What India Needs Today Is Linguistic Equality, Not Another Link Language

A news report published recently in The Hindustan Times, reports that the Samskrita Bharati, a non-profit organization associated with the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh, will launch an outreach drive to propagate the use of Sanskrit throughout India.

Does a nation require a common link language?

The report states that the organization’s one-day campaign called 'Graham Graham Samskritam' (Sanskrit in every home) is aimed at establishing Sanskrit as the 'rajbhasha', a pan-India medium of spoken and written language. While the idea of having a single common language as a means of communication still has many takers in India it is so old-school that many advanced nations have abandoned such policies in favour of providing equal rights and privileges to all linguistic communities. So, how long are we going to continue to fool ourselves that the Indian Union needs a 'link language' that will serve as some kind of a unifying factor?

It seems natural that nations, which are linguistically diverse should promote a link language to help facilitate communication across all its regions and also to serve as a national unifying factor. But as we have learnt from history, in the instances of Bangladesh, USSR etc., such attempts have mostly been counter-productive leading to frictions between linguistic groups and ethnicities, and have often resulted in disintegration of nations. On the other hand promoting different languages can enhance mutual trust between language groups and help achieve unity that national governments strive for. This can be seen in several countries in Europe like Belgium and Finland, where all languages are treated on par and the rights of its speakers are protected as a state policy. The European Union actively encourages fostering of linguistic and cultural diversities, as a way to promote integration between its member states.

How pragmatic is the promotion of Sanskrit in this age?

Questions of pragmatism and practical sense also arise. Sanskrit may have been used as a liturgical language by the learned few for more than two millennia in India but as linguists and historians attest, it (proto Sanskrit) evolved into various Prakrits more than two thousand years ago. These Prakrits evolved into the various languages and dialects spoken across the northern part of India today. What is the point in bringing back to speech (to whatever possible extent) a language that has already evolved into various languages and dialects? As we know it, speech is constantly under flux. So, even if one succeeded in bringing Sanskrit back to speech in a few groups and regions, it will inevitably change and evolve into different dialects in decades and centuries to come. Should one take up the Sanskrit campaign again then? This is not only so unnecessary and inefficient but also counter-productive. 

Instead, it makes a lot more sense to promote various languages spoken across the country in education, administration and in all other possible spheres of life. It will not only help literacy and education, but also help people obtain citizen services and official government communication in the language they are most comfortable with. Often, some people argue that promotion of Sanskrit will enrich the other Indian languages too, but linguistically speaking this is a false argument. Also, why is Sanskrit being taken to every home? Don’t these homes already speak their mother tongues? What is the need to oblige them to speak Sanskrit in place of their respective mother tongues?

How good is Sanskrit as the medium of instruction?

The organization has also submitted a proposal to the Union government, says the report, to continue to use the mother tongue as the medium of instruction between class 1 and 8 and move to the Sanskrit medium from class 9 onwards. It is scientifically proven that for a child there is no better medium of instruction than his/ her mother tongue. In this respect the organization's proposal to use the mother tongue in the primary education is right. But its suggestion to switch to Sanskrit medium from class 9 is not justified. The decision to use a particular language or languages of instruction in schools should, at the most, be left to respective linguistic communities. Linguistic communities may work with their respective state governments towards an acceptable resolution on the medium of instruction if needed. Recommending Sanskrit medium to the children of several hundreds of different linguistic communities across a vast landmass of a billion plus population, without the consultation of the communities themselves is not correct.

In Karnatique, we have always supported the mother tongue as the medium of instruction, for scientific reasons. Not just primary education, even offering higher education in the mother tongue will benefit the respective linguistic communities. For their own benefit, linguistic communities should work towards that goal. But trying to promote a different language, be it English, Hindi or even Sanskrit as medium of instruction will be counter-productive. It should be noted that no country has ever progressed by using a language other than people’s language in education.

Such proposals to the Union Government too are inappropriate as the Union represents all linguistic communities and not just one or two. Private organizations are free to promote any language but they should not go to the extent of violating linguistic rights of other linguistic communities. Encouraging people to learn Sanskrit and teaching the language through private institutes and classes are all fine, but promoting it with the intent of making it a pan-India language, especially by using one’s influence in the Union Government, in order to serve as a language of official use throughout the country or introducing it as a medium of instruction in education on various other unsuspecting linguistic groups is a mistake.

All Indian Languages Ought to Be Promoted in Fields of Science

Pic source: indiandiasporaclub.com
As per this report that appeared in the Economic Times dated 25th of August, world Hindi conference will be organized at the city of Bhopal in the month of September. The whole event is being sponsored and organized by the Government of India.Apart from its focus on literary activities in Hindi, strategies to promote the Hindi language in the fields of science and technology, foreign affairs, Information Technology and etc., will be debated in the event, says the report.

Promoting the usage of Hindi in the several fields of science is certainly good for Hindi, and its speakers. However, shouldn't the Union Government of India, which is a representative of all the linguistic communities of India, be equally concerned about other Indian languages? Why does the Union Government fund and organize events related to Hindi language alone? Shouldn't all Indian languages be used in science and technology? Why are non-Hindi languages of India not treated at par with Hindi?

These are the questions we all need to ponder!

Why ‘One Nation One Road Tax’ is Against Federal Principles

There has been a lot of buzz about the 'Drive Without Borders' initiative in the social media for quite some time now. The initiative has also got some coverage in the mainstream media. It all started with the Government of Karnataka’s decision to crackdown on vehicles registered outside the state but were plying on the roads of Karnataka and were evading paying of taxes. There has been quite a bit of discussion on why this crackdown is bad for a section of people traveling in or moving into Karnataka from other states, so I am not going to discuss the same stuff here again. The focus of this post will be to analyse the 'Drive Without Borders' initiative, from the perspective of the federal setup of the Indian Union.

One of the primary demands of the initiative is to have a uniform road tax across India. On the surface, uniformity is appealing, but in reality the world is diverse, non-uniform and colourful. So, what does a uniform road tax mean to the states? As each state of the Indian union is different, revenues and expenditures vary greatly from state to state. It is the responsibility of the state governments to generate revenues as per their planned or required expenditure, including spends on primary healthcare and education, year on year. Apart from fuel, alcohol etc., road tax is one of those few avenues from which the states generate their taxes. So, any attempt to bring in a uniform tax system will badly affect their revenues.

Let us say, state A, as of today, stipulates 15% as the road tax to be paid. And let us assume, this is overruled by the Indian Union’s uniform road tax of, let us say, 10%. Now, this is will be a huge loss to the state's exchequer. This will have a direct impact on many of the development activities that the state may have planned to implement. Since such a state will be short of money to fund its planned development activities and other expenditure like those on education and health care, it is forced to look for other options to raise revenue. Only way is to squeeze more from whatever options that are left. 

The Indian Union, often referred to as a quasi-federal setup, has always had a heavy tilt of power towards the Centre. States are usually at the receiving end, and will have to operate in the limited space and revenue avenues available to them. There lies the root of the problem. The more you take away from them, the more they are forced to squeeze from the available opportunities. Instead, let states have their say in more subjects. This will only give them more space to plan out their respective expenditures well.

This is not just about revenue and expenditure but also about governance. A state with heavy vehicle density, for example, may want to stipulate a higher road tax to disincentivize individual vehicle buyers, encourage them to use public transport and thus reduce congestion. If road tax were made uniform, states will no longer be able to take such measures whenever the situation demands. 

There are other issues that ‘Drive Without Borders’ have brought forth. Like, the refunds from many of the state RTOs are tough to obtain. Also, many people think that imposing a life time tax if the vehicles are in the state for a mere 30-day period, is too much. These concerns are quite valid and should be taken up with the respective state governments, as roads are a state subject.

A letter written to the Transport Commissioner of Karnataka by the ‘Drive Without Borders’ team dated 28th April 2015, which the author could get a copy of, highlights the plight of people visiting the state for a short stay, and provides a few suggestions to the Government to rectify the situation. They have also added that they are with the Government of Karnataka to help curb the ‘menace’ of Pondicherry registered luxury vehicles that are evading the tax. 

Working with the state government is the right approach, and helps the cause that ‘Drive Without Borders’ team is working towards. However, trying to build a narrative to take away states’ power to levy road tax will only work against the cause.
Many, as expressed in some social media platforms, think it is discrimination to have different laws and rules in a single nation. Some have even gone ahead to call the different laws as racism. If that were the case, the most liberal and democratic countries, especially in the West, will have to be termed racist. For example, the USA has a much stronger federal structure and road transport related laws vary from state to state. 
In a country of one billion plus population and so much diversity, it simply does not make sense to have centralized laws throughout. The many ills that we see today are rooted in the centralized nature in which the Indian Union operates. Centralizing further will only worsen the situation.
(Image source: The Hindu)

Weird Language Policy in Namma Metro

- by Vallish Kumar
Pic source:indiarailonline.com
In the year 2011, Bengaluru got its first metro train, also called as 'Namma Metro'. From its inception, 'Namma Metro' has followed a weird language policy. It welcomes its passengers with sign boards and announcements in Kannada, English and Hindi. On close examination it becomes clear that the language policy of ‘Namma Metro’ is actually not driven with intentions to make navigation easy for the masses. Let us see how.

Flawed understanding of Cosmopolitanism
To justify the use of Hindi in Namma Metro, there are arguments that Bengaluru is a cosmopolitan city and hence, the use of Kannada and English is not sufficient. What such an argument fails to consider is that the cities like Dubai, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur which are much more cosmopolitan than Bengaluru, have only two languages used in their Metros. Language of the land and English, being the two languages used in metros there. The recently inaugurated Chennai metro has adopted two language policy, Tamil and English. Even the Delhi Metro operates only in two languages, Hindi and English. Does this fact make the city of Delhi any less cosmopolitan?

Language Policy Adopted in Namma Metro
When an RTI query was filed with Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited, seeking details on the language policy adopted in Namma Metro, the reply received was shocking. As per the response to the RTI query, BMRCL has framed its own language policy and has decided to include Hindi. There is no directive either from GOK or GOI to compulsorily use Hindi in Bengaluru Metro. With that understanding, let us ponder over two other questions.

  1. Is including Hindi language in 'Namma Metro' a people-friendly move, as a few claim it to be?
  2. Even if this language policy was formed internally by BMRCL, why was Hindi included?

More deserving languages than Hindi
Going by the population census, after Kannadigas, the next most populous linguistic communities in Bengaluru are Telugu, Urdu and Tamil speakers in that order. None of their languages has been used in ‘Namma Metro’.

Indian Readership Survey data of 2011 reveals that Kannada dailies, with a readership of 16.2 lakhs and English dailies, with a readership of 9.5 lakhs, dominate the list of top ten 'most read' newspapers in Bengaluru. Kannada dailies Vijaya Karnataka and Prajavani were the most read newspapers in the year 2011, followed by the English daily The Times of India. In the list of top 10 newspapers of Bengaluru, apart from Kannada and English dailies, only the Tamil newspaper 'daily thanthi' has found the eighth slot with 88,000 readers. There is not a single Hindi daily in the Bengaluru's top 10 newspapers' list. 

This data is enough to say that Kannada and English reach the masses in Bengaluru. It is unfair and illogical to give prominence to a language like Hindi, which ranks probably sixth or seventh in terms of the number of speakers in Bengaluru. Especially when the third, fourth and the fifth largest linguistic communities are ignored, just to accommodate Hindi. This leads us to the question, why does Hindi get importance always ahead of other much deserving Indian languages?

Language Policy of the Union Government breeds inequality
Answer to this question is in the flawed language policy adopted by the Union Government of India, ever since the current political India was formed. The constitution of India has made it the job of the Union Government to work towards making Hindi more and more acceptable across the geography of the Indian Union. The prolonged special treatment to Hindi by the Union Government of India, is what has caused the perception that everything related to Union Government must have Hindi in it. Such a perception has ensured that Hindi made its way even to ‘Namma Metro’, while the more deserving languages were pushed aside.
The three language policy that was supposed to be adopted in schools, seems to have found its way into every establishment that is associated with the Union Government one way or the other. Even the Kannada Development Authority, in a recent letter to BMRCL, has asked the BMRCL to ensure that the three language policy is followed. While there is no constitutional obligation on BMRCL to follow the three-language policy, the Kannada Development Authority insisting on three-language policy’s usage shows the awareness levels regarding the three-language policy. This lack of awareness displayed by the Kannada Development Authority is a different debate altogether.

End to discrimination
This preference to Hindi is nothing but discrimination against the several other linguistic groups that are part of the Indian Union. The only solution to this glaring discrimination is, to bring in linguistic equality in the Union of India. Linguistic equality can be achieved by declaring all the 22 languages in the eighth schedule of the constitution of India as the official languages of the Union Government. Only then, Hindi will stop taking place of other 'more deserving' languages, under the guise of being people-friendly.