At a time when the growing disconnect between the northern and southern parts of the country is being fuelled by the alleged imposition of Hindi, a former Rajya Sabha MP is attempting to bridge the gap of cultural understanding.
Bharatiya Janata Party leader Tarun Vijay, as part of his effort to 'introduce the glory of south India to the north', will be presenting a year-long programme on Akashvani - All India Radio. This programme will introduce saints, philosophers and kings of southern region to Hindi-speaking listeners.
And, interestingly, his first topic for the broadcast, that begins on February 9, is Andal. The Alvar saint was dragged into controversy after Tamil lyricist Vairamuthu quoted researchers who had referred to her as a 'devadasi' in a speech at the Srivilliputhur temple. Angry devotees had demanded an apology from the poet and the magazine that had printed the speech. Vairamuthu later claimed that devadasi meant 'servant of god' and not prostitute.
"My programme will present Andal in her full glory," says former MP Tarun Vijay. "It will clarify all these matters. To me, Andal is a symbol of womenâs empowerment. Over 700 years ago, in a male-dominated society, she did not bow down to societal pressure. Her glory is known across south India and it is time the north knows about this saint.â
Over the last three years, Tarun has devised multiple programmes to spread southern literature and cultures outside India. In 2015, there was a national essay writing competition in Tiruvalluvar. The next year, a statue of Tiruvalluvar was taken from Kanyakumari to Haridwar, in order to spread awareness on the Tirukkural. In 2017, the former MP presented a portrait of Rajendra Chola to Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
"North Indian ignorance about kings, saints and poets of south India stems from their arrogance," says Tarun Vijay. "There is more to India than just Ashoka and Shivaji. South India has had some of the greatest empires â Cholas, Pandyas, Cheras and the like."
He also asks when students of History in school studied about northern rules, why canât they learn about southern rulers too?
Tarun then went on to say the political leadership in the country has failed to understand that development is not merely roads, electricity and other infrastructure. Philosophy and dharmic knowledge is equally important, he claims.
"The criminal neglect of southern glory has made us intellectual paupers. Poets represent a civilisation. North Indians don't know anything about the Sangam period. Even when the statue of Tiruvalluvar reached Haridawar, north Indians were upset because they believed that the statue of a man of a lower caste should not be placed there," he adds.
When questioned about allegations of Hindi imposition in southern Indian states, the former MP says, "I won't say they are wrong. But it is done due to arrogance. The Narendra Modi government is working towards respecting and understanding the south."
He also disagrees that south Indians must learn Hindi. "They will learn a language that they think is useful. The mindset of forcing them to learn a language must change. Hindi speakers don't buy books in their own language, send children to Hindi-medium schools or give speeches in that language. So let them encourage the language amongst themselves first," he says.
The radio programme itself will be in Hindi, however, in order to attract the masses. It is titled âDakshina Sethuâ, symbolising the bridge it seeks to create between the north and the south.