Kannada activism goes digital

Kannada activism goes digital

Going online gives them the advantage of a wider reach without legal tangles

Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai sings, along with MLA Raju Gouda, former MP I G Sanadi and others, at Kannada Geetagayana programme held in Hubballi on Thursday. Credit: DH File Photo

Earlier this week, a mass rendition of Dr Rajkumar’s iconic song ‘Huttidare Kannada Naadalli Huttabeku’ at Vidhana Soudha went viral.

Elsewhere, hundreds gathered at Jog Falls in Shivamogga to sing ‘Nityotsava’ penned by poet K S Nisar Ahmed.

They were taking part in the state government’s ‘Kannadakkagi Naavu’ (We stand for Kannada) campaign to mark Rajyotsava. 

As part of a month-long Kannada campaign, the government is making use of social media to promote the regional language.

The government initiative is only reflective of a larger trend of Kannada activism increasingly becoming digital.

Many Kannada activists and organisations have transitioned to online advocacy, moving away from acts such as blackening English or Hindi boards.

Take the instance of Karnataka Rakshana Vedike (KRV), one of the oldest Kannada activism groups in the state, which has increased its online presence.

The nature of the campaign is no more an emotional response to language issues but a more strategic one, explains Arun Javagal, organisation secretary, KRV.

He gives the example of their recent campaign for free vaccination. “People demonstrated in front of their houses with a banner demanding free vaccination. This was then posted online. This took place in front of 8,000 houses,” he says. 

With numerous cases slapped against Kannada activists taking part in protests over the years, the Vedike now wants to avoid such incidents.

Going online gives them the advantage of a wider reach without legal tangles.

That apart, the organisation has also given a collaborative touch to its activism.

“While earlier, Kannada activism was isolated, we are now collaborating with similar organisations in Maharashtra and West Bengal, which are also campaigning against Hindi imposition,” Javagal adds, saying this was possible only through digital collaboration.  

Be it campaigns against Hindi imposition or demands for adequate funding to the Kannada University, organisations like the Vedike were able to create impact through online campaigns, author and critic Rahamat Tarikere points out.

“While earlier they took up only language issues, they have now extended it to other regional issues. Also, people who would not have taken part in a street protest are now participating in hashtag campaigns. This has made the movement more inclusive. Digital campaigning has paved way for intellectualisation and maturity of Kannada activism,” he adds.

A diverse set of individuals and groups promoting Kannada are active in the online space today.

One such example is that of Kannada activist Roopesh Rajanna. As an individual, he collaborates with fan associations of Kannada film stars for promoting awareness on issues.

“Online spaces enable us to easily reach people in positions of power. Tweet storms are also a display of strength of the campaign,” he says. 

Kiran Kodlady, online incharge, Kannada Grahakara Koota, feels digital campaigns have also enabled global support.

Earlier, a person had to invest a whole day for a protest, limiting the number of participants.

Now, they can support from their homes, he says. The Grahakara Koota campaigns for consumer service in local language.

They have campaigned for Kannada labels on products in supermarkets, local language display in ATMs and have been successful in getting several companies to have a Kannada version of their advertisements.

Be it the recent online campaign against the Institute of Banking Personnel Selection (IBPS) not including Kannada as a language option to write the exam or the 2017 #HindiBeda campaign, which demanded Kannada display in metro stations, online Kannada campaigns have made an impact in Karnataka.

However, activists feel that the way ahead for Kannada activism is a hybrid of both offline and online protests. Online will complement ground-level activism, they say. 

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