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Andhra and Telengana: A vast and bitter cultural divide

Editor's Note: Noted journalist Kingshuk Nag's meticulously researched book Battleground Telengana: Chronicle of an Agitation (Harper Collins, Rs 299) explores the complex issues and underlying causes behind the demand for a new state. In this edited excerpt, he details the marked cultural differences that separate the Andhra and Telengana people, drawing attention to the unequal relationship that has created deeply held bitterness about Andhra "arrogance" and sense of "superiority."

In a process that began in 1956 and continued till 1960, the political and administrative map of India was redrawn to create states on a linguistic basis. The idea behind this reorganisation of states was to create homogeneous states that reflected, broadly speaking, the same culture within their boundaries.

The implicit belief that guided the exercise was that language was the basis of culture. If groups of people spoke the same language they were culturally homogeneous. But was this a correct understanding about culture? Perhaps not.

 Andhra and Telengana: A vast and bitter cultural divide

Battleground Telangana by Kingshuk Nag. Published by Harper Collins India.

If language is the basis of culture, Punjab and Bengal would not have been partitioned at the time of independence. Language is only one component that goes towards the creation of a homogeneous culture. Two groups of people could be speaking the same language (though different dialects), professing the same religion and yet consider themselves poles apart culturally.

Nowhere is this dichotomy seen so strikingly as in Andhra Pradesh. In spite of being together as part of the same state since 1956, the people of Telangana consider themselves distinctly different from their counterparts in Andhra because of their different histories that have led to the creation of different cultures. They, however, speak the same language. Trying to unite these two culturally different people – though Telugu they both were – would be a Herculean endeavour.

After the merger, the Telugu people of Andhra were ecstatic. For the first time after 1323, an integrated Telugu state was coming into being. But people of Telangana were in for a rude shock. Their conception of Telugu state was quite different from that of the Andhra people.

It was an unequal union between two brothers who had been brought up in different circumstance," describes former chief secretary of Andhra Pradesh Narendra Luther. What made the union unbearable for the less fortunate Telangana was the overbearing attitude of the people from better-endowed Andhra.

“This arrogance was borne out of the realization that they were superior to the local Telangana population in terms of modern education and the mores of modern life. Very soon the Andhra people were sniggering at our culture, our language and work ethics," says V. Venkataramana, head of the School of Management Studies at the University of Hyderabad.

Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) of Telugu Desam Party (TDP) during a protest opposite the state assembly after they tendered their resignations to back the decades-old demand for a separate state, in Hyderabad. Police arrested more than two dozen state lawmakers in southern India and teargassed students who were  demonstrating in support of a plan to create a new state.  Noah Seelam/AFP

Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) of Telugu Desam Party (TDP) after they tendered their resignations in Hyderabad. Police arrested two dozen state lawmakers and teargassed students. Noah Seelam/AFP

Thinking of themselves as the proper representatives of Telugu culture, the Andhra people were able to thrust their brand of Telugu as the language of the government. This was the language as spoken in the Krishna district located in the Andhra area. "Though there is no standard version of Telugu, this Krishna district Telugu came to stand for the real Telugu. All other variations were frowned upon," says A. Shyam Mohan, president of the intellectual cell of the Congress party in Andhra Pradesh.

"It is as if it's the language of servants and the menial classes that cannot be spoken by the educated people. As a result many parents these days force their children to speak the Andhra variety of Telugu so as to be counted as an equal in society," the [Telengana] Jagriti's representation says.

Other representations of Telangana culture are also ignored and festivals like Batukamma are not recognized as a state festival. "Textbooks for schools perpetuate the Andhra culture as if there was never any Telangana culture," says Shyam Mohan.

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Villains, vamps and buffoons

Nowhere has the misrepresentation of Telangana culture been more striking than in Telugu films. People of Andhra Pradesh are avid film viewers and the Telugu film industry churns out more movies every year than even Bollywood. But in these colourful extravaganzas, the hero and heroine mouth the Telugu spoken in the Andhra area. However, the villain, vamp and the comic characters speak Telangana Telugu.

"This is invariably the case and it hurts. They are the good guys and we are the foul fellows," says Keshav Rao, Rajya Sabha MP from the Congress party, who hails from Telangana.

Sometimes the portrayal is such that a person from Telangana is shown as extremely silly. "Films occupy such an important position in the life of a Telugu but rarely ever films are set in Telangana. And show me a single hero who hails from Telangana," says Union cabinet minister Jaipal Reddy. This is a point made by TRS chief K. Chandrasekhar Rao as well. Incidentally, 50 per cent of the revenues grossed by Telugu productions come from the Telangana area.

"What can we do? Such dialogues and representations are lapped up by audiences. So long as this is so, things are not going to change," admits a film producer who does not want to be identified. Realizing this, the TRS has been working on a plan to boycott movies which "makes fun of the Telangana way of life". Simultaneously, to give a boost to Telangana culture, films are being planned with pure Telangana dialect.

The legacy of cultural bias

"More hurtful than this misrepresentation in films, the Andhra chaps somehow feel that we are lazy and not hardworking. This is absolutely wrong, but they have managed to stereotype us. Yes, our nature is easy-going and we believe in old-world values, but this does not give them the right to lampoon us," laments Guduru Satyanarayana, one of the student leaders of the 1969 Telangana agitation and now a successful builder.

An informal but extensive survey that I conducted confirmed what Satyanarayana alleges. Almost all Telugus from the Andhra region I spoke to – nearly a hundred, from all walks of life, ranging from CEOs of companies to businessmen and from government officials to schoolteachers – averred that Telangana people were "lazy" and had "no work culture". Some of them used language that was quite derogatory while speaking about the people of Telangana.

Riot police charge a group of demonstrating students rallying in support of the separate state of Telangana at Osmania University campus. Noah Seelam/AFP

Riot police charge a group of demonstrating students rallying in support of the separate state of Telangana at Osmania University campus. Noah Seelam/AFP

At the same time, nearly 90 percent of Telugus from Telangana are of the opinion that Andhra Telugus "are cunning and business-minded whereas we are sincere people who believe in ties of friendship and kinship". The number of Telangana people quizzed was almost equal and came from the same varied groups. About 10 percent of Telangana people, however, conceded that Andhra guys were more enterprising.

"There are certainly differences between the cultures of the people. Telangana was under feudal rule and this reflected in the extremely servile behaviour of the people who had never been allowed to think, much less take any initiative. This continued till the 1960s, much after the Nizams had gone. But in Andhra Pradesh there was no feudalism, so the attitude of people was different and they could not figure out what was wrong with the Telangana guys," says corporate executive I. Venkat, whose family belongs to Andhra area but who grew up in Telangana.

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Toward integration?

Whatever be the cultural reality when Andhra Pradesh became a state in 1956, hasn't almost six decades of life together resulted in cultural integration or at least a lessening of differences between the Telangana and the Andhra people?

Andhra people, though they openly lampoon Telangana folks for their laziness, assert that there is hardly any difference between the two. On the contrary, the Telangana people harp on the differences and highlight how diverse the two peoples are.

"Our festivals are different, so is our way of life. For us Dussehra is most important but for them it is Sankranti [the festival to herald new crop]. Even on Telugu new year, the ugadi pachhadi we make in the two regions is different," says Sameer Reddy, a young businessman whose family hails from Siddipet in Telangana.

An index of cultural integration would be instances of mixed marriages: grooms from Telangana marrying an Andhra girl and vice versa. But in traditional marriages fixed by parents – and this constitutes the preponderant majority – the match is always between the bride and groom coming from the same region.

Believe it or not, conversations become difficult in an office with colleagues also. Oftentimes, we cannot fully understand what they are saying," says S. Rao, a journalist hailing from Telangana. "I know Andhra people say that there are no cultural differences but that's because they are assuming thatours. If we accept their culture without demur, obviously there will be no difference. This is what they want."

But Lagadapati Rajagopal, Lok Sabha MP from Vijayawada and a strong votary of a combined state, begs to differ. "I know that due to proximity to different states – Telangana to Maharashtra, and coastal Andhra to Tamil Nadu – different dialects of Telugu are spoken in different areas. But these are only different dialects. The language is the same. A farmer from Adilabad district of Telangana area can quite easily comprehend the language of a farmer from Vishakhapatnam district of Andhra area, I am sure. The culture of the entire state is the same and the Telugus are one people," he asserts. "There are thirty-two dialects of Telugu in the state and twelve dialects in the Telangana region itself. Does this mean that we are going to have so many states?" he asks.

An interesting aspect of the culture gulf is the difference amongst the Dalits (who along with the Brahmins are the only pan-Indian caste) of Andhra and Telangana areas. The chief Dalit group in the Andhra area, the Malas, consider themselves distinctly superior to the chief Dalit group of Telangana area, the Madigas. In turn, the Madigas argue that by hook or by crook, the Malas have cornered the benefits made available to the scheduled caste groups.

Hope for the future

There are some who argue that there are significant cultural differences between Telangana and Andhra but these have not widened in the last fifty years.

"On the contrary, they have reduced due to the evolution of standard Telugu that is used by All India Radio and Doordarshan. Also, all Telugu newspapers use a standardized Telugu, even in their regional supplements. The Telugu taught in schools and colleges is also standard," says Ajit Das (name changed), a serving government officer.

In other words, sixty years may not have been enough to create an integrated common Telugu culture, but slowly and surely the wheels are moving in that direction. "My friend's grandfather who belongs to Telangana reads Urdu, but my grandfather from Andhra knows Telugu. But my friend was born in Andhra Pradesh and so was I. Both of us know only English and Telugu. So there is no gulf between us. But our grandfathers, if they had ever met, could have never interacted equally with each other," says Sushma, a twenty-five-year-old techie who studied in the best schools and colleges of Hyderabad.

Obviously, the effects of over six hundred years of separation cannot be reconciled in just sixty years. The cultural gaps among the people of the two regions living in a metropolitan city like Hyderabad can be bridged in another twenty years or so. But for those living in small towns and villages, it will be a long while, possibly another fifty years, before they feel one with their counterparts in other parts of the state.

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Updated Date: Jul 20, 2011 23:11:35 IST

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