Sunday, December 09, 2007

Desi diversity in America!

Here's Chidanand Rajghatta in ToI:

... [W]hat happens when you put 2.6 million Indians in the US? They bring their full range of plurality with them to a country that, much like India, allows full expression.


Oh, how they multiply and divide. When one Andhra caste began to dominate TANA (Telugu Association of North America), the other went on to form ATA (Association of Telugus of America). GANA could not contain the forming of the Gujarati Leuva Patel Samaj and nor could KANA hold back the birth of the North America Nair Society. When Bihar split to make place for Jharkhand, folks here made sure everyone heard it by forming BAJANA (Bihar and Jharkhand Association of North America).

Sometimes, there are so many associations for a given state or community that they form an omnibus association of associations. Thus, we have JAINA (Federation of Jain Associations of North America) and FOKANA (Federation of Kerala Associations of North America). Conversely, a mere Tamil Sangam was not large enough to accommodate the voice of Chettiars (to which belongs our finance minister P Chidambaram) who formed the Nagarthar Chettiar Sangam of North America.

He goes on to give some really curious examples: Association of Indian Entomologists of North America and Volleyball Association of Jats in America.

* * *

This brings back some sad memories of divisions within the (fairly small) desi community in Pittsburgh during the mid-eighties. Even though the divisive issue was couched in terms of how to run the Balaji temple, it really boiled down to a fight between the Tamils and the Telugus, with each group going all out to recruit supporters. Their quest for numbers was so desperate that the two groups didn't mind having on their side utterly clueless (and FOB) graduate students like us! Fortunately, our own academic work (and our ever-expanding cultural horizons aided by interactions with newly acquired friends from across the globe) made us lose interest in the petty temple politics.

Assertion and celebration of one's linguistic and religious identities are all very well, but they do encourage some insecure and small-minded souls to blow up the differences, which flare up in the kind of divisive politics we witnessed briefly within the small desi community in Pittsburgh. From this point of view, I think the mildly mocking tone in Rajghatta's piece is entirely appropriate.