Writers in the English language are easily the best known in Karnataka today. RK Narayan (a Tamil Brahmin brought up in Mysore), Raja Rao (Smartha Brahmin), Girish Karnad (a Maratha Saraswatha Brahmin) and UR Ananathamurthy (Kannada Brahmin with a socialist ideological background) are among them. Apart from these, there are other well known social science, political and journalistic writers among Brahmins from the state. Why are no Other Backward Class (OBC) and Dalit writers from Karnataka known outside their state? A Dalit writer like Devanoor Mahadeva is known only within his state, that too more among Dalit circles. The upper castes of Karnataka do not give him the recognition that a writer of his stature deserves.
Karnataka has produced many OBC politicians: Devaraj Urs, S Bangarappa and Siddaramaiah are well known politicians who became the chief ministers. Of these three, Devaraj Urs was from the Mysore royal heritage but Bangarappa and Siddaramaiah came from Idiga (toddy taping) and Kuruba communities, which are very backward castes. Such good leaders also did not get national status.
The reason is that they are not projected by the English intellectuals of the state or national-level intellectuals who write in English. Though HD Deve Gowda, a Sudra upper caste leader, became the prime minister because of the support of the Sudra upper caste leaders like Chandrababu Naidu, the English media in Delhi showed him scant respect. Brahmin English-speaking leaders like PV Narasimha Rao and IK Gujral were shown in a positive light because they could engage with the English-writing circles of Delhi and the international media. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi is treated with disdain in some elite circles because of his lack of English-speaking abilities.
Unlike united Andhra Pradesh or the Telugu two states, Karnataka’s OBCs and Dalits produced Dalit political leaders. For example, Mallikarjun Karge is playing a national role as a leader of the Opposition party. Yet Kannada society has not produced an OBC and Dalit intellectual who could write in English. There are hardly any well known journalists, writers and transformative intellectuals from these communities.
This is because most Dalit/ Other Backward Classes study in government schools, which teach only in the Kannada medium. At the same time, Karnataka is known for good English-medium schools in the private sector. Bengaluru is also known as an advanced English and software education and employment centre. But how many OBCs and Dalits are there in that sector?
It was UR Ananthamurthy who opposed the government schools teaching in English but educated his children in English-medium schools. Girish Karnad’s son Raghu Karnad has also been educated in the West. But they want the labouring communities to learn only Kannada, knowing well that a good English education is the most empowering soft power.
Unless the OBCs and Dalits defeat this sophisticated intellectual manipulation by the Kannada English-speaking Brahmins, the country will not move towards educational equality.
If this inequality and caste oppression is not stopped by the lower castes by forcing the government schools to teach in English, nothing will change.
Brahmins, who hated other languages, learnt Persian and Urdu when the Muslims were ruling India. They were the ones who gave up Persian and learnt English during colonial rule.
Learning a little bit of English in the Kannada-medium schools and competing with convent school-educated Brahmins and other upper castes will not be possible for the OBCs and Dalits.
The OBC and Dalit intellectuals must realise this important fact and work to change things.
Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is director, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Gachibowli, Hyderabad
The views expressed are personal