International Silk Route for India Is via the States

The farmers in Karnataka who rear silk worms are feeling the heat of cheap silk imports from China. The reason for this sudden surge in imports from China is, reduction in import duty on silk from 15% to 10%. This change in import duty was a decision of the Union Government of India.

As per this newspaper report, a delegation consisting of a few of the ministers from the Karnataka state government and all the MPs from Karnataka met several ministers of the union government recently, urging them to restore the import duty to earlier levels. As per the report, over 11 lakh farmers in the state of Karnataka have been impacted by this decision. Whether the Union Government decides to increase the import duty on silk to earlier levels or not, remains to be seen.  However, this episode in which the largest silk producing state in India felt the heat of cheaper Chinese imports and which made the representatives from the state to rush to Delhi seeking an intervention, tells a thing or two about the federalism being practised in the Indian union.

Should Delhi be taking a decision in this regard?
There are several farm produces that are mostly produced in only one state of the Indian union. Any decision impacting such a farm produce must be taken by the government that is closer to the people who toil to make the produce happen. For instance, any decision impacting coffee or silk in any way, must come from the government of Karnataka. The decisions which do not originate from the government that is closer to the people, will only lead to problems that call for fire-fighting measures later. Decisions by the Union Government sitting at Delhi without even building consensus among impacted states, will lead to such a goof up.

Any reversal in the import duty impacts India's image among the international trading community. India will come across as a nation which is inconsistent with its policies. Non-reversal will bleed the farmers inside India. Why has the union government gotten itself into such a fix? Centralized decision making process which is far removed from the people is the reason. It is time India takes federalism seriously, and implements it in true spirit.

Let Us Talk about a Forgotten Private Member Bill – the Official Languages Bill 2012

- by Vasant Shetty

For the first time in 45 years, the Indian Parliament witnessed the approval of a Private Member Bill. The bill protecting and providing rights of transgenders was moved by Mr Tiruchi Siva, a DMK Rajyasabha MP and was passed by the Rajya Sabha on the 24th of April, 2015. It is that photo-op moment for Indian democracy that Indian polity cared so much for and passed a private member bill after 45 long years. The Hindu reports: 

Mr Siva’s Bill has 58 clauses in 10 chapters dealing with different aspects ranging from social inclusion, rights and entitlements, financial and legal aid, education, skill development to prevention of abuse, violence and exploitation.  

Congratulations to Mr Tiruchi Siva for standing up for the rights of a thin margin of people, who otherwise did not exist in the imagination of India’s politics. The media was equally jubilant. After all, who doesn’t want to be seen standing on the side of justice, especially on an issue dealing with transgenders!   

Now, let us turn to another Private Member Bill moved by the same Tiruchi Siva. Unlike the one on transgenders, this bill was about an issue that affects the lives of millions and millions of Indians on a daily basis. So, what is that issue? – It is the issue of language inequality. It is the issue of unabated Hindi Imposition that is rapidly leading to Hindification of India. It is the issue concerning crores of Indians who are denied government services in their own languages and are rather treated as second class citizens for not knowing a language of a higher god - Hindi.  Yes, I am talking about the Official Language Act, which gives absolute primacy to Hindi in all aspects of governance delivered by the Union government of India. This undemocratic, anti-diversity act has forcefully imposed Hindi on all non-Hindi states leading to a steady decline of all non-Hindi languages in their respective states. 

Troubled by the dismal state of non-Hindi languages in India, Mr Siva had moved a private member bill called ”The Official Languages Bill 2012” on the 7th of December 2012, demanding official language status to all languages included in the eighth schedule of the Indian Constitution. In a fair and just democracy, an issue bothering a majority of the people would have become a policy issue instantly, but in the world’s largest democracy, it is not the case. Mr Siva’s bill came up for a discussion on 23rd February 2013 and after an inconclusive debate in which several non-Hindi speaking MPs came in support of Siva’s bill, nothing much happened and the bill died a natural death with the end of tenure of the 15th Lokasabha. 

Some questions arise in my mind after seeing the successful approval of private member bill related to transgenders.
  • If for 45 years, not a single Private Member bill was accepted, then is there a point in having a provision to move a Private Member bill at all?
  • When the rights of a few transgenders are taken seriously (rightly so), why is that language rights of non-Hindi speakers, who form the majority of India, are considered fit to be ignored?
  • Can India call itself a democracy, when the Union government so openly and brazenly discriminates between Hindi and non-Hindi languages?
  • Success of any democracy lies in bridging the gap between the system and the people, and the biggest tool to achieve this goal is to use people’s languages in administration. Can India’s democracy succeed by simply ignoring the presence of all non-Hindi languages?
These questions concern the entire country, especially the different linguistic groups that are part of India. So, all the different linguistic groups of India must join hands and demand for linguistic equality. In a time when technology can solve all sorts of communication challenges, India cannot harp behind “One Nation – One Language” theory and subjugate the rights of non-Hindi speakers. 

Of late, there is a noticeable awakening among the various linguistic groups of India. As this awakening spreads, it is only a matter of time before linguistic equality becomes a reality in India, and thereby India transforming into a true multilingual federal democracy.  All non-Hindi speakers have their task cut out clearly - join hands, work together and achieve linguistic equality.

Absence of Higher Education in People's Language Stifles Innovation

Pic source:
The Wall Street Journal, an English language international newspaper, recently published a blog post titled "Do strong religious beliefs stifle innovation?"
The post is based on a research paper published by "National bureau of economic research, US", authors of which are Roland BénabouDavide Ticchi and Andrea Vindigni. The blog can be read here, and the research paper can be read here.

The research paper is of interest to us because, the authors have collected 'patents per capita' data from many nations across the globe. The data has been captured for the years 1980, 1990, 1995, 2000 and 2005. Data spanning over a 25 year period makes it robust for any analysis. Those nations with highest number of 'patents per capita' are considered leaders in innovation. The ones with comparatively lesser number of 'patents per capita' can be considered laggards in innovation. In this article, we shall not be exploring the possibilities of religiosity influencing innovation. Our main focus will be on the nations that have featured in the research paper, and the education system that those nations have built.

If we are to list the nations that have visibly higher number of 'patents per capita', as per data captured by authors of above mentioned research paper, the list would go like:
1.    Japan
2.    South Korea
3.    Germany
4.    United States
5.    Sweden
6.    Finland
7.    Great Britain

Other nations such as Denmark and France trail closely. All the nations listed above have built an education system where not just the primary schooling, even the higher education are provided in people's languages. To elaborate, in Japan one could even study engineering or medicine in Japanese medium. The Japanese or the Germans need not rely on English to obtain a degree (or masters) in engineering or medicine.

Let us also take a look at the nations that are much below the scale (at the bottom) in terms of 'patents per capita'. 
1.    Pakistan
2.    Bangladesh
3.    Indonesia
4.    Algeria

India is much closer to Algeria in terms of 'patents per capita', and India can be classified as a nation where innovation is rare. While Pakistan and Bangladesh rely on English as the language of instruction in higher education, Algeria relies on French.

Case of Indonesia is unique. Indonesia is home to 700 languages, and the official language of Indonesia is called 'Bahasa Indonesia', an artificially created language. As per this wikipedia entry, though 'Bahasa Indonesia' is extensively used in commerce, education, administration and media, most Indonesians speak other languages, such as Javanese, as their first language.
Though Indonesia has built higher education system that provides education in 'Bahasa Indonesia', the language used is still not people's language. It is analogous to making official Hindi as the language of education for whole of India.

While the leaders in innovation have built higher education systems in their people's languages, the laggards are either relying on languages of their erstwhile colonizers, or have built a higher education system which imparts education in an artificially constructed language. The educationists and linguists of the world have long argued, that education is very effective when imparted in mother-tongue. The data in the above mentioned research paper vindicates the fact that people's language is key to improving innovation and scientific progress of a society. Of course, there are other factors also that influence innovation and scientific spirit of a nation.

If India wishes to be a global leader in innovation, it is time India took its' people's languages seriously in education. The message is clear, provide higher education in people's language or remain a low-performer in terms of innovation,