Migrations and their effect on Bengaluru’s lingual diversity

A recent analysis of the 2011 Census suggested, with over 107 languages spoken, Bengaluru is one of the most linguistically diverse cities in India
The analysis also said that Kannada, which is the official language of the city, was listed as the mother tongue by 44.62% of the city’s population. Other major languages include Tamil (15%), Telugu (14%), Urdu (12%), Hindi (6%), and Malayalam (3%). (PTI)
The analysis also said that Kannada, which is the official language of the city, was listed as the mother tongue by 44.62% of the city’s population. Other major languages include Tamil (15%), Telugu (14%), Urdu (12%), Hindi (6%), and Malayalam (3%). (PTI)
Published on Sep 05, 2021 12:13 AM IST
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By, Bengaluru

A recent analysis of the 2011 Census suggested, with over 107 languages spoken, Bengaluru is one of the most linguistically diverse cities in India.

The analysis, conducted by Shamika Ravi, a non-resident senior fellow of Brookings Institution, and Mudit Kapoor, an associate professor of economics at Indian Statistical Institute, pointed out that these 107 languages include 22 scheduled and 84 non-scheduled languages.

The analysis also said that Kannada, which is the official language of the city, was listed as the mother tongue by 44.62% of the city’s population. Other major languages include Tamil (15%), Telugu (14%), Urdu (12%), Hindi (6%), and Malayalam (3%).

Apart from them, the residents of the city also speak Maithili, Odia, Punjabi, Kashmiri, Sindhi, Konkani, Santali, Marathi, Manipuri and Nepali. The non-scheduled languages include English, Kabuli, Pashto, Tibetan, Arabic, Nishi, Mundari, Lushai, Nicobarese, Sherpa, languages from Nagaland, among others.

Historians and experts attribute this diversity in languages to the multiple waves of migrations the city has seen over centuries, especially three particular incidents in history.

In Census 2001, inter-district and inter-state migrants constituted 30.27% of the city’s population. Over the next decade, the migrant population increased by more than 12%, making them the fastest-growing community in the city.

Historian Suresh Moona said that soon after Bengaluru’s formation, there was a call made for people to come to the city for trade. “When Kempegowda built his mud fort in 1537, a call was made for traders and other craftsmen to move to the new city. He knew that unless there is no thriving trade, a city can’t grow. Many areas in Bengaluru were named after occupations such Akkipet (rice), Ragipet (millet), among others.”

He said the tradition continued with Tipu Sultan, who invited craftsmen from different parts of the country to live in Bengaluru. Most of these skilled labourers migrated to Bengaluru to support Tipu’s military industry. The remanence of the Tipu era migration remains in Bengaluru, the Kalasipalaya areas in the heart of the city, was a settlement of Kalsi, the expert tent-pitchers and organisers of military camps of Tipu’s army.

But the first big migration that changed the linguistic character of the city happened during the British India era. After the military engineers found Bengaluru’s topography and proximity to other cities to be good for developing a cantonment, manpower was required.

“When the British started constructing the cantonment area since they had a base in the Madras presidency, they brought in skilled labourers and traders as part of the development of the cantonment. This is one of the reasons why the cantonment area in Bengaluru has a large Tamil speaking population,” said Moona.

“While the migration before independence was limited largely to the Tamil speaking region, post-independence the emergence of industry and public sector undertakings changed the patterns of migrations,” said Janaki Nair, a professor of modern Indian history at the Centre for Historical Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

After Independence, Bengaluru became the ideal location for strategic industries as it was away from international borders and its proximity to other major cities. The next big wave of migrants hit Bengaluru in the 1950s and 60s when major public sector undertakings — such as Bharat Electronics and Hindustan Aeronautics — made the city their base.

Research carried out by Times Research Foundation in the 1980s, shows during the peak of the Bengaluru industrial era in the 1980s, 14% of the population was engaged in industrial work associated with the large-scale manufacturing economy led by the public sector undertakings.

Both Moona and Nair agreed that from having a large migration of Tamil speaking areas, the emergence of the industries resulted in a wider pool of migrants, especially from Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha. The linguist influences in the city, too, changed during this period.

Decades later, the open markets and globalisation made Bengaluru the world’s back office. The city, which has an ecosystem developed by the industries and the institutes of science and technology, soon became the hub of Information Technology, finding itself a spot among the global cities known for innovative technologies.

As Bengaluru became the Silicon Valley of India, the migration patterns in the city too changed. “From having a large Tamil population post-independence, the service industry now witnesses a large migration of the citizens from north-east India,” added Nair.

“Bengaluru is one of the few cities where you could survive without knowing the local language or with your mother tongue. That is because migration has made the city a multilingual and multicultural city. These concepts are common in the new globalised worlds, but Bengaluru had such a culture even before many other cities,” said Moona.

ENDS

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Arun Dev is an Assistant Editor with the Karnataka bureau of Hindustan Times. A journalist for over 10 years, he has written extensively on crime and politics.

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