Demonetization – Building Allies vs Forcing into Action

Ever since the demonetization decision was made public by the Union Government of India, on the 8th of November 2016, lot has been discussed about the pros and cons of the measure. However, not much has been discussed about the measure from the federalism angle. In this article, we try to look at the whole demonetization exercise from the federalism point of view.

Taxation Powers in a Federal Polity
In many mature democracies, the taxation powers are distributed between the states and the union (also called as ‘federal’) governments. Not just the indirect taxes, even the direct taxes like Income tax and Corporate tax powers are with the state governments too. In federal polities like USA, Canada or Australia, this is the norm.

In India however, the powers to levy direct taxes rest solely with the Union Government. This in itself is, over-centralization of powers. When nations like Canada and Australia with population of 20-30 million take fiscal federalism seriously, what stops the highly diverse nation with a population of 1.25 billion from taking fiscal federalism seriously?

The Black Money
In the previous paragraphs, we discussed about direct taxation powers. Because by definition, black money is the amount for which direct tax has not been paid. By retaining the power to levy direct taxes, the union government has kept to itself all the incentives to fight tax evasion. Had the state governments been provided with direct taxation powers, as is the case in mature democracies, the union would have found natural allies in all the state governments in the fight against tax evasion.

Building Allies vs Forcing into Action
The current approach, taken by the Union Government to catch tax evaders, is more like ‘Forcing’ the state governments into action. Quite naturally, when something is forced upon someone, the reluctance levels will be high and enthusiasm levels will be low. Needless to add, that in a federal setup, such moves are against the fundamental principles of federalism. The frequently heard term of “co-operative federalism” appears to be lacking any substance, considering the current approach.

For co-operation between any two elected governments, there must be an incentive at play. Had the direct taxation powers been in concurrent list, the resulting bounty from the fight against tax evasion would have been an incentive, for both the union and the state governments. To tackle tax evasion, whether it is the USA working with Switzerland, or Germany working with Panama, the approach one can see is that of ‘carrot & stick’. That is how co-operation is achieved, and is made effective. “Stick alone” approach, doesn’t build a strong and effective co-operation.

The demonetization exercise by the union government is akin to “stick-only” approach, and is evident that there was no effort to build consensus among the state governments and the union. This one exercise has strained the federalism-fabric so much, that we might start hearing the benefits of common currency across the union of India being questioned.

The other India speaks and demands #GoIMakeMyLanguageOfficial !

By Rakshith Ponnathpur

Hindi was falsely claimed as a national language of the Indian Union and time and efforts of considerable scale was spent by the Union government in its propagation. For decades there was hardly any resistance to this undemocratic and anti-federal move by the Union. Things started to change in the last decade with Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Kannada, Bengali, Punjabi voices coming together to demand an end to Hindi hegemony and seek equal status to all scheduled languages of the Union. Access to social media has given a platform for people to rally around and demand language equality. Quite naturally this has upset the Hindi lobby in Delhi and efforts to impose Hindi have multiplied in the last few years only to see a bigger resistance from the Non Hindi speaking citizens.
Hindi Divas, a day when the Union government doles out prizes, awards and promotions to its employees who use and promote Hindi in its administration is a black day for the democracy in India. Union government runs hundreds of offices across the country offering various citizen services to different peoples of India. It’s nothing but common sense that for effective delivery of these services, the government should speak the language of the governed. An overzealous government that sees Hindi as the only true identity of India thinks otherwise and hence spends crores of taxpayers’ money in mindless and dumb celebrations like Hindi Divas causing much heartburn and anger among non-Hindi speakers.

This year’s Hindi Divas was protested on social media with a huge twitter campaign carrying the hash tag #GoIMakeMyLanguageOfficial. More than a thousand twitter users speaking various Indian languages came together and expressed their anger against the continued neglect of their languages by the Union and demanded official status to their languages too. This raised the hackles of those in power and we saw two statements coming from Delhi. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, a Hindi speaker himself, said “Some people are trying to create a rift in different parts of the country in the name of language,” in his address at the Hindi Divas function. It is apparent that he was referring to these linguistic equality groups in general and the Twitter hashtag which was trending nationally throughout the day in specific. Minister of State, Home Ministry, Kiren Rijiju also entered into damage control mode quickly after, giving a clarification that Centre was against imposition of Hindi but would continue to promote Hindi as envisaged in the Constitution.

He was referring to Article 351 which has made it “the duty of the Union to promote the spread of the Hindi language and to develop it so that it may serve as a medium of expression for all the elements of the composite culture of India”. It is this very article which has allowed successive Central Governments to impose Hindi on non­ Hindi speaking peoples of India in the name of its promotion. The linguistic equality groups therefore want the article to be gone for good as it is against the very fundamental spirit of equality of both status and opportunity for the non ­Hindi speakers who form the majority of India. While the Hindi lobby aggressively pushed for a monolingual policy, strong resistance by leaders from non ­Hindi regions ensured that India would at least remain officially bilingual.
However, the constraints which restricted India to be officially bilingual no longer hold. The unprecedented recent technological progress can smoothly facilitate India’s transition from a bilingual to a multilingual democracy. The Union Government which is betting on schemes like Digital India to reach India’s masses should voluntarily be looking to push for amendments and update the outdated language articles to make it reflect the changed realities of today. It is unfortunate that it is instead going the other way and denying the majority of India services and opportunities in their languages even though they have become both possible and feasible.

The Centre being a collective Union and a representative of all of India should either promote all languages or make the promotion of all languages including Hindi the responsibility of states where they are native. Spending all taxpayers money on promoting just one region’s language is grossly unjust and must stop immediately.

Kiren Rijiju also reminded the states of their responsibility to promote India’s other languages. The million dollar question though is why the Centre doesn’t entrust the promotion of Hindi with the ten Hindi speaking states, while it entrusts the promotion of other Indian languages with states even though most such languages have official status in at most one or two states. The Centre being a collective Union and a representative of all of India should either promote all languages or make the promotion of all languages including Hindi the responsibility of states where they are native. Spending all taxpayers money on promoting just one region’s language is grossly unjust and must stop immediately.
Rajnath Singh talked of how Prakrit was the common language in ancient India and justified its descendant Hindi being modern India’s common national language. His statement makes sense if one considers only some of its northern and western parts as India, but is grossly incorrect if one considers the whole of India. Northern and western India speaking Prakrit/Hindi as a common language is no reason for the Indian Union to proclaim Hindi as its lingua franca and spread it from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, from Agartala to Vadodara and even to the secluded islands on both sides of India’s peninsula.
The annual Hindi celebrations is just an example which shows the level and kinds of special treatment Hindi receives at the cost of other languages. The Union Government owes each and every one of us service and opportunities in our languages and every language an equal status and this is exactly what the Twitter campaign #GOIMakeMyLanguageOfficial demanded. The linguistic equality movement is no longer restricted to protests against attempts of Hindi imposition alone but it wants all the unfair language articles to be repealed and the Official Language policy to be amended paving way for an officially multilingual India with all its 8th Schedule Recognized languages becoming Official Languages in letter and spirit.

Centre State Investment Agreement and Its Impression on Federalism in India

- Rakshith Ponnathpur.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, in this year’s Annual Budget, proposed for an agreement to be signed between the Union and the states to facilitate smooth implementation of Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) that India is set to enter into with the nations of the world, replacing the existing Bilateral Investment Protection and Promotion Agreements (BIPPAs). While signing this agreement is not mandatory, the perception that states which sign the agreement are better investment destinations than states which do not, will serve as an incentive for the states to sign the agreement.

The primary objective of the Centre-State Investment Agreement (CSIA), as the agreement is called, is to ensure fulfillment of state governments’ obligations under these bilateral treaties. Many a time, investors feel cheated because of a state’s failure to fulfill the promises made by the Union while signing the agreements. But signing the CSIA will bind the states to fulfill their commitments, bringing in some accountability into the whole business. CSIA is the first such move to actually involve the states in an area which has been exclusively Union's realm so far.

However, critics rightly argue that CSIA will have very little legal significance should investors approach international courts for arbitration. Irrespective of any agreements signed between the Government of India and its states, only the former can be held liable and accountable externally. This is because only the Union Government has the power to enter into treaties on behalf of the Indian Republic and once it has acceded to its terms, the international obligations assumed thereunder bind the entire country and not any individual states. CSIA can only facilitate shifting of blame for the embarrassment from the Union to the states internally.

The introduction of this agreement will also impact federalism in India, an area which clearly does not feature among the strong points of Indian polity. The states will not particularly be impressed with yet another provision which will enable Delhi to shift the blame to their capitals. Creation of a negative perception about a state’s investment ecosystem should it excuse itself from signing the agreement and Union's plans to inform investors beforehand about states which have not signed the CSIA will further make the states feel that the agreement is unfair on them, which is understandable since the states have little say in the provisions of the bilateral treaties itself in the first place.

A solution for this would be to institutionalize the involvement of state governments in the treaty-making process. The states will not find the CSIA unfair if they themselves are involved in formulation of the provisions of these treaties. The Chief Ministers of states can be made members of a consultative commission on treaty making (like the Governing Council of Niti Aayog) and this need not just be restricted to investment treaties, but can also be extended to other international agreements like the WTO treaty, Free Trade Agreements and Double Taxation Avoidance Agreements. Many of these agreements involve domains like agriculture which fall under the State List and directly impact the states, and it would only be logical on the part of Union Government to include actual stakeholders.

CSIA featured in discussions held at the recent Inter-State Council Meeting, with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha welcoming the Union's move to include states in the treaty-making process and also raising some of her reservations about the draft CSIA agreement. There is a possibility that the Union might try to pass on some financial burdens it might suffer from penalties under already existing bilateral agreements, which she feels is unfair since states are neither party nor aware of the provisions of earlier treaties. She also expressed her concern that the Union deducting such dues from the amount it transfers to states, would impact the implementation of schemes of state governments, and called for the deletion of the provision which enables the Union Government to resort to this practice.

Centre State Investment Agreement will be a commendable and an affirmative step, which will help in bringing some much needed order, accountability and cooperation between the Union and the states in smooth implementation of bilateral treaties, provided it makes the Union and the states part of the holistic treatyformulation process. Otherwise, it may well go on to be yet another provision which makes states liable to the shortcomings of provisions they were not even aware of, in the first place.

This is a golden opportunity for the Union Government to show it means no nonsense when it talks of cooperative federalism, and include states as equally responsible stakeholders in foreign investment.

A NEET Blow to the Autonomy of Linguistic States

Ever since independence, the Union has always tried to accumulate more and more power for itself in all subjects of eminence – quietly and gradually cutting down the autonomy of the states. The subject of education is no exception. In fact, education is a key factor for development, growth and governance, and hence exercising control over the matter is key for any authority to hold on to power and accumulate more of it. The Union, time and again, meddles with the subject in such a fashion that it encroaches into the space of the states, one step at a time, seizing more powers with every single move.

Obtrusion through National Eligibility Entrance Test (NEET) is the Union Government’s latest fiasco. NEET is a common entrance test for admission to MBBS and BDS courses that starting from this year, will replace All India Pre Medical Test (AIPMT) and all entrance examinations to the above courses conducted by state boards and by private institutions. It will be conducted by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE).

As we will see further in this article, in the long-term this will deteriorate into a situation, in which the Union holds complete sway over education, and controls and dictates all learning, and development opportunities of our children. Needless to say, this is quite anti-democratic in nature. The subject of education should be with the states, to ensure the jurisdiction of education remains much closer to people. It makes little sense to drive the all-important subject of education through a distant establishment completely disconnected from them.

As with any Union Government undertaking, support for languages has been a concern with NEET. When it was introduced back in 2013, students could take it up in eight languages, i.e., Telugu, Tamil, Gujarati, Marathi, Bengali, Assamese, Hindi and English. But this year, when it is made mandatory across the Union, non-Hindi students do not have the option to take up the phase one of the examination in the language of their choice. They can only choose between Hindi and English.

But the phase two of the test is being considered to be conducted in the above mentioned languages. The choices are still limited. There are already concerns that question papers could leak if they are translated to these many languages. Denying the choice of a language not just shows insensitivity towards non-Hindi peoples but also clearly demonstrates operational inefficiencies that were unwarranted in the first place.

Why is it that the Union, in most of its undertaking, time and again comes up with operational and executional excuses to deny support to other languages but has enough resources and forethought to support Hindi, any time and at any place?

Take the Railways, for instance. The Railways has enough money and resources to use Hindi in announcements, tickets, boards, signage etc in all non-Hindi regions of the Union. But when asked for tickets to be printed in Kannada, it either comes with the excuse of lack of funds or operational inefficiencies. The pattern with NEET is similar.

It would not be a surprise if in the near future, the CBSE board puts its foot down and says no more support for ‘regional languages’ in NEET. We often come across the rubbish argument that Hindi and English being widely spoken languages are generally understood by a majority across the Union and that other languages are either not needed or may be left optional. This has been the devious stratagem of the Union in administration and general policy making. Education is no exception.

Of course, the Union Government has expressed concerns over phase I of the examination being only in two languages, English and Hindi, citing the reason that it will impact students from non-Hindi states and those from non-English medium background. But it appears that the far-term vision is to gradually converge towards Hindi and English, rather than invest in all the languages in building strong higher education systems in them. 

That the state governments will lose all authority or control over admission to MBBS and BDS courses in their respective states is crystal clear. Take for example, the Gadinaadu Kannadiga and the Horanaadu Kannadiga quota in Karnataka. Will the Government of Karnataka be able to conduct tests and fill-in admission for these quota? Will the CBSE board or the Union Government allow this? Or can the state government submit a plea if it is not permitted as per rules? We do not know for sure. But the state will no more be able to freely take decisions in the interest of its people.

Also, how will the state governments ensure justice to poor and rural students, who mostly do their schooling in the state syllabi? The syllabi of the states are vastly different from each other and from that of the CBSE board. These students are already disadvantaged owing to lack of coaching and guidance. The introduction of NEET will leave them further handicapped.

The states will also lose out the opportunity at restructuring or remodeling the system with novel methods. If a state, for instance, wants to adopt an advanced method of testing, or introduce a new subject it will not be possible any more.

In the long-run the states also stand to lose authority over primary education. With entrance exams coming under the CBSE board, parents would want their children to take up the CBSE syllabus right from early years of schooling. So, this will ensure that there will be very few takers left for the state boards. And the state boards, with decreasing enrollments, will be forced to align with the CBSE board to remain ‘relevant’ and ‘competitive’.

With more schools moving to CBSE, Hindi will be taught more widely in the non-Hindi states. But these schools will not be bound to teach the states’ languages. While the influence of Hindi will increase, the non-Hindi languages will take a beating as lesser and lesser of the young generation of the non-Hindi peoples will have good reading and writing proficiency in their mother tongues.

States like Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh etc., did raise a few objections against NEET. But they have all mostly been related to operational issues. Very few, unfortunately, has been against what is fundamentally wrong with the initiative.

NEET definitely needs to be scrapped. But that is not enough. We should ensure that the Union leave education to the states and not get into running the affairs of the subject. That requires moving the subject, which is now on the Concurrent List back to the State List (education was in the State List, but was moved to the Concurrent List during the time of emergency).

This is what has given the Union powers to override the policies of the states on education. It is unsure if the current wave of protests will stop NEET. Regardless, the states and its peoples should identify this fundamental fallacy and work towards getting education back to the State List.


A Talk on Misuse of Article 356 in Independent India

In the recent past, the Indian Union witnessed two instances of dismissal of democratically elected state governments and imposition of President's rule. They were the result of exercise of the provisions of Article 356 of the Constitution. Per this article, the President is empowered to 'assume to himself all or any functions' of a state government' in the case of failure of constitutional machinery in a State'.

So, what is this Article 356 all about? What are its provisions and how democratic are they in principle? What is the article's history in the Indian Union? What were the debates around this subject in the Constituent Assembly? How has it been used (or abused) in independent India since the time it came into effect? What was the impact of Union-States relationship after the Supreme Court's landmark judgement in the 'S. R. Bommai v/s Union of India' case? How has it affected the federal setup of the Indian Union?

To get answers to the above questions and deliberate over the subject further, join Vasant Shetty for a talk on Sunday, the 17th of April 2016, at Total Kannada, Jayanagar, Bengaluru. The talk titled 'Misuse of Article 356 in independent India' will be in Kannada. The details of the event are here in this Facebook event invite, please confirm your presence if you are interested to attend the talk:

GST: What it Means to Federalism in the Indian Union

The Goods and Services Tax is being sold as the best thing that could happen to the system of indirect taxes in the history of the Indian Union. Simplification and streamlining of taxes, uniform taxation across the union, one integrated market, multitude of opportunities to leverage economies of scale, boost to the GDP and significance to the Make in India initiative - the benefits, we are told, are astounding. But what does it mean to the states and their diverse peoples?

A brief history of GST in the Indian Union
To begin with, let us look at the history of GST. The proposal was first made in the Union Budget speech of 2006-07. None of the states had asked for it in the first place. The Union Government, nevertheless, wanted to roll out a national-level GST. Meaning, indirect taxes like excise duty, additional excise duty, service tax etc., that fall under the purview of the Union Government, and sales tax, purchase tax, entry tax, entertainment tax etc., that come under the state governments would be subsumed under one national-level tax structure, and that would have no state component. So, the States would get no revenue from goods and services; instead the Union would own and collect all taxes and redistribute among the States.

It was then handed off to the Empowered Committee of Finance Ministers to lay the road-map for its implementation across the Union. Since there was representation of the states in the committee, the idea of national-level GST was opposed. Which state would want to lose its revenues or even the control over its revenues? Finally, a compromise was reached with the dual-GST model, which included a state component too. But as we will see further, the compromise does not necessarily restore control back to the states.

GST - Thrust upon unwilling states

The idea of GST - whether a national level GST, as it was to start with, or a dual GST, as it is being proposed as a compromise now - has come top down from the Union to the States. The States have only agreed to it as a compromise and never wanted such a structure in place. When the States did not want what gave the Union the legitimacy to impose a new taxation structure on them? Note that by legitimacy I do not mean Constitutional legitimacy; I am rather questioning the invasive and imperious attitude of the Union Government in a federal setup comprising several diverse states, each with its unique history, culture, issues and state of socio-economic development.

The AIADMK rightly pointed out the effect the GST Bill will have on the autonomy of the states. In a dissent note the party observed:

..the GST Council, as a constitutional body, impinged on the legislative sovereignty of both Parliament and the State legislature and would jeopardise the autonomy of the States in fiscal matters.

The GST Council will be setup with the passage of the Goods and Services Tax Bill. It will be headed by the Union Finance Minister with the state Finance Ministers as its members. This council will be responsible for the categorization of goods and services, and will decide the tax rates on the same. In matters pertaining to taxes and revenues, all States in the Union should abide by its orders and decisions. What democratic legitimacy and credibility will an elected body retain, when its own matters are decided by a superseding external council that is nominated? The concerns of sovereignty and autonomy of the States, expressed by the AIADMK are absolutely relevant.

No doubt, there is representation of the states in the council. The council, as already stated, will have state Finance Ministers as members. But the weightage given to the states is something to be noted. The Union Government has decided to hold a weightage of one-third of the total votes for itself, and has given two-thirds' weightage to all the states put together. With this, the Union has ensured it has veto power of sorts for itself in the council. The States, needless to say will be dummies. Barring a few exceptional cases in which a majority of States may come to a common agreement, this setup ensures the Union has total control in all matters of indirect taxation in the country.

The GST Council is anti-Federal
States that are ruled by the so called 'national' parties, usually have to toe the line of their party high-command, whose agenda is primarily focused on holding the reins of power at Delhi. The interest of the people of the State comes next to this agenda. While this will tilt the balance of power more in favour of the Union Government, those States with less influence in the Union and those ruled by state-level parties will find it much harder to influence any decisions in their favour.

It is also being said that the States can appeal to the council. But a democratically elected government going to a council for matters such as its own taxes and revenues is fundamentally opposed to the idea of democracy and federalism. A legislature elected by the people should hold these powers, not a council or a committee. It also becomes much tougher for the states to come up with and roll out any new or innovative economic policies. They all will have to operate within the limits imposed by this one framework decided by the council.

Who will really benefit from economies of scale?

I also want to address the argument of integrated market and economies of scale. Who does this benefit? It certainly benefits businesses and enterprises that are well established and have large scale inter-state operations. But what if the states want to take a different approach to nurture local entrepreneurship, for example? What autonomy will they be left with to roll-out an economic policy favouring local entrepreneurship when a uniform framework is already decided by and rolled out from a committee sitting in a far-off Delhi?

 Do we really need an integrated market? Do we really need economies of scale? Can our people leverage the so-called economies of scale effectively? These are questions that each state and its people should discuss, debate and take decisions on. Rolling out from Delhi, a single policy for diverse peoples, makes little sense. In fact, it comes with the attitude of 'I know what you need better than you do' - violating the fundamentals of free choice, liberty and democracy.

By this I do not want to sound like a conservative opposed to economic progress. In fact, in today's world, free and democratic countries have attained much stable and viable economic progress in comparison to autocratic, dictatorial or less democratic ones. The USA, termed as the epitome of free- market economy does not have a unified, integrated market. The sales taxes vary across states. In states like Alabama, Oregon, New Hampshire etc., there is no sales tax at all. In contrast, California has the highest rate of sales tax. These rates are decided by the States themselves, the Federal Government has little say in it. To add to it, the cities, the counties and other local bodies may levy additional taxes.  It is not just sales taxes, the States have their share of income tax as well, which is totally a Union subject in India. The USA has shown that a free market does not necessarily have to compromise on liberty of its people or the autonomy of its states.

Another argument in favour of GST is the ease of doing business in India, as businesses do not have to deal with different tax structures in different states. This argument too does not hold any water, when you look at countries like the United States. Despite different laws and taxation structure across different states, USA is way ahead of the Indian Union in this parameter.

Lot is being said about federalism, particularly co-operative federalism, of late. But the GST in its current form will be disastrous to the autonomy of states and the overall federal setup of the Indian Union. Here is a video recording of a talk on the same subject that I gave at Total Kannada, Jayanagar, Bengaluru, on the 13th of March. In this talk, which is in Kannada, I make the same arguments of democracy, federalism and liberty in purview of the GST bill. Comments / feedback/ discussion welcome.

A Talk on GST and Federalism

Goods and Services Tax (GST) has been one of the most debated subjects in the last several months. The introduction of GST is expected to streamline levying and collection of indirect taxes on the supply of goods and services in the Indian Union by being a comprehensive tax that will subsume several other taxes levied by both the Union and the states. By reducing the cascading effect of taxes at every stage of supply, it is expected to reduce the burden of tax, and benefit the industry as well as the common consumer. While its expected benefits are still being debated, I would like to explore the much less talked about implications of the GST: What does GST mean to the federal setup of the Indian Union? What does it mean to the Union-states relationship? What does it mean to the fiscal autonomy of the states?

Join me for a talk on this subject on Sunday, the 13th of March 2016, at Total Kannada, Jayanagar, Bengaluru. The talk titled 'GST in India's Federal System' will be in Kannada. The details of the event are here in this Facebook event invite, please confirm your presence if you are interested to attend the talk:

Kannada or Sanskrit - There is No First or Second Grade among Languages

In an interview to Vijaya Karnataka, a Kannada daily, last week, renowned Kannada litterateur S L Bhyrappa has advocated knowledge of Sanskrit as a necessary requirement for learning Kannada and for writing quality literature in the language. To justify his claims he not only mentions the examples of the poets of the yore like Pampa, Ranna, Janna and Kumaravyasa, but also cites the examples of the poets of the modern 'Navodaya' literature -who all had good knowledge of Sanskrit. He further goes on to say that Sanskrit grammar is pretty much similar to Kannada grammar and that possessing elementary knowledge of Sanskrit is a must.

This is not the first time that Bhyrappa has made such claims. In fact, just about a month ago, in a programme organized by 'Samskrita Bharati' in Mysuru he had claimed that it is impossible to write top grade Kannada literature without the knowledge of Sanskrit. With all due respects to the litterateur’s contributions to the flied of Kannada literature, it must be said that the above claims are not based on scientific facts.

Consider the languages like Latin, Greek, Persian, Arabic etc. These languages rose in prominence in different periods of history, and evolved mature literary traditions. There is also no dearth of scientific literature of the corresponding ages in these languages. In the same lines, in the modern era, languages like English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean etc have made great progress, be it in the field of literature or science. It should be noted that these languages, be it in the yore or in the modern era, did not require Sanskrit to evolve top quality literature.

If you take the instance of Kannada, it is said that the language came to be written about 2000 years back. It is undisputed that that first pieces of literature in Kannada were heavily influenced by Sanskrit. Kannada poets of those days, not only borrowed plenty of Sanskrit words but followed the Sanskritic poetic tradition too. But prior to this development, Kannada had evolved into a full-fledged language over a period of thousands of years, spoken across a large part of the Deccan. Such development and evolution of the spoken language did not require Sanskrit at all. It is well known and accepted that Kannada and Sanskrit evolved from different roots, and hence linguists classify them under different language families (Dravidan and Indo-European respectively).

Coming back to the subject of literature, by the time Kannada literature blossomed, Sanskrit literature was already at its zenith. So it is natural for the Kannada poets of that time to be heavily influenced by the Sanskritic literary tradition. Had there been another language in place of Sanskrit in those days, the Kannada poets would have undoubtedly been influenced by the poetic tradition of that language.

For example, many European languages have imbibed the literary tradition of Latin and not that of Sanskrit. Needless to say, such influences depend on cultural, geopolitical, commercial and religious factors prevalent in those times and in those territories. Hence the influence of Sanskrit literature on Kannada too should be seen in the light of cultural, geopolitical, commercial and religious factors prevalent in those days in the Kannada speaking regions. Considering Kannada as incapable or incomplete without Sanskrit is a mistake.

Can one consider the Vachana literature that developed at about the twelfth century as lacking in quality just because it developed natively, and did not follow the Sanskritic tradition? That is impossible. There are hundreds of folk songs and epics in Kannada, can they be considered lower rung or not of top quality because they are not in the Sanskritic tradition?

Looking at it scientifically too, any subject that can be expressed in one language can also be expressed equally well in another language. There is no evidence that suggests that one natural language is somehow better than another in expressive power. So, based on Linguistics science, there is no difference between languages that are considered to be classical and languages that are called as tribal.

For example, any subject that can be expressed in a classical language like Latin can also be expressed in a tribal language like Xhosa. One may consider Latin as more refined, but the concept of refinement is quite subjective. Hence one cannot, in absolute terms, consider Latin as somehow more refined than or superior to Xhosa. One can only say that both languages are equally beautiful and that they differ in the forms of beauty.

The advocacy of Sanksrit for learning Kannada, and considering Kannada incapable of superior literary expression without the support of Sanskrit arise from ignorance of the above facts. The beauty of a Kannada expression and the beauty of a Sanskrit expression differ only in kind and not in quality. Both are equally beautiful and one is not superior to the other. But only if one's opinion is heavily prejudiced in favour of Sanskrit, can one come to the conclusion that only Sanskrit is capable of top quality literature and that languages like Kannada require the support of Sanskrit.

Vachana literature has already proved that such opinions as incorrect, several centuries ago. At about the same time that Vachana literature bloomed, i.e., in the twelfth century, a Kannada poet by name Andayya showed that beautiful poetry can be composed without using Sanskrit words by writing 'Kabbigara Kavam'. In the twentieth century, Kolambe Puttanna Gowda's 'Kaaloora Cheluve' and 'Achchagannada Nudivanigalu' are shining examples of the beauty of native Kannada.

It is true that Sanskrit has a great literary tradition and there is a wealth of knowledge in the language. The study of the language and its literature should be, no doubt, encouraged. But words like 'Sanskrit is a necessary requirement for writing quality literature in Kannada' are far from truth and derogatory in nature.

Working on a Book on Challenges Faced by Indian Languages - Need Your Help

Dear Karnatique readers,

In Karnatique, we have always stood for linguistic rights of all language communities. The status of a language, with respect to the number of speakers, its geographical spread, its use in the fields of education, entertainment, administration etc should be immaterial when considering linguistic rights.

There are hundreds of languages spoken in the Indian Union. The status of each of these languages is different and the kind of challenges faced by each are quite unique. However, there are some challenges that are common to the language communities of India.
  • Education, especially higher studies
  • Violation of the linguistic rights by the Union Government of India
One of the major challenges is education. While it is possible to receive school education in many languages, higher education in Indian languages has still not been achieved. The work of building knowledge bases in Indian languages has not taken off. In Karnatique, we have always argued in favour of building higher education systems in the mother tongue and have discussed its benefits to the society, especially in the context of globalized knowledge-based economies of today.

Challenges in the use of languages in commerce and administration are also common across language communities of India. In the administration the Union government's language policy is a cause for concern. Article 343 of the Constitution clearly calls out Hindi, with Devanagari script as the lone official language of India. Succeeding articles, up till article 351, prescribe ways and methods to promote the language through law, administration and Union government controlled institutions - which is explicitly imperialistic in nature towards non-Hindi peoples.

In the past, several linguistic communities have protested against the Union's linguistic imperialism. The voices for linguistic equality in the Indian Union are being heard even today, and are only getting stronger. In fact, people belonging to different language communities are gathering at Delhi on the 21st of February, to demand for upholding of language rights. It is to be noted that 21st of February is observed across the world as the International Mother Language Day.

The states and Union Territories of India, having accepted the Official Languages Rules, and other so called goodwill schemes, like the three-language formula, have been suffering Hindi imposition for decades now. After the status quo following the protests in the sixties, the imposition of Hindi on the entire geography of India has continued to date.

People of various linguistic communities have not only come to realize the serious nature of such language issues in India, but have also come to appreciate the need for collaboration between language communities to fight against them. That several such initiatives involving multiple language communities across India have been kick started is proof of this rising awareness.

To take this further, we need to have a clear picture of the current status of various Indian languages, the evolution of the Union Government's language policy, its effect on all the non-Hindi language communities, and our future course of action to address the issues. This is important not only for people taking up the cause of language issues but also will help others understand the issues and better appreciate the efforts to address them. For this purpose, I, based on suggestions from friends and like-minded individuals, have decided to author a book on the subject of "challenges being faced by the languages of India".

But such a book needs a comprehensive understanding of issues of a large number of linguistic communities across India. Hence, an involved and long-term collaboration with all of them is needed for this effort to be successful.

Currently, I have begun to collate all resources available online, starting from the debates of the Constituent Assembly to the latest circulars / orders of the education boards of the state governments. If you are aware of any resource, document or research material that you think will help in this regard, request you to kindly share them.

Also, there may be many issues and incidents that may be specific to your state or language community and they may not be known everywhere across the other states. Request you to share such information as well. Many resources, including very crucial and informative ones, may not be available on the internet at all. Here too, your help is needed. Please write to me at sandeepkambiatgmaildotcom.

Why Should Delhi Decide on Jallikattu?

The last couple of weeks has seen some passionate debate on Jallikattu and other forms of traditional animal sport in India, including the Kambala practiced in Karnataka. The row began with the announcement by the Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar that such traditional practices may be allowed to continue from the beginning of the year, at the same time making certain that animals are not subjected to any form of cruelty. After close to two weeks of swithering to make a decision, the Union Government has finally given a go-ahead, even as the Tamil Nadu Government has approached the Supreme Court for a review of the ban. 

Many animal rights activists and their supporters have lashed out at the Union Government for its decision to lift the ban, despite the Supreme Court order prohibiting bull fights and other forms of animal sport. But there has also been strong support to lift the ban from many other quarters, especially those in support of continuing the traditions

Earlier in 2014, the Supreme Court, in what was termed as a landmark judgement, had ruled that animals such as bulls could not be used for bull fights, races, and other such performances. This meant that Kambala of Karnataka, Jallikattu of Tamila Nadu, bull races held in Maharashtra and elsewhere had to be stopped. What is interesting is that the Supreme Court order also quashed the Tamil Nadu Regulation of Jallikattu Act, a state act that permitted Jallikattu.

Are these sports really cruel on the animals? Do they violate animal rights? We will not get into these questions here. These questions pertain to the subject of ethics, which are not always universal. Different cultures and societies have different standards and interpretation of the subject, and what entails ethical behaviour varies. Laws, framed based on the foundation of ethics, as a result, also vary across societies, cultures, and nations. 

So, the question we want to address here, is not if Jallikattu is morally right or wrong. The question is - who should make the pertinent laws and who should take these decisions?

The Supreme Court order was based on the provisions of The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, which applies to the whole of India, excepting the state of Jammu and Kashmir. With so many diverse ethnicities and societies across the Union of India, it is hard to understand as to why a matter such as animal rights that can be so subjective and at the same time vehemently contentious is governed by a single overbearing law. 

It is impossible to assimilate all the various and often conflicting interpretation of ethical treatment of animals into a single homogeneous act or legislation, and an overbearing law such as this will inevitably impose one cultural interpretation of the subject, on the rest of the states and its peoples. With respect to people, the states being the more proximate government entities are more competent and better placed to legislate and take decisions on such matter. The entities that make a law, interpret it or take decisions based on a law, should be as close to the people or the society in question, as possible.

In the case of Jallikattu, the Union Government that enacted the legislation, and the courts that interpreted it, ordering the sport to be banned and quashing an act passed by the Tamil Nadu government, are much far removed from the Tamil people. Hence the decision to hold such events and festivities should be left to the state governments and the communities involved, rather than laws and orders coming down all the way up from the Delhi establishment.

The media, as usual, has made it a ‘national’ debate. With mounting pressure on the Union Government to permit Jallikattu before the beginning of Pongal festivities, it has now come up with an alteration to the 2011 notification by the Ministry of Environment and Forests by granting exemption to such sport. As per reports, the Animal Welfare Board of India may challenge the order in the Supreme Court. Whether the ultimate outcome will favour the animal rights activists or those in support of the tradition is a different matter, but it still leaves us to the mercy of the Union Government’s laws and its interpreters.

Eventually, the law, whether in its nature favours the present case for Jallikattu or otherwise, should be discussed and enacted by the Tamil Nadu legislature. Similaly, a law on Kambala, irrespective of whether it approves the practice favouring tradition or bans it considering arguments of fair treatment of animals, should be tabled, debated and then approved or rejected in the houses of the Karnataka legislature. A single law for the entire Union is not only unfair and insensitive to various peoples and their accepted standards and societal norms, it is also quite impractical.

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