The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, April 27, 2003

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Karnataka: Where civility is a cultural trait
Randeep Wadehra

People of India: Karnataka (In three parts)
edited by K.S. Singh, B.G. Halbar, S.G. Morab, Suresh Patil and Ramji Gupta. Affiliated East-West Press, New Delhi. Pages: liii+1612. Price: Rs. 1935/-.

People of India: KarnatakaCOURTEOUS Kannadiga — that’s the picture one’s mind conjures up when one thinks of the people of Karnataka. The state epitomises a culture where politeness is neither associated with timidity nor treated as an artifice. If you accidentally collide with a Kannadiga, or crush his toes in a bus, he will invariably make an endearing, and chastening, gesture that at once conveys apology and forgiveness, by touching your body and then his forehead or heart. What makes Kannadigas so genteel and patient? Is it because a majority of them (61.33 per cent) live in the moderate climate region? Perhaps, it is the result of the Bhakti-Sufi influence? Whatever the reason, often the Kannadigas describe themselves as "nidanasta" i.e., a person who is slow, patient and calm.

The state is famous for sandalwood, arecanut, silk and coffee. The four salient eco-cultural features of Karnataka are: The Coastal Plains (Karavali Pradesh) that form part of the Parshuramkshetra extending into Kerala and the Konkan region, the Western Ghats (Malnad Pradesh), the Northern Maidan, and the Southern Maidan. The last two are part of the Deccan Plateau. The predominant language is Kannada, but Tulu, Konkani, Kodava, Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi and Urdu are spoken too. Bilingualism prevails.


Karnataka has an interesting mix of indigenous and migrant ethnic groups. Vokkaliga, Lingayat, Agasa and Brahman form the local groups while immigrant groups comprise Tamil, Maratha, Balija, Dakhani Sikhs and others. Apart from Anglo-Indians, Dakhani Sikhs and Memons, the minorities comprise communities like Navayat, Mapilla etc. K.S. Singh observes in the foreword, "Ethnographical accounts are available for 209 communities while historical references exist for 104 communities. There are jati puranas for 72 communities. All the communities are reported to have migrated to their present habitat; in fact 106 communities recall their migration in oral traditions`85"

Eightytwo per cent of the population is Hindu, while the followers of Islam and Christianity are 9 and 7 per cent respectively. Jainism, Sikhism and other religions each have one per cent or less following in the state. Scheduled castes, including Adi Dravida, Adi Karnataka, Chalvadi, Byagara and Koosa form 18.7 per cent of the state’s population. Six per cent of the population is Scheduled Tribes comprising Jenu, Kuruba, Koraga, Korava and others. However, it would be pertinent to point out here that not all Scheduled Caste communities like to be included in the Sudra varna, but prefer to be avarnas. Twelve per cent are Brahmins while 9.7 per cent are Kshatriyas — a caste described in the volume as "nebulous", probably because the Brahmins could bestow this distinction on any person or community. In Karnataka even a potter community was thus anointed. Similarly, certain Brahmin monasteries, like the one at Sringeri, could declare even a peasant caste as Brahmin after following prescribed procedures. Thus Karnataka appears to have been on the forefront of social engineering much before the term became fashionable among the chatterati!

While reviewing the Kerala series in these columns sometime back I had excerpted the passage that exploded the myth that Indians in general and South Indians in particular are predominantly vegetarian. The argument that the majority is not vegetarian gets reinforced by the findings in this series that Karnataka has one of the highest concentration of non-vegetarian communities. About 29 per cent are regular eaters of meat, another 50 per cent consume non-vegetarian food off and on. Only 19 per cent are pure vegetarian! More than 50 per cent of the population takes alcoholic drinks. Even the traditionally vegetarian communities are increasingly taking to alcohol and non-vegetarian diet. Of course, rice and ragi remain the staple diet. The Karnataka cuisine is less spicy than that of Andhra and uses more of pulses and coconut than of Tamil Nadu.

As in other parts of India, child labour exists in Karnataka too. It mainly comes from socially vulnerable groups like SC and ST, though about 63 per cent of all the communities contribute towards the child labour population in the state. Like their sisters in Kerala, the Karnataka women too once enjoyed the advantages of matrilineal system, which is almost defunct now. Though their role is considered to be important in social and religious functions, their overall status is rather low. They have little say in the family-level decision making. As "unpaid" labour force they fetch water from wells and other sources of water, collect fuel, and attend to agricultural activities and animal husbandry. Though a majority of them are non-vegetarian, alcohol consumption is much less than the national average.

While doing everything possible to revive and preserve its traditional crafts and art forms, Karnataka is increasingly acquiring an ultramodern outlook. A World Bank study assigns it the seventh rank in terms of per capita income, and first among the middle-income states. Its male literacy rate is 76 per cent, while the female literacy is 57 per cent and is rising. The sex ratio, which stands at 964 females per thousand males is above the national average, but not an ideal one. Another spot of worry is that about 37 per cent of the people still live below the poverty line.

Nevertheless, Karnataka has a promising future. With a cosmopolitan population and a vibrant polity, it is blessed with a strong industrial base. And Bangalore — the state’s capital — is the powerhouse of our software industry. The editors of this three-part tome have done a great job of collecting and collating invaluable data on Karnataka. This book is a "must-buy" item for sociologists, policy makers and capital-investors.