Telengana and expectations

The last month has seen tremendous political upheaval in Andhra Pradesh, with the crux of attention, Hyderabad. Since the country’s independence, and particularly in the last decade, demands for separate statehood for Telengana have intensified. These have now finally culminated in the state’s proposed bifurcation into Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, with Hyderabad the (prized) shared capital for ten years.

As an observer, and one who lived in Hyderabad for the summer, I can say with some surety that the divide between “Hyderabad” and “the rest of Andhra” is palpable, and similar to the sharp gulf between the metropolis and state it lives in in other parts of the country. The author of this Caravan piece articulates it better than I could, “I had stayed at Osmania University, however, and I had met the students, mostly from rural, low-caste backgrounds in Telangana, their shabby clothes and hesitant sentences a far cry from the affluent urbanites who frequent Hyderabad’s expensive hotels and nightclubs. As the stalemate continues, with the state buffeted by protests from both sides, it seems clearer than ever that the conflict in Telangana is indeed about the city and the countryside. It is not, however, simply a matter of the irrational, sectarian supporters of Telangana expressing an unjustified desire to seize Hyderabad’s wealth for themselves. It is about an increasing divide in Andhra Pradesh that has gone unnoticed till now between the rich and the poor, the upper castes and the lower, and between the urban growth based on technology, real estate and financial speculation—‘Brand Hyderabad’—and the rural deprivation visible in the drought-prone districts of the northwest. Telangana, in that sense, is the spectre created by the singleminded globalisation that has favoured Hyderabad over its surrounding rural areas, even though its origins go back a long way, to the time when an independent India was being formed in 1947” (See more at: http://www.caravanmagazine.in/reportage/road-telangana?page=0,1#sthash.VLwjJRfr.dpuf).

Going in to my research project, I did not realize that within Hyderabad, I would face any roadblocks with language, seeing as how the state was carved on linguistic grounds. While Telugu is the main language spoken, there are large pockets that speak Hindi, so I thought I had both languages under control. It was only after my translator informed me (after all the interviews were over, of course), that she could not decipher a lot of the audio, since it was in “the Telengana dialect”. The Telengana dialect. Of course. Not something that I had thought of, but how different could it be? Apparently, very. While I am still trying to sort out what this means for my understanding my interviews, I am still struck with the nuances within each of the numerous languages in India. Not just with inflections that can locate a person within a linguistic social group, but also with identifying accompanying sub-regions and villages through the dialects.

While I hope the questions being asked during my interviews were comprehensible to the elderly Telengana dialect interviewees, only time will tell whether their answers were. And even more time to tell how/if their responses reflect their aspirations for a separate statehood, given the lack of governmental support they have seen come their way through pensions and other public transfers. Aspirations change, as do expectations. That seems to be the common vein through my interviews, whether with those from Telengana or other parts of the state; socioeconomically advantaged or disadvantaged, Hindu or Muslim.

While my hypothesis has been that changing demographic realities (lower fertility, increasing out-migration, lower mortality among elderly) coupled with changing household structures (children moving out of shared residencesàmore elderly living alone) create tension between the traditional values of the older parents and independent, individualistic youth, I was pleasantly surprised. Given what we know about the tight-knit Indian family, I thought that the elderly (60+) would expect their children/grandchildren to provide for them in their old age. Sort of like a reverse “I invested in you when you were young, now it’s time the tables were turned”. Not the case. Not from any of the women I interviewed. They instead seemed to have adapted to situations, changing times, hand they have been dealt, or whatever you want to call it. Not only do they not expect anything monetarily from their children, or children-in-laws, they are entirely confident that their social networks (other elderly), savings (if they have any), or God/fate will take care of them. Not to mention that they all seemed to have given up hope that governmental programs designed to help them, will never really work. This almost fierce demand for independence of course, could be borne out of family conflicts or unrealized expectations from children, but is nevertheless unexpected and exciting. Where this leaves in-home elder care is another question, but provides great insight into something that researchers in the field have not even heretofore entertained.

With independence winning out for Telengana, and the satisfaction with independence the theme for elderly in terms of their living arrangements, everything that I expected from the summer was turned upside its head. If you go into any research area knowing what answers you will get, what’s the point of doing it? Instead, coming out with more questions than you had going into it, is what I would call a fantastic research experience, wouldn’t you?

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About apoorvajadhav

Fourth-year Ph.D. Candidate in Demography at the Population Studies Center, University of Pennsylvania. I study social norms and fertility decline, as well as intergenerational transfers and aging in India