India Insight

Keep your distance, speak English

I discovered when I wrote the blog post, “Hindi, Tamil and English: linguistic lessons in pragmatism,” that I am not the only person who thinks languages in India is an interesting topic. The comments that I received in that post, in which former Supreme Court Justice Markandey Katju wrote about the value of learning communal languages such as Hindi and English, reflected opinions from all over the map, and usually centered on how my language is best vs your language is worst.

Katju, chairman of the Press Council of India, made several points in his controversial opinion pieces, but he emphasized that common languages such as English in a country of incredible linguistic diversity is important for people who want to be literate, sophisticated and successful.

Shoba Narayan, writing in Mint, offers a different reason to use English: to keep some distance between you and the person you’re talking to. Here’s an excerpt from Narayan, who caught my attention and affection with her author’s note that she can “swear like a truck driver in multiple languages.” The story concerns a young man who works with her husband, who came to their house to invite them to his wedding. Judging by his name, accent and story, she decided that he was Tamil, and was prepared to speak to him in her language. But she stopped. Read why:

Speaking Tamil to a nervous young man who barricaded himself behind the formality of English would have unnerved him. It would have catapulted me from being the boss-man’s wife to becoming a friend. And while I might have been okay with that, I am not sure he was. Hence English: to maintain a distance.

Narayan writes more broadly about this idea in her essay:

When you meet a stranger and you can tell they share a common language, first of all, do you switch from English to Bengali or Hindi or Telugu? Or do you continue speaking in English? Watch yourself next time and let me know. Some part of it has to do with the circumstance. When you are in a boardroom and are introduced to a fellow Sindhi or Kashmiri, it is unlikely that you will switch to your mother tongue in front of others. But what if you are alone, inside your home?

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Between the lines: Obama’s comments on Kashmir

nubra reducedPresident Barack Obama's words on relations with Pakistan were always going to be carefully scripted during his visit to India, where even to say the word "Kashmir"  aloud in public can raise jitters about U.S. interference in what New Delhi sees as a bilateral dispute.

So first up, here's what he had to say during a news conference in New Delhi with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in response to a question about what role the United States could play in resolving the Kashmir dispute (NDTV has the video).

"With respect to Kashmir, obviously this is a long-standing dispute between India and Pakistan; as I said yesterday, I believe that both Pakistan and India have an interest in reducing tensions between the two countries. The United States cannot impose a solution to these problems but I have indicated to Prime Minister Singh that we are happy to play any role that the parties think is appropriate in reducing these tensions. That's in the interests of the region; it is in the interests of the two countries involved and it is in the interests of the United States of America.

U.N. concerned over Kashmir unrest

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has expressed concern over the weeks of violent anti-government protests in Kashmir which have killed more than 30 people, dragged in more troops and locked down the disputed Himalayan region.

Policemen stand guard at a barricade set up to stop Kashmiri protesters during a curfew in Srinagar August 2, 2010. REUTERS/Fayaz KabliA separatist strike and security lockdown has dragged on for nearly a month-and-a-half in Muslim-majority Kashmir, a region at the core of a dispute between India and Pakistan.

“In relation to recent developments in Indian-administered Kashmir, the Secretary-General is concerned over the prevailing security situation there over the past month,” Farhan Haq, Ban Ki-Moon’s spokesperson said in a statement.

Killing of civilians fuels Kashmir anger

Supporters of separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq shout slogans while being detained by police during a protest in Srinagar June 17, 2010. REUTERS/Fayaz KabliJust days ago, scenic Kashmir, torn by two decades of war, was near normal.

Thousands of tourists were flocking to the region and honeymooners were once again gliding in shikaras, small Kashmiri boats, across the mirror-calm Dal Lake.

The disputed Himalayan region has seen a significant drop in violence between Muslim rebels and security forces.

But now the Valley is again under siege in the backdrop of rising public anger.

Put Kashmiris first, says Crisis Group

Any dialogue between India and Pakistan aimed at a solution to the decades-old Kashmir problem will fail if the two rivals do not first include people living on both sides of Line of Control (LoC) that divides the region, the International Crisis Group says.

A policeman stands guard after a grenade blast in Srinagar October, 6 2009. REUTERS/Danish Ismail/FilesNew Delhi and Islamabad appeared willing to allow more interaction across the LoC but failed to engage Kashmiris in the process, the Crisis Group said in a report titled, “Steps Towards Peace: Putting Kashmiris First.”

The latest briefing from the Crisis Group identifies the key political, social and economic needs of Kashmiris that should be addressed on both sides of the divided state.

Will India’s Kashmir talks offer break fresh ground?

New Delhi said this week it will adopt “quiet diplomacy” with every section of political opinion to find a solution to the problems in India-ruled Kashmir about four years after it opened a dialogue with separatist groups there.

The response to the announcement is on expected lines — the moderates welcoming it and pro-Pakistan hardliners reminding any effort at peace without involving Islamabad would be futile.

New Delhi has not yet made a formal offer for talks. But the timing of the development appears to be significant.

Why is China issuing separate visas to residents of Indian Kashmir?

New Delhi is barring residents of Indian Kashmir from travelling to China on separate visas issued by the Chinese embassy.

Saifuddin Soz, senior Kashmiri leader and member of India’s ruling Congress party, has said the decision by China to issue hand-written visas on loose sheets of paper to Kashmiris was “not acceptable”.

Why is China issuing separate visas to people from Indian Kashmir?

Separatist leaders say that China’s decision to issue visas to Kashmiris on loose sheets reflects Beijing’s recognition of Kashmir as disputed territory.

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