The politicisation of the ‘Marathi Manoos’ issue that the Shiv Sena, and more lately the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, have done has meant that other aspects of the Marathi or Maharashtrian identity got suppressed or fell by the wayside. Consequently, any effort to preserve or promote Marathi culture, language and literature was seen as a parochial enterprise, one that other parties shied away from.
The result is that issues such as education and training of Marathi youth for the new economy, parity of Marathi and English in schools and higher educational institutions, promotion and use of Marathi in day-to-day governance, a comprehensive culture and language policy of the government have all fallen off the agenda.
The sons-of-the-soil or the ‘Marathi Manoos’ has been the Sena’s emotive issue, but during its 25 years of governing the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, it has not been able to prevent Marathi medium civic schools from shutting down, said analysts. Other issues hardly ever appeared on the Sena’s agenda.
Anything Marathi is instantly seen through the prism of the Shiv Sena or the MNS. Historians such as Dr Aroon Tikekar rue that the progressive and liberal ethos of the Marathi manoos has been over-ridden by the aggressive politics of the Sena. “There’s, of course, the contribution of Shahu-Phule-Ambedkar. There’s also the entire intellectual thought of MG Ranade, Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Bal Gangadhar Tilak which hardly ever comes into public discourse,” he pointed out.
Use of digital technology is a favourite topic of debate in sections of linguists. Digital technology, a field that has so many Marathi-speaking professionals in the Silicon Valley, can be used to preserve not just the language, but also the entire Maharashtrian ethos, said computer professionals such as Sunil Khandbahale.
The Marathi tradition of vyakhyanmala (lecture series) pre-dates the TED and TEDx events by more than a century. “The great tradition of the ‘Vasant Vyakhyanmala’ was started by Justice M.G. Ranade in 1875. The idea was to present a variety of lectures, across various topics. But TEDx events are popular these days,” said Amit Paranjape, software professional who blogged about the 140th edition of the lecture series in April this year.
Independent activists and voluntary organisations working to address some of the issues facing the community said they can go only this far and no further; the state will have to lean in with a comprehensive policy. “There is a need to go beyond the politics of Marathi manoos,” said Deepak Pawar.