Saturday, May 31, 2008

Language And Conflict In The News: Rajasthan and the Gujjar

India is one of the most language conscious nations on Earth.  Although it was originally planned to phase out the use of English in favor of Hindi, since only 40% of Indians speak Hindi, that move was cancelled.  English is considered more "neutral," as it is in many other places, for example Israel/Palestine.

Many states in India were created specifically for language groups.  The constitution is written in English, and only after decades was a version in Hindi created, and all disagreements between the texts are to rely on the English version.

For the last week or two the Gujjar speaking population of Rajasthan have been rioting.  The Gujjar are agitating for "scheduled tribe" status.  According to one source
It sought to encompass the country's diverse tribal groups under a common banner in an effort to help address the disadvantages the tribes encountered and to integrate them into the mainstream of Indian society. Along with being geographically and socially isolated, the tribals have historically been politically underrepresented and their regions of residence economically underdeveloped. Scheduled tribe status under the Indian constitution means that seats are reserved for tribals in political forums such as the parliament, along with job reservations in the civil service and educational institutions.
Wikipedia says that Scheduled Tribe status helps a group be recognized as having long been oppressed by the Hindi majority.

India, as I said, has a long history of being very language conscious, and although I'm sure they've done worse, in this case, they seem to be acting fairly sensitively, having fired the Chief of Police for Rajasthan after 42 people have died in the violence.

Thanks go to Sunil Vyas for bringing this event to my attention.

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