, could be reversed by the central government on its own accord. Most constitutional amendments require only a two-thirds vote of Parliament. However, once in place, the various regional entities create a heavy self-interest among their office-holders and employees, in addition to those who feel served by their creation. An attempt to reverse the delegation of power could arouse agitations at least as intense as the original movements to force the issue.
The traditional worry about further divisions of or within states was that they would be "antinational," weakening national unity. Although the reorganization of states on linguistic lines was initially resisted as a challenge to national unity, once established, new states were not regarded as a threat, perhaps because they just had to be accepted as a fait accompli, and no attempt to reverse the organization of states on linguistic grounds has been suggested. This attitude prevails in spite of the secessionist sentiment that used to exist in Tamil Nadu and still does in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir. Once the substate entities are operational, their continued existence may be regarded as similarly inevitable. However, as has been observed, the regionalist movements have mostly preached, with apparent sincerity, their attachment to the nation; their complaints have rather been with state apparatuses. Anyone concerned about the possibility of secession from India might consider that a process granting more regional government bodies might in fact strengthen national unity. The regional governments within linguistic states could serve as additional centers of loyalty, benefits, and patronage in competition with the linguistic states, weakening a state's ability to attract an exclusive attachment and be seen as a candidate to be an independent national entity.
Whereas regional sentiment is partly linguistic, promotion of the local languages may provide a counterweight to the tendencies of states to insist on the spread of the state language at the expense of all others, a spread which, to the extent that it succeeds, makes the state something more nearly approaching a nation-state. The substate regions have been granted financial and other political powers, which, if they wish, they can use to encourage the formation or intensification of ethnic consciousness, as the states also can. But, since the regions are smaller bodies, they are less likely to contemplate independence or to concur with a move toward independence if the states should do so.
Apart from the reduction of threats to national unity, the recognition of regionalism may have further political benefits. First is the reduction of the violence that ensues from regional movements and their repression. It is hoped that intermediate governments also will be able to reduce political violence by allowing the swifter expression and solution of the woes of discontented peoples. Such action cannot be guaranteed; it depends in part on which politicians get elected. Resolution of problems neglected by central and state authorities and that originally motivated the movements is also possible. Moreover, such resolution may result in greater participation in democratic government by those voting or holding office in organizations closer to local concerns and groups than is the national Parliament or even the state legislatures. In this way, there is a continuation of the political mobilization started in the course of the movements.
If substate regions proliferate, including regional entities within regional entities, the process will resemble traditional Indian polities with imperial powers, feudatory monarchies, subinfeudation within those, and real political power at the local level. Arguably, this situation would accommodate the true nature of the society better than the quite centralized system India has had since independence and provide scope for real democracy.
* * *
Michael Shapiro and Harold Schiffmann's Language and Society in South Asia is the best summation of research on the languages of the region and their place in social life. Among somewhat older works, Language and Civilization Change in South Asia, edited by Clarence Maloney, remains useful, and in particular the introduction by the editor gives a good general overview. An excellent summary of the history and current state of research on the linguistics, sociolinguistics, and history of Indo-Aryan languages is found in Colin P. Masica's The Indo-Aryan Languages .
Language statistics, as well as lists of languages, are found in the decennial Indian census. Useful statistics gathered on different principles, counting communities (Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and other categories) rather than individuals, gathered by the Anthropological Survey of India are found in the volumes edited by Kumar Suresh Singh, in the series People of India . Particularly useful on tribes are K.S. Singh's An Anthropological Atlas, which includes maps covering culture, language, physical anthropology, and other useful categories; his The Scheduled Tribes is a thorough encyclopedia of all the tribes.
On the construction of linguistic and other identities, Paul R. Brass's Language, Religion and Politics in North India remains basic to an understanding of the subject. Themes in it are updated in his The Politics of India since Independence .
All of Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf's works on India's tribal people are useful. His Tribal Populations and Cultures of the Indian Subcontinent provides a contemporary view of some of the country's larger tribes. Moonis Raza and Aijazuddin Ahmad's An Atlas of Tribal India is also useful.
Bernard S. Cohn's India: The Social Anthropology of a Civilization and David G. Mandelbaum's two-volume Society in India remain essential background works. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)
Data as of September 1995
India Table of Contents