The Kerala government recently passed an ordinance making Malayalam compulsory as a first language in schools from classes one to 10 across the state. On Tuesday, Kasargod district witnessed widespread protests against the move.
Kasargod is a small coastal district near the border of Kerala and Karnataka. It houses over 12 lakh people, who speak Malayalam and Kannada though the Kannada-speaking population has been declared a minority in the region. The stiffest resistance to the ordinance has come from this district because most people here feel that making Malayalam compulsory in over 500 schools in the region where both Malayalam and Kannada are taught, would diminish the Kannada-speaking population in Kasaragod.
Protestors gathered outside the District Collectorate at 5am and the agitation continued till well into the afternoon. Professor Shreenatha Kasargodu, who is the Vice-President of Karnataka Janata Parishad, Kerala Unit and an activist, said, “Kannada is a minority language in this region. If the students are made to learn Malayalam, then our language and culture will not be looked after”.
He was part of the meeting on April 21, 2017, which took place in Kumbla district of Kasaragod as well as the protests on May 23.
He went on to say that the Kerala Government, while not making Malayalam as the only language to be taught in schools, has added some extra benefits for those who are fluent in the language. Professor Shreenatha felt this was a cause for concern as the students will learn Malayalam and forget their mother-tongue.
“There were 7000 people on Tuesday outside the Collector’s office. We stood there till 3pm but there were not many people in the office and the Collector was on leave. We as a Kannada-speaking population of Kerala want the government to acknowledge that it is not fair to impose their language on us while ours [Kannada] is diminished,” the Professor added.
S Balakrishnan, an assistant in the postal service of the district said, “There are as many Kannada speakers here as there are Malayalam speakers. Being a Malayali who has learnt Kannada as my first language, I feel that both the languages are equally important in the region due to its location. The Kannada speaking population here feel that making Malayalam compulsory is an imposition on their culture and they are not comfortable with it. Till now, publications are printed in Malayalam and Kannada".
Ganesh Karnik, a member of Karnataka Legislative Council said, “We respect that Malayalam is the state language of Kerala. However, we request the government to not get in the way of us promoting our mother-tongue with the imposition of the language.”
The problem has been going on for ten years and has affected not only Kannada minorities in the north but also Tamil-speaking minorities in the eastern part of the state, said S Balakrishnan.
Professor Shreenatha said, “In our meeting on Friday, we fought not only for Kannada-speaking people but also for the Tamil speakers of the state near Coimbatore and Kanyakumari. It is not fair for the State to force us to do something we do not want to do”.
Ganesh Karnik says the fight is not over. They are planning to raise the issue during the next session of the Assembly in both Kerala and Karnataka. He says, “I am optimistic that the Kannadiga population of Kerala will be victorious. However, it will be a long fight.”