India Insight

Hindi, Tamil and English: linguistic lessons in pragmatism

Press Council of India Chairman and former Supreme Court Justice Markandey Katju has lived in India all his life, but he made a two-part statement on Sept. 20 that sounds like the kind of innocent remark that would land a visitor like me in trouble.

Here is the gist of what Katju said in an op-ed in The Hindu:
“If (children) did not learn English they would only be fit to drive bullock carts (Hal chalane layak rah jayenge). I said I too loved Hindi, which is my mother tongue, but that did not mean I should behave like a fool.”

    “At the same time, people in non-Hindi speaking States such as Tamil Nadu should learn Hindi, because it is the link language in our country.”

This is, as you might suspect, a touchy subject. Hindi, one of the two official languages of India, is part of a group of languages spoken primarily in northern India. The group includes its many regional variations in the so-called Hindi Belt, its sort of twin sister Urdu, as well as Gujarati, Marathi, Bengali, Punjabi, Assamese, Nepali and more.

The primary languages of southern India, meanwhile, are Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada. They are unrelated to the northern languages, which mostly are  Indo-European in origin, sharing a common root with English and other Romance languages, Celtic languages, German languages and more.

In southern India, there is a history of people resenting the imposition of Hindi as a compulsory language, and there are people who prefer English as the language of communication with other people in India who speak different mother tongues.

from The Human Impact:

In India, rapists walk free as victims “shamed” into suicide

Of course, it's hard to imagine being raped (and who would want to). But just for a minute try and think about it.

Imagine you are returning home from work, walking down a busy road in early hours of the evening, perhaps from the train station or the bus stop to your home as you usually do.

Suddenly a car pulls up slightly ahead of you and as you walk by, the rear doors open and two men get out. Without any hesitation, they grab you and bundle you into the back seat.

Political crisis in India: Mamata Banerjee moves out, UPA should move forward

It wasn’t unexpected. After more than three long years of association with the UPA II coalition government, key ally Mamata Banerjee is taking her name off the lease, packing up her things and getting ready to move out. Whether she has taken Congress’ chances for holding power in India with her depends on how strong — and willing — the party’s other friends are.

This move, precipitated by her anger at urgent government moves to fix India’s economy, is a case of better late than never. There is no point being part of a coalition if you don’t like how it works or the decisions that it makes.

Banerjee isn’t moving out just yet. After giving the coalition 72 hours to relook at its recent initiatives, she has given another 72 hours to the coalition before her ministers resign on Friday, Sept. 21. Her demands: rollback diesel prices, scotch a plan to allow foreign direct investment in India’s retail businesses and spend more money on keeping home cooking gas prices artificially low.

Anti-Islam film sparks second day of protests in Chennai

Chennai is dealing with a second day of protests against the United States over a film that Muslims say insults the Prophet Mohammad, following an attack on the U.S. consulate on Friday that prompted 86 arrests.

Close to 2,000 people mobilised by the Islamist group Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamath reportedly gathered outside the Thousand Lights Mosque. That is less than a kilometre from the U.S. consulate, where protestors smashed windows on Friday.

“Avoid Mount Road stretch and Radhakrishnan Salai near US consulate,” wrote Hindu Business Line journalist Dinakaran Rengachary on Twitter on Saturday. “Heavy traffic jam due to protest by Muslim organisations. #Chennai”

India and the art of the 24-hour economic reform

It’s not every day that India makes such a dramatic move as raising diesel prices, or allowing foreign direct investment in its debt-walloped passenger airlines. It’s certainly not every day that it caps this 24-hour period by allowing foreign investment in retail businesses.

In short, big international companies like Wal-Mart will be able to start their own shops in India, or will be able to buy up to 51 percent of existing retail businesses. This could affect small grocery stores like Nilgiris in southern India all the way down to local street vendors.

The Indian government made all these moves as part of increasingly urgent efforts to firm up its sagging economy. While the diesel price rise of 5 rupees a litre and the retail moves are sure to cause a lot of anger and pain on the part of many Indians, the government has suddenly revealed a desire to think about the collective future of the country.

Bold move on diesel, but hold the rollback

Sometimes the government does what it promises. India raised diesel prices by 5 rupees per litre on Thursday in a move guaranteed to alienate the common man, but please foreign investors, oil marketing companies and ratings agencies.

Opposition parties and key government ally Mamata Banerjee expressed their expected disappointment with the decision. The BJP called it a “cruel joke” and “mortal blow,” while West Bengal Chief Minister Banerjee planned a street rally on Saturday and said she was “shocked“.

So… on with the protests and demands to lower the prices. But let’s think for a minute about why that might be the wrong thing to ask for.

from The Human Impact:

Rage in India a spotlight on Sri Lanka’s war victims

Almost four years since Sri Lanka's war ended, rage over the lack of rehabilitation for thousands of survivors of the bloody 25-year-long civil conflict has surfaced - not on the war-torn Indian Ocean island itself, but in neighbouring India.

India's Tamil Nadu state -- where the majority Tamil ethnic group have a close association with Tamils living across the Palk Straits in Sri Lanka - have long felt their brothers have been discriminated against by the Sinhalese-ruled government.

The war, pitting separatist Tamil Tigers against President Mahinda Rajapaksa's Sri Lankan Armed Forces, saw tens of thousands of mainly Tamil civilians in the north and east of the island killed or injured, and hundreds of thousands were displaced.

The race for India’s next prime minister

With the Congress-led coalition government more than halfway through its five-year term, the political temperature is heating up in the world’s largest democracy. The question on everyone’s minds is — who’s going to be the next prime minister?

A recent Nielsen survey had showed Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi was the top choice for the post, ahead of Congress party scion Rahul Gandhi and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar.

But last week’s conviction of a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lawmaker in the Gujarat riots is a blow to Modi, and the political fallout from the case may have dented his hopes of sitting in the prime minister’s chair.

from Breakingviews:

India begins the post-Mukherjee clear-up

By Jeff Glekin

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Pranab Mukherjee’s reign as Indian finance minister was stained by economic meddling and political favouritism. Now he is gone, and some of his excesses are being reversed. An enemy has been pardoned and a friend has not received a plum job. This could be the beginning of a better era.

Imagine if Tim Geithner had been accused of putting pressure on the securities regulator to protect some political friends. The U.S. Treasury Secretary would be in serious hot water. But when the former number two at the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) accused Mukherjee of something similar – putting pressure on the SEBI chairman to “manage” some high-profile corporate cases – there was little attention.

from Anooja Debnath:

In India, what goes up must keep going up

With a faltering economy, political gridlock, high interest rates, delayed monsoons and an epic power outage that has plunged half its 1.2 billion population into darkness, optimism is a sparse commodity in India.

Just not when it comes to rising house prices.

'What goes up a lot must keep going up' was the conclusion from the very first Reuters Indian housing market poll this week. And it sounded very familiar.

Past experience shows that respondents to housing market polls - whether they be independent analysts, mortgage brokers, chartered surveyors - tend to cling to an optimistic tone even as trouble clearly brews below the surface.

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