Travellers and Magicians

The cherry blossom is beautiful...because it's temporary!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Hindi is NOT the same as Indian!

For many years now, I have come across Hindi-speaking North Indians brazenly declaring that Hindi being the Indian national language, should be spoken by all Indians. This of course, is primarily directed towards South Indians and in particular, Malayalees and Tamilians. I thought this chauvinism was restricted to the not-so well informed. But today, I came across the blog of a very respected friend alluding to this argument. And thus, I decided to revive my defunct blog and to give vent to my angst.

People should understand that Hindi is not the Indian official language in the same sense of English being England's official language. It is not even the native language of a majority of Indians, Wikipedia puts the percentage of Indian Hindi speakers at 40%. It stands as the official language, merely for the sake of convenience of this large and, I'm sorry to say, linguistically arrogant population. Hindi is to India what the six official languages of the UN are to the world. As Hindi isn't one, Hindi speakers will surely agree that one needn't speak one of the six to be a loyal 'world citizen'.

Contemporary standardized Hindi is a very, very new language. Even if one includes the numerous similar dialects, Hindi literature is only about 600 years old. Why should Tamil, with literature dating back 2 millenia, be subservient to this upstart language? That is, why should Hindi be a superior sine-qua-non 'national language'? Indeed, why should be Tamilians learn to speak any other language unless they themselves want to?

It is not at all difficult to see that Hindi is a completely alien language to most in Southern India. It belongs to a different language school and is linguistically poles apart. It has absolutely no historical or cultural connections to the people. This being so, to expect South Indians to speak Hindi betrays an ignorant and insensitive mindset.

Speaking of historical and cultural connections, English has had a much greater role due to the 2 odd centuries of British rule, and due to the wide changes they brought about. Besides, it gives connectivity to a much larger linguistic world. South Indians prefer learning English and even that is out of their own volition, and not to conform with some other group of people. As CN Annadurai famously said, Tamilians don't need a larger door to the world and a smaller door to North India. The same door can do for both.

North Indians travellers to the south who complain of difficulties in communication should understand that it is much much more difficult for a South Indian to learn an alien language. Being Indian does not entitle one to unconstrained conversation anywhere in the country.

The fundamental point is that of India being a federation - a federation of peoples voluntarily forming a union upholding democracy and secularism. Religious majoritarianism has no place in our secular configuration. In exactly the same way, this Hindi-bullying is anathema to our system. The freedom to learn or not learn a language is very much a birthright. The greatness of India lies not in its size, but in its diversity. Let us try to keep India that way.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

When Exalted Editors Take to Petty Pandering

The Hindu has recently published a couple of inane editorials about the reservation issue. N Ram and co. stubbornly refuse to lend ear to the sincere demands of the agitating doctors. Instead, they keep harping that the strike is 'morally indefensible' and ought to be called off rightaway.

If the editorials had raised the plight of suffering patients, if they had reminded the doctors of their moral responsibility to not shirk work, if they had supported the Supreme Court's call for the withdrawal of the agitation, I would have found myself in solemn agreement. But the Hindu does none of these. It chooses to reel out specious sophistries to call for an end to the strike.

The editors repeatedly miscontrue the mere trigger to be the raison d'etre of the agitation. OBC reservation and the resulting decrease in general category seats is the immediate cause, nothing more! As the demands of the striking students clearly show, they are voicing concern about a much deeper issue - the rationale behind reservation and its efficacy in achieving any social upliftment whatsoever.

Instead of even considering this question, the editors of the Hindu choose to accuse the movement of being intransigent. They ask - the number of seats will be increased keeping the number of general category seats unchanged, why don't you go back to work? As an aside, it is clear that they do not realize the gross unfairness of this move - millions of rupees of taxpayers' money is to be spent solely for the benefit of the OBCs and the SC/STs. The majority, read the general category, will gain nothing from the millions being spent on infrastructure.

Let me add that what I have just said is irrelevant, even inconsequential. The real grouse is that this move has a fundamentally flawed basis. Our polity is guided not by principles of equality or upliftment, but by unabashed votebank blackmail. Instead of strengthening facilities at the grassroot level, the government has chosen brazen Chamberlain-esque appeasement in the form of reservation in higher education.

The predominantly rural backward population lacks access to a decent primary education. How on earth can this quota improve their lot? All it will do is to ensure the support of a sizeable votebank for the congress party. A poor Brahmin struggling against odds in some desolate village will now have to score 99.99 while a stinking rich city-bred OBC student will easily get away with 90% or even less. Is this the level playing field we seek? Is there any concrete scientific basis or even any quantifiable objective to this fettering of the 'upper classes'? In the age of globalization and liberalization, is such a retrograde step called for? As Saisudha pointed out to me, India now is akin to the America portrayed in Atlas Shrugged. The able and eager 'general category' youth have been left gaping as seats are usurped by eminently less-qualified 'backward' candidates. Pastures abroad never looked greener to the Indian student.

But all this is beyond the ken of the Hindu's exalted editors. The Prime Minister has promised to 'consider' the demand for an apolitical panel. Therefore, their editorial outrageously says, the strike should be called off! A humble analogy - At the height of the recent demonstrations in Kathmandu, let us suppose the King had promised to consider the demands of the people. Therefore, the Hindu would say, the demonstrations ought to halt at once! To my eyes, the Hindu has been irascible, unreasonable and irritatingly dumb in writing these editorials.

I should add that the Hindu opines, thankfully, that IITs and IIMs should be retained as centres of excellence without any reservation. However, it does not raise its voice strongly in support of this thesis. Instead, it trivializes, even mocks, the current agitation which, inter alia, is saying the same thing.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

More on Reservation

This is especially in response to Chella's comments. Maybe I did not make it very clear in my blog - I am not against reservation!

But I am certainly opposed to the current heuristic system. I agree that OBC's and Dalits are currently socially backward. But, when implementing reservation, how are we going to check if they have come out of their backwardness? Indeed, how are we going to check if their situation is improving at all? That's where the need for quantifiable targets arises.

Your priority is to give backward classes a level playing field. But that is not good enough. We have to remove their 'backwardness' for good. Within a reasonable timeframe, we should bring them to a stage where they don't need any further concessions/reservations.

We need to set ourselves quantifiable time-bound targets in terms of literacy, average income, percentage of workforce, etc. We could then take many more measures apart from reservation. At the end of the target period, we can always reevaluate the setup and see if there is need for further action.

And as regards IITs/IIMs/PG seats in medicine, I think that OBC candidates who can effectively compete for these seats have already overcome their social backwardness!! Honestly, do you think that an MBBS doctor applying for an MD seat can be 'socially backward'?

If you say 'yes', I can only say that the doctor and his descendants will always remain backward! A qualified doctor/engineer should be confident enough to shrug away any 'backward' tag. What is the use of reservation in MBBS/BE otherwise?

And likewise, if an SC/ST candidate competitively appears for the IIT entrance exam and does not make it, he is certainly good enough to get a seat in other big engineering colleges. Increasing reservation will only hurt the reputation of the IITs. We should make IITs centres of excellence, not social tools!

A sanskrit saying says "You learn a quarter from your teacher, a quarter by your own intellect, a quarter from your companions and quarter by the passage of time". By allowing only the best students into the IITs, we create an environment in which outstanding students learn and derive inspiration from each other! Thus, the IITs produce excellent students who have an edge over others from India and abroad. Why should we compromise on this advantage, when we have enough colleges to further our social objectives?

And in my opinion, it is harmful and unethical to impose reservation on the private sector. Forcing private companies is not in the spirit of privatization. But, of course, the government can encourage companies to discount social disabilities/backwardness/imbalances while recruiting employees. But dissenting entrepreneurs, who are not for reservation, should be given the freedom to adhere to their principles.

Monday, May 15, 2006

On Reservation

Blogging has opened up a wonderful avenue. It has enabled me to react and more importantly, contribute in my own small way to issues that are of concern to me. Needless to say, reservation is a highly contentious issue that holds sway over the lives of millions of Indians. Hundreds of doctors and medical students are taking to the streets to protest against our HRD minister's recent proposals. Here is my take on the issue.

Many many arguments have been put forth by both sides. Below I present a few ideas that I think have not been adequately considered.

Even after 60 years of religious implementation, the lot of the oppressed classes doesn't seem to be any better. Atleast renewed calls for greater reservation give us that impression. You might intelligently counter me thus, "You cannot correct mistakes made over 2 millenia in a mere 60 years".

Great! So what is the plan? You intend to stick to this lopsided system for a thousand years before there is any hope of redemption, do you? Are the forward class taxpayers being systematically subjected to their own ancient folly - denial of opportunity - so that a dalit born in 3006 A.D. will be an equal member of society?

When is there ever going to be an end to this practice? Will the lower castes ever rise up and say "Thank you! We are equals now."? The root of the problem is that reservation is what any manager would abhor - a project with NO VERIFIABLE TIME BOUND OBJECTIVES. Such a system can never work succesfully towards its goal, simply because there is no specific goal in the first place.

The government ought to bring out a clear policy stating that by the year 2yyy, x% of W caste population will be literate; z% will be earning Rs uuuuu/-, etc. Such clarity will enable concrete focussed action on many fronts, including optimal reservation. It will help us to confidently work toward a society where ultimately nobody would be backward. But this is not to be - neither at the government level nor at the level of backward communities. Therefore, all we do is to feed larger and larger chunks to insatiate dalits, Most BC, Utmost BC, Almost BC, Just-a-little BC, OBC and every other conceivable classification of backward communities.

Moreover, a specific quantifiable target will help us to ascertain whether our measures are really reaching the target population. Otherwise, city born affluent 'dalits' might walk away with all the reserved seats, leaving the distressed rural population high and dry. If our targets are not being met, we could re-evaluate or re-structure our approach in a time bound fashion.

Contrast this to the current scenario. There are frenzied, emotional and emphatic demands from various communities clamouring for reservation. We have created class after class of hypochondriacs skilled in aggressive emotional wrangling. We set out to instill confidence and the indomitable spirit that comes with equality in certain sections. Instead, we have opened a pandora's box of backward classes who all claim to be terribly oppressed, supressed and depressed! After 60 years, has even a minute subsection of the oppressed population come out saying that "we are happy now that we are uplifted. we don't need this anymore"? Rather, everybody is demanding a bigger pound of flesh.

In my humble opinion, EQUALITY CAN NEVER BE GIVEN to a people. It is for the people to rise up through the dint of untiring effort aided by unshakeable confidence in their abilities. Reservation, as it stands today, will never build this requisite confidence, it only undermines it.

We have entered into an unending spiral where more and more opportunities are being reserved for more and more communities. Parliament, local bodies, govt jobs, professional colleges, private colleges, IITs, IIMs, the private sector and so on and so forth. At this rate, we might soon have roads that are exclusively for the scheduled castes; commercial flights will need to have 30% dalits on board to take off; 50% of generated electricity will be given to dalit homes whether they have use for it or not and so on.

Consider the muslims' case. It is indeed true that a greater percentage of muslims is poor. The poor suffer a lot and have to be helped. But the question nobody asks is, why should the muslim poor alone be helped? Why not help the entire spectrum of the poor population? That would also help the muslims, wouldn't it? Instead, why not try novel approaches such as professional courses in madrasa education? Why don't the numerous muslim outfits do something about it apart from clamouring for reservation? With all due respect, why don't they wage Jihad against poverty, illiteracy and disease, as President Musharraf once asked? Reservation is a habit-forming venom, a quagmire that sucks one into indolent posturing rather than constructive action!

Let us come back to the IIT/IIM issue. At the risk of putting ideas into your heads, I put forth a hypothetical legislation - Dalits were denied transport and communication facilities over the centuries. Therefore, 50% of Indian luxury cars and camera-mobile phones are to be given to Dalits whether or not they have the money.
Imho, the above is as reasonable and sound as the proposal to reserve more seats in IITs and IIMs!!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

No More on Lok Paritran

I have grown weary of all the Lok Paritran bashing. I get the feeling that I've needlessly lavished serious criticism on an outfit that doesn't even merit a cursory glance. On the other hand, I am appalled to note that LP has secured about 10,000 and 12000 votes at Mylapore and Anna Nagar respectively. How on earth did so many people take them seriously?

As the title says, I intend to discuss LP one last time here, and then move on. Mr Chella Dorai has brought to my attention that LP has a generous hindutva touch to it. If you visit and check out the 3rd post, you'll find that Tanmay Rajpurohit, one of LP's big shots, gave a lecture in the USA about Hindutva forces being subdued by a 'FUD(Fear Uncertainty Doubt) strategy'.

Anybody can detect a distinct Hindu flavour in LP. The word 'Paritrana' is Bhagavad Gita-inspired. Right at the top of their website, is a quote from the Rigveda. Added to this is their rather improper use of the term 'Jagatguru'. In fact, my first LP blog came with a brazen christian overtone as a reaction.

If LP is oriented towards Hindutva, why on earth did they have to form a new party?! Why couldn't they have joined the BJP straightaway? That would be the logical choice considering that BJP already has an established cadre base. That would have saved them the enormous trouble of grabbing people's attention.

Why are they playing this 'soft hindutva' card? I can only think of one reason. The BJP has never had wide public acceptance. And Hindutva is frowned upon by many sections of our society. LP wants to come up as a broad plausible alternative. And at the same time, Hindutva is deeply embedded in its psyche. So, the course of action is clear - Float a new party, claim to be a novelty, keep mum about ideology but craftily cling to Hindutva all along! I can only hope that LP is not playing this game consciously or unconsciously.

At best, such behaviour would be immature. A political party should not be sly or apologetic about its intentions. If at all they subscribe to Hindutva, let them be frank about it. Instead, choosing to daub their website with needless Hindu/sanskrit allusions only serves to make their stand ambiguous.

God save our polity!!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Lots More on Lok Paritran

Now to consider Prasanna's all-important question - 'if not lok paritran, if not the established degenerate parties, what is the alternative?' Below, I state my sincere opinion without claiming divine infallibility. Also, I choose to answer in a Tamil Nadu specific flavour as I am best acquainted with the political history of my home state. But at the outset, I'll briefly restate the obvious.

If Lok Paritran stands on weak ideological ground, so do the ADMK and the DMK. In addition, we have a slew of allegations of impropriety, corruption and vendetta that are incessantly being exchanged by the pharisaical TV channels(and newspapers, of late) in each camp. As if this was not enough, we are being flooded with promises of 'free this' and 'free that' every hour. We desperately need to realize that there is no such thing as a free lunch, to get ourselves out of this quagmire of internecine rivalries.

Objectively speaking, Lok Paritran is not a viable alternative. In spite of our aspirations and wishful thinking, one can't but accept that the chances of Lok Paritran making it big are infinitesimal. Even if they did win, they don't seem to have sound ideas about achieving their ends. If they don't have ideas now, you can't expect them to work miracles while in power.

The root problem is that the political culture of TN has stooped beyond the limits of civility. Our assemblies and corporation councils have become a farce - the playground of personality cults and open favouritism. Politicians from opposite camps are so indoctrinated that they never so much speak to each other civilly.

However, the political milieu at the centre is reasonably healthy and constructive. Suggestions/charges from all corners are heard. The opposition gets its due space. Right from independence, we have selected eminent and clean personalities for the Prime Minister's post. Why isn't there an osmosis of this healthy climate into the TN legislative assembly?(rather sadly, there is a definite reverse osmosis).

(A minor digression - most of us would concede that we have some eminent statesmen and untiring leaders in various parties at the national level. Why did the founders of Lok Paritran found a new party, instead of joining an established outfit?? I can only think of two possible reasons - 1. 'different ideology' or 2. 'all other parties are corrupt beyond redemption'. 1 can't be the reason as I have tried to reason out in previous blogs. And I personally do not think 2 is true. Each party, atleast at the centre, definitely has sincere leaders and workers who are trying their best. Indeed, if 2 were true, we would never have had an 'India Shining' Campaign. We have definitely shown all-round progress and that has stemmed from firm political will).

The problem with TN is that its political setup is disconnected from that of the rest of the country. Jayalalithaa or MK stand tall here without having to bow down to a higher power centre. Consider the case of Ajit Jogi who was thrown out after being caught bribing on tape. AK Anthony was politely asked to step down when he lost popularity. Uma Bharti was told to put in her papers when a case was filed against her. These never happen at TN simply because we have leaders here who are not answerable to any higher authority within their parties.

To my eyes, TN's welfare can best be assured by reinstating a national party. The Dravidian parties, at any rate, have lost their ideological moorings and are obsessed with personal rivalry. The TN congress, unfortunately, is faction-ridden and alliance-addicted. The BJP may well be our King David. The TN BJP leaders have so far retained some semblance of propriety and vision. Though sidelined at home, they have proved to be good organizers at the national level. The Hindutva card may strike a jarring note here. But, I do hope they reorganize and establish a base here. Comments are welcome!

Still More on Lok Paritran

I came across Lok Paritran's manifesto a couple of days back. The document has somewhat mitigated my resentment. And, in addition, quite a few ppl have taken up cudgels against my diatribe. They have since flooded me with the realities of our political firmament, the superior skills of specialist professionals and the dismal picture that other parties present.

Having said this, let me paraphrase what my teacher says (in the context of experimental condensed matter physics though!) - "If you've got them agitated, you are onto something". I get a minute pleasure from my opinions having aroused such indignation, whence I infer that what I say holds water after all. I know that Hari is now going to shout out that this is a vicious circle - after all, lok paritran had me agitated in the first place. But I insist on having my minute pleasure - of the thousands that heard about Lok Paritran, not many others(nobody if my search engine is to believed) have written such virulent harangues. On the other hand, of the 5-6 visitors to my blogspace, atleast 3 have come back with acerbic repartees.

Now for their manifesto - I must say that it is well-written, concise and even a tad impressive. But a deeper reading strips its sturdy facade and exposes hollow content. First and foremost, in the manifesto of a party run by well-educated professionals, you would expect to see irrefutable figures. There is not a single statistical detail to vindicate their perceptions or to lend support to their promises!!!(contrast this to the documents available at

In a professional course, you are taught to base any arguments on sound facts and to avoid loose perceptions. This text would certainly have been frowned upon by my 'Report Writing' instructor. These people have given up well-paying jobs to enter politics. I am sure they had all the time in the world to research and analyse the ground situation. Lok Paritran has restricted itself to strictly qualitative, wishy-washy and unscientific homework. Their approach has been far from professional. One ready example is that their manifesto for the May 8th election was released on 24th April, barely two weeks before. I wonder if they campaigned at all before the 24th(not that I've seen much campaigning afterwards).

To cut deeper, phrases like 'vocational education', 'farmer training', 'microfinance', 'MLA fund utilization' and 'sanitation measures' impress the reader at first glance. Unlike what we'd make out of it, Lok Paritran is certainly not brimming with creative solutions. All these and more have been in existence for ages!

For example, we have a distinct 'vocational stream' in the Plus 2 system. Almost all schools include tailoring/electrical repair/typewriting in their curriculum under the name of SUPW-Socially Useful Project Work. But as Hari used to say, these turn out to be Some Useful Period Wasted. If these have not revolutionized society, the reason is not difficult to see. Most of the work done at school cannot be of the industry level. Moreover, students tend to look upon these as superfluous burden. The common man, atleast in Tamil Nadu, learns carpentry/auto-maintenance/foundry work/plumbing by apprenticeship. The uninitiated young offer their services to professionals, and in the process thoroughly learn the tricks of the trade. The pay offered, though measly, is an additional incentive ensuring that the youngster works hard. I sincerely doubt if any school can provide such a thorough exposure or even the least motivation in this direction. This is where Lok Paritran should have brainstormed and come up with concrete measures to revitalize/renew vocational education. Even a little data about the 'vocational stream' may have helped their cause. Merely putting the 'vocational education' on their manifesto is half-baked, to say the least.

I could similarly wax eloquent on all the other points. The fact remains that their manifesto neither assesses the situation pragmatically nor suggests realistic steps. Had I been asked to write a manifesto for my social studies assignment, I might have written all that they say and more in a day's time.

On the brighter side, they have addressed a major concern of mine. They plan to constitute intra party committees to ensure that party members don't engage in corruption or overstep party principles. Again, this is what every party does. But, they have atleast, considered the issue and come up with a solution however trite it may sound.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

More on Lok Paritran

to prasanna..there's no questioning the fact that they have guts. but it takes much more than guts to provide good governance! and again, it is true that other parties do not follow their ideologies in letter and spirit. but, that is no reason for not having one at all.

imagine lok paritran ten years down the line(assume for now that they survive 2 general elections). they will no longer be a novelty then. they will be no longer able to ask for votes claiming to be 'young' and 'enthued students'. what do you think will happen? the writing is on the wall - they will simply become one more political outfit, same as the innumerable parties that they now brand as corrupt.

verily, haven't most political parties (dmk, bjp, jana sangh) started with 'noble' intentions? haven't they all claimed to be 'different' at some point of time? the one thing that can set a party apart for all time is a strong ideological basis, neither a hi-funda education nor being young! since i have mentioned other parties, let me add that these parties had their roots in popular movements. before he formed the DMK, CN Annadurai was part of a prominent social organization, the Dravidar Kazhagam. moreover, he had spearheaded the anti-Hindi agitation. people knew his credentials and priorities when he entered politics. Sadly, that is not the case here. the founders of Lok Paritran drop out of nowhere and claim to be the torchbearers of resurgent India! shouldn't they make a mark first and then contest elections?

of course, now comes a matter of personal opinion. a lot of ppl seem to be 'investing' in lok paritran hoping that they will be 'different'. but, i would rather invest after making doubly sure that they will remain 'different'. and i humbly believe that I have been rational and unbiased in saying that.

to kiran..i don't know abt you, but i am contributing to my country(why, to all humanity) by doing productive work in my 'AC office'. and if you were a sincere software engr, i believe you should be making a sterling contribution to our economy too. and imho, these fellows could make a tremendous contribution by becoming good engineers, economists or whatever they were trained to become. you seem to think that one can contribute only by "giving up lucrative careers". these lucrative jobs have a much greater role in the scheme of things than an amateur political party.

i am not in anyway questioning their intentions! there is no doubt that they intend to do the best. I am not happy, however, with what they have come up with.

i don't ask them to stay away from elections. But before asking us to vote, i would like them to come up with a concrete political philosophy. atleast, they could take an explicit stand on important issues such as reservation or liberalization. if that is too much to ask, how about specific plans for each constituency? they do say that they will put the MLA fund to good use. but there's no mention of any specific priorities.

with all due respect, let me put forward a hypothetical situation - 4 arbit chaps from sinnathayi arts college at seevalaperi start a party called 'illumined india' and claim they will root out corruption. will you support them? if not, are they any different from lok paritran?

to deepak..Hard as you may find it to believe, I have great respect for IITs and IITians. Two vain attempts at cracking JEE have only increased my admiration and awe manifold. You have got it the other way round. I have met a number of extremely intelligent, cogent and capable fellows from the IITs. And therefore, I guess I have put them on a pedestal. It was with great expectations that I initially looked up to Lok Paritran. But their website and comments in the press were disappointing, to say the least. On top of that, my orkut scrapbook and mailbox are spammed by friends who are going gaga about this party without even visiting their website. Thence stems my anger. Make no mistake - I have not written this blog out of hatred/antagonism/jealousy towards IITians. This is simply my objective assessment.