A border village, caught on the other side

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Yellur has always yearned to be on the other side. A village in Karnataka’s Belagavi that’s 8 km from the uneasy border that separates it from Maharashtra, Yellur has never been in doubt over where its loyalties lie — most shop fronts display signages in Marathi and over 90 per cent of its population speak the language. Yet, last week, when border tensions between Karnataka and Maharashtra spilled over, Yellur stayed away.

A village of around 4,5000 houses, Yellur has had its share of struggles while asserting its Marathi identity and seeking its inclusion into Maharashtra.

Maruti Yellappa Belagaonkar, a farmer in his 80s, says the village was part of a ‘Sarabandi’ movement organised in Marathi-speaking villages and towns of Belagavi district in the late 1950s. “When states were divided based on the languages spoken by residents, this village was not included in Maharashtra. So people of this region protested, but the Union government did not heed to our request. I too participated twice in the Sarabandi satyagraha. But since I was below 18 years of age, they did not imprison me. They took me and a few others near a jungle and left us there,” recalls Maruthi.

As part of the Sarabandi movement, he says, villagers refused to pay land revenue tax to the erstwhile state of Mysore. “All of us in this village responded to a call given by the Maharashtra Ekikaran Samithi and didn’t pay our taxes for two to three years. The government then took away the paddy from our fields,” he says.

The tensions simmered for years until they boiled over in June 1986, when a decision by the Karnataka government to introduce Kannada as a compulsory language in schools triggered violent protests across Belagavi district. While nine people were killed in police firing in Belagavi city, four to five people from Yellur were injured.

An old-timer who spoke on condition of anonymity says, “During those days, it was difficult for Marathi speakers to land government jobs as we did not know Kannada. Now, youngsters have learned Kannada and are getting jobs.”

He says the “wishes of the people should be honoured” and the cultural and linguistic affinity that they share with Maharashtra must be recognised.

“We are not saying that we lack amenities because we are part of Karnataka. We do get all the benefits from the government. However, our main demand is that all official communication with Yellur and other Marathi-speaking villages in the area should be done in Marathi. Our property documents should be in Marathi,” he says.

Since its creation on May 1, 1960, Maharashtra has claimed that 865 villages should be merged into Maharashtra. Karnataka, however, has refused to part with its territory.

Maruthi also contends that there was a feeling among residents of Yellur that Kannada was being “imposed” on them. “The influence of Kannada speakers is growing. In 1956, Belagavi had an equal share of Marathi and Kannada speakers. Now, Marathi speakers make up around 35 per cent of the population. People from other parts of the state are settling here, which is creating problems for us,” he says.

Yellur grama panchayat president Satish Patil too maintains that based on historical evidence and the population of the village, Yellur should have been
part of Maharashtra. “Most of the residents here feel the same,” he says, adding that residents are willing to abide by the Supreme Court decision on the border dispute. “But, we wish to become part of Maharashtra. A majority of the population here speaks Marathi,” he insists.

The demands of the Marathi speakers don’t sit well with the few Kannada-speaking families in Yellur. “We wish to remain in Karnataka. Raking up this border dispute more than 60 years after it was settled is not right,” says a villager.



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