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Know How ‘Kalinga’ Derogated Into Racial Slur In South Asian Countries

Bhubaneswar: The word ‘Kalinga’ has a long and rich history which is a matter of pride for every Odia. But, sadly, over the years it has taken an ugly form of a racial slur in South Asian countries despite a long history of maritime trade and similarity of culture.

Before divulging into its present form, let us take a look back at the history.

History of Kalinga

Kalinga was the most important geographical unit which played a significant role in the formation of ancient Odisha and also in India through the ages. Originally Kalinga was a small state bordering on the Bay of Bengal which consists of present-day Odisha and parts of Andhra Pradesh.

During the 3rd century B.C. the Greek ambassador Megasthenes in his tour of India had mentioned of its superior military strength which was a cause of jealousy for Magadha, Maurya and Bindusar empires. According to the historians the Magadha Emperor Ashoka invaded Kalinga in 261 B.C. and the war led to deaths of nearly one lakh soldiers.

Inscriptions at Hathigumpha speak of the reign of King Kharavela

Later, Kalinga rose its fame primarily under King Kharavela who is said to be crowned after Ashoka’s death (the date of crowning is under speculation).

It is important to note here Odisha and South Asian countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia have an old connection of maritime trade and have good relations till date. Now one wonders how the name of an extinct state become a racial slur for Indians in the mentioned countries. Let’s go a bit back to understand how a simple reference term became a slang.

Know How ‘Kalinga’ Derogated Into Racial Slur In South Asian Countries
The age-old maritime tradition of ‘Boita Bandhana’ is testimony to the trade relations between India and South-East Asia

Degradation of ‘Kalinga’

Kalinga or ‘Keling’ or ‘Kling’ was initially referred to Indians, in general, in the mentioned countries. It started with a reference to Kalinga Kings where the name was corrupted as per local dialect. The book ‘Sulalatus Salatin’ makes several such references, but never as an insult.

Another school of thought believes the k-word originated from the British and Dutch referring to Indians as ‘Clings’ or ‘Klings’, especially in the contemporary British colonial writings where immigrants from Madras and Coromandel Coast were called ‘Klings’. Thus, the name became synonymous with the south Indians because the k-word was used to describe South Indians instead of Eastern Indians from the Kalinga Kingdom.

As written by Nicholas Belfield in ‘A Descriptive Dictionary of British Malaya’ (1894), ‘Kling’ is defined as a “general term for all the people of Hindustan, and for the country itself”.

Digging into the history a bit more reveals that many Indian were enslaved by the British and they used ‘Keling’ or ‘Kling’ to refer to them who have then went on to become citizens of these South Asian countries. This sounds very similar to another derogatory word ‘Negro’ which is considered equally offensive.

But that is not the case anymore. British colonialism is far over and slavery is illegal. So why have a certain section of society still held on to the k-word while referring to Indians?

The Indians in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia allege that the word is and has always been used to degrade them and make them feel like outcasts. It completely disregards their struggles.

Through this, OMMCOM NEWS hopes to create awareness which may help eradicate a slur which actually should be something to be proud of.


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