The British and the Americans don’t like Marathi “chauvinism”
Indianising old (British) names of roads and cities never stirred any fire in me although it arouses nationalistic fervour in some. I disapproved of the recent diktat of Mumbai’s Municipal Corporation (BMC) to make Marathi mandatory (no Hindi or English allowed) for all official documentation although Marathi is my mother tongue and I can read and write it. But my grumbling is one thing; foreigners grumbling another. If they can adjust to the lack of English in China or in France, surely they can adjust to it in India? In fact in India we have no dearth of translators as English is spoken widely.
A brief background
Most major cities have Indianised their names as an anti-colonial measure – from Madras to Chennai, from Calcutta to Kolkata, from Bombay to Mumbai. Also, recently the BMC (helped along by a local political outfit, MNS) ruled that commercial establishments in Mumbai write the names of their shops and businesses in Marathi (along with English or Hindi). There’s a deadline of 28th August 2008.
And now official documents to be Marathi only
I find this irritating and unneccessary but what I find odd is the way the international press has reacted.
This is what the Telegraph (U.K.) says:
Local officials privately admit that though the Marathi dialect most often spoken in the city can be easy to understand, the official version of the language is confusing and a poor substitute for English
Dialect huh. Well, they have also called Marathi a language and I guess we should be grateful for that. Surprisingly, the headline of the same article said that this move would limit “the city’s ambitions of becoming a global commercial hub.”
Why should it? Have countries like France suffered because they made their language the medium for all official documentation? What India lacks is infrastructure and that is the hurdle to growth, not some petty politicking over language! According to me this is a non-issue where development is concerned and could well be temporary.
In any case, the only reason why English is still here as one of the official languages of India is because of India’s innumerable indigenous languages.
This is what the International Herald Tribune says (Reuters story):
The decision to ditch English, the global language of business, in favour of Marathi, a language largely restricted to the surrounding state of Maharashtra, has left some officials struggling to express themselves
I am not sure whether they are upset that Marathi has replaced English and would have been alright with Hindi or whether they are upset about Mumbai ditching English.
This is what the Financial Times (London) writes:
Mumbai’s business elite, which wants the city to become an international financial centre (IFC), opposes the language change. “It will have an adverse effect on the global investment climate in the city,” warns Sushil Jiwarajka, the western regional council chairman of the Federation of Indian chambers of commerce and Industry. Former World Bank economist Percy Mistry, who advised India’s finance ministry on how to help Mumbai realize its dream of catching up with London and Hong Kong, said that an unfriendly business climate would just give companies another reason to choose cities in neighboring Indian states, such as Gujarat, rather than Maharashtra.
Will foreign investors turn their back on Maharashtra because the official communication is in Marathi? Or because of poor roads, lack of power and other infrastructure?
A blog on the Economist magazine site (blogs on these sites are penned by the journalists themselves) says: [The headline is “Watch your mouth in Mumbai”]
BRITISH businessmen working in India were recently warned about the need to abide by local customs, following reports of deals collapsing because of their inappropriate behaviour. Now those heading to Mumbai have one more thing to think about: language…No government documents will be written in English or Hindi…This is going to make life harder for several councillors who do not read and write the language fluently. And non-Marathi speakers doing business with the government could find their translators’ bills soaring.
I am not sure exactly what British businessmen are worried about. Translators’ bills, “inappropriate” behavior or what non-Marathi speaking Indian councillors have to go through.
One of the reactions to this post in the Economist was:
It’s because of stupid regulations like this that India gets a reputation as being unfriendly to business.
The businessmen will learn Marathi as they learn now Portuguese and Chinese. What is so tragic in it?
That is exactly what I feel. What’s so tragic in it? What’s so reprehensible about it? I can understand the outrage of those whose mother tongue is Hindi or Gujarati who have trouble deciphering Marathi documents but I have difficulty in understanding the attitude of those who are not from this country.
This issue of changing the official language to Marathi is about regional politicking, it’s about coalition politics, it’s about next year’s elections and it may not even last! Relax guys! Don’t come out with doomsday predictions!
Update 22nd August: Mavin in his comment has brought to my notice that Marathi is already the official language at police stations, ration offices and the land revenue department. The government administration structure, already conducts its affairs in Marathi. The municipal corporation, even in other towns in Maharashtra, issues the property tax and water bills in Marathi. Land survey reports are already in Marathi. Therefore, conducting the affairs of the municipal corporation will not be any drastic change for foreign businessmen…it does not change anything for them. The only change now, is for the non-Marathi speaking corporators who are elected representatives of the people in Mumbai. This makes the criticism of the foreign businessmen by even more incomprehensible.
(Note: This post was written at the suggestion of Arleen, a reader.)