A Kannadiga with a Dutch wife is a pathological specimen

Anand Soondas makes some usual English-media remarks about language in India in an article called "Are we losing mother tongue" which appeared in the Times of India Crest Edition of March 27th.

Soondas's article can be nominated for the prize of the crest jewel of minority aggrandizement: the aggrandizement of English, the aggrandizement of migrants, the aggrandizement of the market of English speakers, the aggrandizement of mixed marriages (Delhi-based Kannadigas with Dutch wives!).

The first question the article begs is: "Hello, who are we? Readers of the Times of India Crest Edition?" If that is the case, perhaps the article should have been called "Are the readers of the Times of India Crest Edition losing their mother tongue?". Then the answer would probably default to a "yes", and Soondas would probably be covered. But Soondas has no such cover, and many are those who will read Soondas's article online (not caring to buy the Times of India Crest Edition) and wrongly conclude that their mother tongues are dying.

To them is this essay addressed.

The three Ms stink of minority aggrandizement

The central assumption of Soondas's thesis is that...
[i]n an increasingly urbanised India, mother tongues are under siege and facing a sustained attack from the three Ms of migration, market and mixed marriages.
The first problem with the above claim is, we know how much migration there is to begin with: it's not more than 4% on average in India (of course, we're talking about inter-state migration, because that's the one which crosses a language border, if at all). So even if the mother tongues of all those 4% are getting destroyed, it's not as huge a loss as the article makes it seem. Smells of minority aggrandizement?

The second problem is that the article shies away from truth by making the baseless claim that English is the "only window to the outside world, a potent weapon that allows one to compete in a market driven environment". We know that global multinational corporations (anyone heard of Google?) are increasingly internationalizing their product and service offerings by supporting more and more of the world's languages, not fewer and fewer. Stinks of minority aggrandizement?

And then, the third problem is of taking one Delhi-based Kannadiga called Shubhendra married to a Dutch wife called Saskia, or the children of one Kashmiri married to a Tamil with a job in Kolkata - and using them as mascots of a flawed thesis. Make no mistake: these pathological cases do not represent India. They probably represent the readership of the ToI Crest Edition, or even where that readership is headed, but that's it. Rots with minority aggrandizement?

Those who are "fortunately pushing-back" do not represent India

Whatever be the reason why the article seems to lack a central message, it is actually not without one. And that theme lies buried in the final section:
It is this realisation - that a modern India galloping on the strength of English is tearing children away from their languages and roots - that’s triggering a modest push-back.
Again, English may be tearing away the children of those who buy the Times of India Crest Edition, and may be they're pushing back modestly. But all this is besides the point. All this is besides the true India. All this is inapplicable to 96% of Indians who are not nomads to begin with, whose children are not being torn away from their languages and roots, and who therefore don't need to push back.

English is not necessary for knowledge and career advancement

Finally, I'd like to end this post with a message for "22-year-old Krinna Dobhal, an IT professional who’s guilty of abandoning the language of her ancestors":

English is not necessary for knowledge and career advancement. You have been indoctrinated into making that assumption by the education system which you've been in. That system needs to be reformed, and you can help in that reform. Don't be convinced that your mother-tongue cannot give you knowledge and career advancement of the best kind. The Japanese, the Israelis, the French, the Germans, the Dutch, the Greek, the anybody-and-everybody aren't convinced. Get up, stand up, and do what it takes to steer India back on the right track. On the other hand, if you're completely convinced, don't feel guilty of abandoning the language of your ancestors. Throw it away and stop shedding a fool's tears. Culture, folk dances and folk music are secondary. If you love them so much and don't realize the flaw in your assumption, your daily dose of culture and folk dances and folk music will vanish, too.

Foreign universities: the forgotten question of language

The question of language is neither being raised nor answered; a fatal assumption is being made.

Kapil Sibal's latest antic move to allow setting up of foreign universities in India has attracted both support and opposition. But it is extremely disappointing that both supporters and opponents have forgotten the most important angle from which to view this whole development: that of the language(s) in which these universities, if and when setup, are going to operate.

Kapil Sibal himself, his supporters as well as opponents have forgotten to ask themselves as to how the whole of India, in which 93% of the population is not proficient in English, is going to benefit from universities from abroad which can offer education in no language other than English. How can one be certain that they're going to offer education only in English? Simple: our own universities are fallen in this respect.

The question of language is neither being raised, nor being answered. Instead, a deathly silence surrounds both supporters and opponents. And therein lies a fatal problem which threatens to destroy the whole of India.

If you're following what Kapil Sibal is doing, you'll realize that he's got his attention fixed on the insignificant other: the rest 7% which is proficient in English. That's his focus segment, that's the people for whom he's toiling day in and day out, and that's the poorest and weakest man from Gandhi's Talisman for whom he's contemplating his step. But what about the 93%, minister?

It's high time the Government of India disinvests from minority aggrandizement. It's high time we set up and strengthen universities which work in the modern Indian languages such as Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, Bengali, etc.

Kapil Sibal may not even have the ability to enumerate these languages; but that does not grant him a license to eliminate them. This is yet another example of how un-federal India is, and how un-caring of diversity a strong center can be for India. This is also an example of how a strong center can act to amplify the errors of a few a billion times over.

Whether it's private or public, Indian or foreign, a university which operates in a language which continues to alienate and exclude 93% of the people around it on average is not acting in the best interest of India.

Hence, existing universities must first be fixed, must be made to understand their social responsibilities in post-Macaulay India. They must first be made to understand that it is their responsibility to elevate Indian languages to the status which English enjoys today, and not to complain that they aren't already developed. They must be made to understand that they are supposed to be societal change-agents, not spineless creatures which feed on the filth which thrives in stagnant water.

If, and only if foreign universities can help elevate the status of Indian languages in education, are they of any help to India. Then, and only then, do they pass Gandhi's litmus test.

The truth about English speakers in India (again)

Yesterday, the Times of India claimed that
[m]ore Indians speak English than any other language, with the sole exception of Hindi. What's more, English speakers in India outnumber those in all of western Europe, not counting the United Kingdom. And Indian English-speakers are more than twice the UK's population. 
and further, that..
English was the primary language for barely 2.3 lakh Indians at the time of the census, more than 86 million listed it as their second language and another 39 million as their third language. This puts the number of English speakers in India at the time to more than 125 million. 
The Times has picked data from the right source no doubt (pdf, xls.zip), and I've double checked that the numbers are alright. But it's funny how the Times makes you believe that a whole lot of Indians "speak" English.

Even the data taken at face value means that nearly no Indian called English as his/her first language. Further, a whopping 92 out of 100 Indians did not list English as their first or second language. And finally, 88 out of 100 Indians did not list English as their first, second or third language.

But the data should not be taken at face value either (I'm sure you noticed the double quotes around "speak" above). Why? Because nobody told you what it means to "speak", and what a "second language" or "third language" means. In fact, the terms first-, second- and third language imply that proficiency actually drops significantly going from the first to the third. Otherwise, all could be considered as first and the terminology discarded as erroneous.

In fact, upon digging a little deeper, I hit upon the question which was asked by the census (Page 221 of the Manual on Vital Statistics, June 2009) under "General and Socio-cultural Characteristics", which shows how much the actual question is up to the interpretation of the questioner and the answerer, and how much the results could vary if the sun rises in the east tomorrow (yes, I mean east). See the circled question below:

So, while the census casually asked people to list down the two other languages known in the order of proficiency, it did not define any yardsticks for measuring proficiency. What proficiency means is anybody's guess in the census proforma above. For one, it could be saying "A for Apple", and for another, it could be a university degree in English. For many more, it could well have been just "interest in English" based on all the media hype, such as that indulged in by English newspapers like the Times of India. And for many others, to "know" something might just be to "have heard of", as in "do you know Bhopal?", or even "do you know Dr. Rajkumar?".

I had pointed out earlier that Google India's R&D chief, Prasad Ram, claims that no more than 7% Indians are proficient in English. Google looks at the Indian language market as a huge opportunity. As you can see, this 7% number is close to the 8% (which is what 86 million is in India as per the 2001 census) who rated their proficiency in English as second-rank. And I'd certainly attach a greater sanctity to Google's data than the Times of India's, simply because the former is not in the business of make-believe; they are driven by hard market realities.

So I'd say don't take the Times' article at face value, and not even the data at face-value. The 7% or 8% number who rated English as second in their order of proficiency is probably closer to being the correct indicator of the number of English "speakers" in India, not the 12% claimed by the Times. Clubbing second and third language data under "speakers" is dubious, and is nothing but a method of minority aggrandizement.

Unfortunately, this fuels the false feeling that Indian languages are becoming increasingly insignificant, which further increases the vertical disintegration of India - something which has what it takes to sap all the life-blood out of India and render it dead.

The defeated can "lead India" to only one thing: defeat

A-ha. So we now have a Times of India "Lead India" winner (whatever that means), Sanjiv Kaura, get centre-space on yesterday's edition of Times of India to further the nonsense that Indian languages are fit only as vehicles of "our richest cultural expressions".

First, Kaura openly begs for education about what kind of English-medium schools have been banned in Karnataka. The "2,100 educational institutions" that were banned were not banned because they were English-medium schools, but because they indulged in a breach of trust with the Govt. of Karnataka by going back on what they signed on bond-paper: that they would run Kannada-medium schools. Those institutions committed a criminal offense by signing one thing on bond-paper and doing another. Perhaps Kaura should just refrain from talking about things he has no clue about - such as schools in Karnataka, and education in general.

And then, in the rest of the article, Kaura goes about blathering about how Indians cannot eat or learn or live without English, and even suggests that everybody be converted into an English speaking elite (somebody teach him the meaning of the word "elite"):
The idea that English education fosters elitism has been an influential one. But the way to deal with this is not by restricting the number of English-speakers even more. It is by widening its reach and democratising it.
The whole problem is - and Kaura should get this straight - nobody is restricting the number of English-speakers more than Mother Nature. Indians do not speak English naturally. It is a foreign language. Macaulay erected an elite class by investing heavily to go against this nature. Even to this day, it is impossible to "democratize" the learning of English. Mr. Kaura should go get some grass-roots experience and see for himself before blurting out nonsense from the center pages of English newspapers. He needs to see for himself that teachers are unable to teach Kannada well in Karnataka - let alone English.

And yeah, Macaulay wasn't as foolish as Kaura is being in thinking that English can be "democratized". In fact, he urged people like Kaura not to go down the path they're going down, but to get to some real work and...
refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population.
Perhaps Kaura hasn't ever heard of the above being said by Macaulay. But yes, he did, and Kaura's ilk didn't hear about it because it was busy thinking of him as an alien with 3 eyes and reversed feet. But whether it was Macaulay who said it or someone else, the point remains that it is unscientific, nay, outright stupid for anyone to think of replacing Indian languages with English - which stupidity Kaura just displayed for the whole world to view.

And finally, in the last paragraph of a 1000-word article, Kaura dedicates a dismal-but-not-surprising 100 words to talk about what he calls as "local languages", and that too in the sense that they can also co-exist with English and serve as the item-numbers for English the hero:
None of this is to suggest that local languages should be ignored. Our richest cultural expressions can continue to be in these languages, and our educational institutions should do all they can to facilitate this. But there’s no reason why multiple languages can’t coexist. Indeed, they have done so since time immemorial in this country. English is just a practical skill, a tool of empowerment which will help everyone access the world of commerce and opportunity. 
There's only one question that I'd like to ask Mr. Kaura now: Where is the reason why Indian languages cannot replace English as carriers of secular knowledge and secular sciences, especially when the need for them to do so is screaming itself out?

And yeah, Mr. Kaura, cut the nonsense about multiple languages co-existing from "time immemorial in this country" - this country itself didn't exist from time immemorial, and there was even less co-existence then than now. That's why different languages developed, stupid.

Isn't it time we realized that the defeated cannot lead India to victory?

Help make Karnatique better!

It's been a couple of years since Banavasi Balaga embarked on this ambitious project - Karnatique. From day one, authorship for Karnatique has been open to the entire world, and we still have the "Want to write for/to Karnatique? Send us a note" on the sidebar on the extreme right. However, I am still waiting for writers to show up.

How can we fix that? Ideas?

One of the things where I've probably fallen short is in clarifying the theme of the blog. But there really wasn't much clarity till now (!). I guess Karnatique is now becoming a blog focused mainly on Federalism and Mother-tongue education. These are obviously not themes relating to Kannadigas alone; in fact, these are universal themes. I'm open to changing the sub-title from "A critique of the world in which Kannadigas live and let live" to something which reflects the developing clarity of focus.

Hey, come on, write for Karnatique! Help it grow! Help make it better!

Of course, all articles will be edited for conformance to the theme and clarity of presentation. Writers will need to commit to at-least 2 articles per month. Okay, you know what? Each article will be paid for. One rupee per article, and payments will be made in units of hundred rupees.

Now please come forward to write! Email me to get started.

An interactive map is worth a thousand words

Here's an interactive map of India which color codes states according to the percentage of migrants living in the state. The map is created using Google Geomap Visualization using data from Census 2001. UTs and Delhi have a very large density of migrants (mostly because they were formed by taking areas from neighbouring states and of course because of higher central presence) and have been excluded from this map in order to show the more meaningful differences - the differences between states.

Remember that the definition of a migrant here is a person born in "states beyond the state of enumeration". If you consider the fact that Uttaranchal has 10.13% migrants, it might just be that most of them were born in Uttar Pradesh before the state split into the new Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal. Or it could well be migrants from nearby states such as Himachal Pradesh, Haryana or Punjab. The Census website does not have data on where the migrants came from (atleast, I couldn't find it); it just says how many came from other states.

At an all India level, Goa (16.98%) has the highest percentage of migrants, and Manipur (0.64%) has the least. Of the big South Indian states, Karnataka (3.93%) has the highest percentage of migrants and Tamil Nadu (1.17%) has the least percentage of migrants. Of all states with populations greater than 50 million, Maharashtra at 7.55% has the highest percentage of migrants. However, I cannot find an answer to the question as to how many migrants in which state came from where.

[Note: Google Gadget created using Google Geomaps by Kiran Rao Batni. The author has no control on the way the map is drawn by Google; address any feedback about the shape of J&K and India's international borders to Google, not to the author or Banavasi Balaga.]

India is not a country of nomads

There is a popular misconception among some big-city people - especially among those who work for multinational companies and the English media in cities such as Bengaluru, Chennai, Mumbai, Kolkata and New Delhi - that India is basically a country of nomads, i.e., people who have no other business in life but to migrate from place to place, even from one linguistic state to another.

This misconception drives them to an Idea of India in which languages like Kannada, Tamil, Marathi and Bengali are of near-zero importance, since people are anyway assumed to be nomads who go from one linguistic state to another (that Hindi is assumed to be some sort of universal language in India is something I won't dwell on here, but it's a disease in some Indians which works together with this misconception to corrupt the real, beautiful, vibrant and diverse India).

In addition, systems of education, governance and employment at the India level are basically built for migrants (that too, Hindi speakers); natives are simply regarded as "less Indian". I have argued elsewhere that this is the exact opposite of what ought to be.

So let's look at the facts of migration in India. The hard facts. The hard-to-digest facts.

I took Census 2001 migration data and did some basic arithmetic to arrive at how many Indians stay put in the village or town of birth, in the district of birth, and finally in the state of birth. Normalized to every 1000 Indians, the data looks like this (note that an error of 1 here is an error of 1 Million, but the graphs do their job of illustrating the main point I'd like to make):

That is, for every 1000 Indians questioned by the census, 953 were born in the same state. That is, they are not migrants from another state. Simlarly, 878 out of 1000 were born in the same district in which they were questioned. And finally, 701 out of 1000 were born in the same village or town in which they were questioned - these are folks who haven't migrated even within their own district!

The foregoing should offer sufficient evidence that India is not a country of nomads - we don't migrate like nomads do. It should also offer sufficient reason to not build systems of education, governance and employment for migrants at the cost of natives. It should also offer sufficient discouragement to those people (including in the Government of India) who believe that Indian languages other than Hindi don't characterize India.

But to drive home the point a bit more, here's another graph which plots the actual number of inter-state "migrants" in India in comparison with "natives". Note that a migrant here is a migrant crossing a state border, which is most often a border between two states which speak different languages; similarly, a native is a person born in the state of enumeration:

From what I know, children in kindergarten can recognize which bar is higher. It is not rocket science to decide which one should form the center of policy attention at New Delhi. But, to put it somewhat humbly, New Delhi seems to have other plans. Isn't it time the folks who sit in New Delhi and run India, as well as some of our big-city friends, went back to kindergarten?

Leadership by elimination by disinformation

On Sept 11, 2009, I had blogged about the deeply irrational and also suicidal statement by chief minister B S Yeddyurappa that Karnataka should "take the lead in India" on measures to cut down population a la China. We at Banavasi Balaga have sufficient evidence that Karnataka simply does not have a high population, and that it's suicidal to believe that Kannadigas should cut down their rate of reproduction.

This was bolstered today by a Times of India article about an International Institute of Population Sciences study which shows that the populations of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala are ageing. Yes, Kannadigas are just too damn old compared to people in UP, Maharashtra, Bihar and West Bengal. So we're not just too few Kannadigas, but just too damn old also! And it is to these people that our chief minister wants to convey the message of reproductive restraint! Way to go! What would the management gurus call this? Leadership by elimination?

And to add fuel to the fire, there's the Government of India spreading the nonsense that Indians should cut down on reproduction using its propaganda machinery. Sure UP wallahs should, but why Kannadigas? Why Tamils? Why Malayalis? In the Information age, disinformation about population is no worse than a biological weapon of mass destruction. And it's being hurled at the prosperous, innocent, few and ageing. What would the management gurus call this? Leadership by elimination by disinformation?

It's high time that the ultra-centralist, anti-federal parties of India take note of a simple fact: India is too big, and solutions to the problems of the poor, belligerent, populous and young are poison to the prosperous, innocent, few and ageing. A one-size fits all population policy is death to Kannadigas in particular and South Indians in general. Don't call their problems as our problems, and their solutions as our solutions. It's actually very simple.

Again, by George, what's going on here in India?

13th CFC takes federalism to a new low - lower than Georgie took it

The 13th Central Finance Commission, a body appointed by president Pratibha Patil, is out with its recommendations. Not surprisingly, the commission delivers a further blow to India's future as a truly federal country. While the Commission claims that its recommendations are "consistent with the principles of federal finance" and "fiscal federalism", it's clear that the Commission does not have the slightest clue of what federalism is.

Why, you ask? This should suffice as an explanation: the commission has recommended that local self-government bodies be given a direct share in Union tax revenues, bypassing the state governments. Here's what Vinoj Abraham, who teaches at the Thiruvananthapuram based Centre for Development Studies, has to say about the dangerous proposal to ignore even the presence of state governments (such as the Government of Karnataka):
“It is like bypassing the state, and the Centre will be directly dealing with the local self-governments (LSGs). The LSGs will get their grants on the basis of their performance and their share from the tax revenues and states will not have much powers on them.”
Well well well - what are we getting to here? Wasn't it better in the times of the British when the Viceroy of India atleast realized the importance of paying due respect to the princely states - respect not just for history but also for good governance and democracy? When the beginnings of a politically united India were sown, a Chamber of Princes was formed by a Royal Proclamation on 8 February 1921 and inaugurated by the Duke of Connaught on behalf of the King-Emperor in the Dewan-i-am of the Red Fort in Delhi. King George V in his proclamation defined the limits of the Chamber of Princes - which was really the birth of political India - thus:
It will have no concern with the internal affairs of individual States or their Rulers or with the relations of individual States with my Government, while the existing rights of these states and their freedom of action will in no way be prejudiced or impaired.
If this is the responsibility with which a colonial government acted, and this is the concern for good governance, democracy and people's right to self-governance that it had, doesn't one expect the Government of Free India to be better? If a colonial government had the sensibility to not prejudice or impair the freedom of action of the Indian States, doesn't one expect the Government of Free India to be better? Doesn't one expect the Government of Free India to do better than (to use the words of King George V) impair the privileges, rights, and dignities of the States of India?

By George, what's going on here in India?