How covid19 has opened historical fissures between Kasargod and Dakshin Kannada..

KA Shaji in this Telegraph article writes how the health crisis has once again created fissures between the two districts. TO understand the context, one needs to understand the deep political history of the two regions. Kasargod was part of larger Canara region and then made part of South Canara region in 1862. The South Canara region was renamed as Dakshin Kannada and in State reorganisation, Kasargod was made part of Kerala.

As the virus spread in Kasragod, Karnataka closed its borders to Kerala opening the fissures:

Number of people killed by the coronavirus in Kasaragod, Kerala’s original Covid-19 epicentre: Zero. Number of people killed in the district by ostracism triggered by the outbreak: 13.

At first sight, this may seem a cautionary tale against the panic and stigma attaching to the infection across swathes of India — attitudes the country needs to shed urgently as it inches towards a lifting of the lockdown and a consequent rise in positive cases.

But the ostracism that shut Kasaragod’s patients out of top hospitals, causing many of them to die unattended, differed from the usual kind of coronavirus scare in two ways. One, none of these patients had Covid-19 — they were denied treatment of their various critical ailments just because they were from a district afflicted by the virus.

Two, it’s impossible to say how much of the ostracism resulted from genuine if misplaced fear of the virus and how much of it was deliberately engineered by linguistic and regional chauvinists who saw an opportunity in a public crisis.

The patients who died had been denied entry into neighbouring Karnataka to seek treatment in Mangalore’s speciality hospitals — something Kasaragod’s ailing had done for decades since, unlike most of Kerala, the district lacks quality health infrastructure.

They were stopped at the inter-state border in Thalappady by Karnataka police and vigilante mobs of language chauvinists, mainly Sangh parivar activists.

Most of the deaths happened on the roadside at the inter-state border, inside parked ambulances, as the accompanying health workers tried to convince Karnataka officials of the emergency situation. A few patients died on the way back home.

Kasragod is caught in the apathy between Kerala and Karnataka:

At the root of the issue lies the unique history and demography of Kasaragod, which has a sizeable Kannadiga population — and Konkani and Tulu speakers — apart from the majority Malayalis.

Indeed, Kannadigas are the majority in the northern half of Kasaragod, lying beyond the Chandragiri and Payaswini rivers, which virtually remains an extension of Karnataka geographically, economically, culturally and linguistically, said Muralidhara Balukaraya, president of the Karnataka Smathi in Kasaragod. Kannada is the medium of instruction in most schools there.

Historically too, Kasaragod had been part of the former Mysore kingdom, and then of an undivided Canara under British rule, before it was merged with Kerala in 1956 during the reorganisation of the states on the basis of language.

It’s this mix of history and demography that has prompted Kannada nationalists and parivar activists across the border to demand that Kasaragod be split from Kerala and merged with Karnataka or declared a Union Territory.

They blame the Kerala government’s “step-motherly attitude” for Kasaragod’s poor healthcare infrastructure that forces its residents to rush to Mangalore, headquarters of Karnataka’s Dakshina Kannada district, in medical emergencies.

But some Kannadigas of Kasaragod are now asking if this Karnataka lobby cares so much about their district, why is it forcing its patients to die on the roadside without treatment?

“The road blockade is hurting people here emotionally. Earlier, we felt Kerala was discriminating against us (Kasaragod district) by denying larger projects in health, education and infrastructure. Now Karnataka too is turning against us, ignoring the historical fact that we were part of the erstwhile Mysore state till November 1, 1956,” said Dr Y.S. Mohan Kumar, a Kannada-speaking medical practitioner and social activist in Kasaragod.

He regretted that the current blockade — continuing with the support of the BJP governments at the Centre and in Bangalore in the face of a Supreme Court directive — was vitiating old personal and community ties.

“Kasaragod is home to 3 lakh people speaking Kannada, Konkani and Tulu. Families here have a strong bond with Dakshina Kannada in general and Mangalore in particular. The connections transcending generations are personal, professional and social,” Dr Kumar said.

The  virus continues to create fissures…

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