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Issue 23

A New Law Aims to Open Government Data to the Public. Can We Trust It to Deliver?

However unnerving the feeling of being surveilled is, collecting information about our interactions with the government has the potential to be immensely fruitful for journalists, researchers and the public. Whenever we fill out a government form or get our vaccinations done through public hospitals, the records we leave with them can be harnessed by those looking at it to trace back that interaction. Not only does this ensure transparency and accountability, but it can also be used to deduce important information about our economic and social reality.

Public institutions like government hospitals or the Statistical Ministry collect a massive bank of data from everyday operations and research. A new law, the Draft India Data Accessibility and Use Policy revealed on February 21 this year, has proposed to open this data to the public and controversially, put it up for sale in the private sector. Under this proposal, all data collected by every government body will be open by default unless specified otherwise and some other ‘special’ datasets will be out on the market. 

This move is in line with the international Open Government Data (OGD) movement which aims to liberate non-personal data collected by public entities and use it to formulate effective policy. According to the Working Group on Open Government Data at the Open Knowledge Foundation, OGD is essential for modern, democratic societies since it ensures readability, shareability, and transparency of government activities–citizens and civil society have the ability to peruse the state’s working together. 

While this sounds utopian for evidence-based policy-making, the historical records of governments generating, storing and releasing data in India have been muddy and many researchers have low levels of trust in the process. This is best illustrated by the Central Government’s ongoing fight with the WHO about the estimated pandemic deaths in the country. The WHO has estimated about four million excess covid deaths, which is in line with other scientific reports and shows staggering disparity when pitched against government data. The Center has disputed the report’s methodology and has itself come under fire for not providing coherent objections.

The story of India’s public data problem runs beyond the pandemic though, which has rightfully occupied our imagination for two years now. There are real issues with the way we collect data on the ground and they are not limited to emergencies like Covid. Long term policy goals like eradicating rabies by 2030 are getting stalled by the disaggregation of bodies responsible for collecting the relevant data and a lack of standardization. If two essential datasets generated by separate government offices do not use the same language or format, making them talk to each other and gain real insights becomes harder. 

Moreover, instead of obfuscating data to fend off criticisms, the government also has the option to simply not conduct the required surveys. The Household Consumer Spending Survey is one such important data collection drive which we have not heard of since 2011, until it was finally resumed this year. The National Statistical Office (NSO) is supposed to conduct the survey every five years but in 2017, the last time it was due, the NSO spoke of “data quality” issues that had prevented them from going forward with it. Many believe, however, that the survey was withheld due to an expected decline in consumer spending which would have reflected badly on the incumbent Modi government.


The overarching goal of OGD is instrumental–it is not only that government data should be open, but it also has to be actually useful. These foundational issues in how officials deal with data can make OGD platforms seem performative at best. The UN’s E-Governance survey conducted in 2020 which measured how robust a nation’s digital governance framework is relative to others placed India at the 100th rank amongst 193 countries included in the report. Without pooling resources to centralise, organise and secure the system that will eventually generate and carry the data, OGD might prove to be fruitless.

Rutuparna Deshpande is a second-year student of Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Ashoka University.

Picture Credits: Unsplash

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Issue 23

India’s Growth Prospects – Are They Really Deterred by Religious Majoritarianism and Polarisation?

In a recent statement, former Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan warned that an “anti-minority” image could harm India’s growth prospects due to reduced demand for Indian products in the global market. Rajan’s comment came a day after Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-controlled North Delhi Municipal Corporation abruptly demolished properties, most of them owned by Muslims, in Jahangirpuri on the pretext of illegal construction. It has, however, been widely perceived as ‘collective punishment’ against Muslims after communal clashes in the neighbourhood days ago. 

Over the past couple of years, several observers have noted increasing religious majoritarianism and polarisation in India, coinciding with the rise of the Hindu Nationalist BJP in 2014. In the last couple of weeks, the headlines have been occupied with the Hijab row and Halal row in Karnataka and communal violence across several states instigated by religious processions, bulldozing of properties owned by Muslims, and so on. It is well-documented that religious conflicts positively correlate with BJP’s electoral performance.

Several well-meaning people, like Dr Rajan, have argued that the rising religious majoritarianism will harm India’s growth prospects. There could be two kinds of motivations behind such reasoning. First, it could be the case that they firmly believe in the argument. Second, they are internally dubious about the intellectual robustness of their claim but see these arguments as doing their bit to mitigate the rising hatred. 

Assuming the case to be the former, there are no strong reasons to believe that there is any threat to overall economic growth. The current form of religious majoritarianism is insidious in that it is based on everyday humiliation and targeting of minorities, mainly Muslims, as opposed to widespread, large-scale violence. Hence, there is no significant risk for companies to operate from a safety and stability perspective as of yet. While some may engage in virtue signalling, they will continue to do business as long as it is profitable — irrespective of India’s “treatment of minorities” — just as they operate in countries like China and Saudi Arabia with the worst record on human rights. 

It was somewhat of a coincidence that the Modi government has proven incompetent in handling the economy, particularly during its first term. The consequentialist arguments about threats to growth failed to mobilise voters amid the worst economic decision-making, such as demonetisation and poorly executed Goods and Service Tax (GST). Such blunders are not necessarily a given. The government may be able to clean up its act on the economy and deliver reasonable growth; it seems to be on the right path. As economic growth picks up, these arguments become even weaker.

India recently signed a free trade deal with Australia and is eyeing one with Europe. The country almost doubled the number of unicorns in just ten months in 2021, from 37 to 71. The latest IMF projections also suggest a healthy growth of 8.2% for this fiscal year. In addition, the government has made bold progress on long-awaited issues such as the sale of Air India. Most importantly, it has not embarked on economically foolish misadventures like demonetisation.

India is also a key partner for the US to counter China. The cooperation between the two countries is set to continue becoming more robust, with positive economic prospects for India. This is also why comparisons with Western boycotts of Russian business are not reasonable. Besides, the Indian diaspora in the west — a large proportion of which are hardcore Modi supporters — will countervail such tendencies if it were to happen at all.

Is this the best India can do? Probably not. A cooperative and peaceful environment would most likely reap higher growth. That is, however, besides the point. Counterfactual thinking does not come to an average voter. So, as long as India can sustain some decent growth, voters are unlikely to make a connection between religious polarisation and lower-than-ideal economic performance. Instead, if anything, proper economic growth could further overshadow and mask the rising religious polarisation in the short-medium run.

This is precisely the flip side of the consequentialist arguments of religious tension being a threat to growth. What happens if and when the government can deliver decent economic growth? Does religious hatred become a non-issue then? 

There is no escaping the elephant in the room. The rising religious majoritarianism and polarisation need to be confronted. The opposition parties failed to mobilise voters under the government’s poor economic performance; it is unlikely they can touch on this challenging topic. Ultimately, these issues are better addressed locally through meaningful community and civil society bonds.

A group of Hindus and Muslims in Jahangirpuri took out a “tiranga yatra” to send a message of unity and peace following the violence. These are exactly the kinds of concrete bonds we need and provide a ray of hope amid grim developments. 

Fahad Hasin is an associate at IDinsight. He also writes on politics, policy and society. You can access his newsletter and writings in popular media here

Picture Credits: DW

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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Issue 23

Not Just Like – We Love It! 

Please Like Me (on Netflix) is a warm, thoughtful comedy-drama. An Australian series revolving around Josh, a twentysomething navigating coming to terms with his sexuality, a mother on the verge of suicide, and his friends being the boon and the bane of his existence, the show has a high relatability quotient for all viewers. While the show is centered around a gay man, the learnings from the series apply to all viewers irrespective of their gender, which enhances the beauty of the show. The way in which the show draws out the brazenness of human insecurities; the candor with which the characters articulate what they’re feeling is reassuring, warm, and also, inspiring. And with its smart, understated humor, PLM combines the strengths of multiple genres. A must-watch!

Jaidev Pant is a third-year student of Psychology and Media at Ashoka University. He is interested in popular culture and its intersections with politics, gender, and behaviour.

Picture Credits: Youtube

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Issue 23

Heartstopper

Heartstopper is a British television show that coming-of-age story about two teenagers who find themselves and each other during a tumultuous time, that is, high school. Based on a graphic novel by Alice Oseman, the show is wholesome, sweet, and heartwarming while also highlighting sensitive and important subjects in a nuanced manner. The show’s protagonist, Charlie Spring, develops a crush on Nick Nelson, and the story is centered around their romance while also navigating friendships, social structures, and emotions that surround them both.  This LGBQT+ story beautifully narrates the anxieties and rushes that arise out of first or new loves. It is a must watch for the ones who loved the graphic novels, and even those who may be unfamiliar with them. 

Heartstopper is available on Netflix. 

Shree Bhattacharyya is a student of English literature and Media Studies at Ashoka University.

Picture Credits: Radio Times

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Issue 23

Blurring Boundaries

Watching a series and interacting with one are entirely different experiences. We have all watched countless series, haven’t we? But how many have we interacted with or, how many webseries have tried interacting with the audience? Phoebe-Waller Bridge understood our need and came up with the Primetime Emmy Award Winning show, Fleabag. It revolves around the life of a young woman, Fleabag and how she navigates it around London. The x-factor of the show is the regular communication that fleabag engages in with the audience. They eye-contact, snide comments, and little juicy details, it feels like she is texting her best friend all the inside thoughts. The audience becomes that best friend regularly receiving information from her. The blurring of the wall between the audience and the protagonist creates a sense of intimacy that keeps the audience hooked till the very end.

What are you waiting for, login to Amazon Prime and stream Fleabag for some intimacy in your lives.

Lakshya Sharma is a student of Economics and Media Studies at Ashoka University. His keen area of interests lie in Fashion and Popular Culture.

Picture Credits: PrimeVideo

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Issue 23

Six Seasons and a Movie! – Community, a Cult Sitcom

Community is an American sitcom following Jeff Winger, a lawyer who goes to community college after his bachelor’s degree is revoked. There he forms a study group with a diverse and eccentric bunch of people who end up forming memories over their time at college. Over its 6 seasons, Community managed to take on nearly every genre and popular trope with a terribly funny A-list cast and script. The cast’s chemistry works beautifully and the jokes feel natural rather than dependent on a laugh track like most sitcoms. The show is full of satirical parodies and tributes to popular media that any pop culture fan will appreciate. Throughout its progression, it brings up important issues like homophobia, sexism and racism and addresses the world’s problems by making fun of them in a way that had never been done before.

Quickly becoming a fan favourite, fans rallied for a Community movie resulting in the ongoing gag “Six seasons and a movie”. The main reason for its popularity is that through its comedy, Community is not only able to thoroughly entertain but also tell the stories of real, broken people, coming together to help each other heal. It is a heartwarming watch that leaves you feeling wrapped up in a warm blanket. The next time you want to binge a show, Community should be your go-to!

Reya Daya is a third-year student studying psychology and media studies at Ashoka University. Her other interests include writing, photography and music.

Picture credits: IMDb

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Issue 23 Issue 7

Through the Looking Glass: Gender Lens and Education Policy

In September 2020, the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) and the Directorate of Education initiated a joint project called the Early Warning System that utilizes school attendance records to develop interventions to curb dropouts by identified at-risk children. 

Prolonged absenteeism can lead to failing the course, especially in rural areas where students lack the financial resources to learn externally. Studies have shown that students who regularly attend school tend to perform better than those who are always absent, as frequent practising of skills helps build one’s ability to perform better than infrequent learning. It is thus essential to note absences and their reasons to ensure a balanced and consistent education for all.

DCPCR developed the policy expecting that the Covid-19 pandemic would lead to a rise in school absenteeism. The pandemic delayed the policy’s roll-out, but a pilot was initiated in October 2021, and the Commission fully implemented the policy in April 2022. DCPCR chairman Anurag Kundu explained that reduced or prolonged attendance as a metric would help gauge whether a child was facing a crisis at home that is affecting their education. The primary causes for absenteeism detected in the pilot included sickness in the family, moving back to the village, lack of parental awareness, labour, early marriage, taking care of household chores, and death. 

The system will send an automated SMS to the parent/guardian of any student who has missed more than 66% of working days in a month or missed more than seven days in a row. If there is no response, it will send an Interactive Voice Response (IVRS) call to understand the reason for absenteeism and make a note in the system if anything is detected. If there is still no response, the teacher will call the parents up and enter the details in the system. If the parents are unreachable or the child is detected to be “high-risk”, home visits will be conducted and adequate steps are taken on a case by case basis. 

Given the policy’s recent implementation, there isn’t substantial data on the interventions made in girls’ cases compared to boys. While the policy remains ungendered mainly, it is crucial to consider the differing reasons for absenteeism amongst girls and boys. Among adolescent boys, the most significant cause of missing school has been child labour which has been hard to solve since counselling and encouraging them to go to school may help, but the families still need their income. Amongst girls, on the other hand, the most prominent causes include early marriage and menstruation. Kundu said that four of their successful interventions were in cases where parents wanted to get their daughters, ages 15-17, married. The parents were counselled to push this decision until after they completed school. 

The policy could become fully functional only in April since its implementation depended on students physically attending school, which was optional until now due to the pandemic. The policy also made no arrangements for online schools or helping those facing difficulty accessing education while they were at home. In 2021, a Delhi-based NGO conducted a survey and found that 56.1% of girls had an increased responsibility to complete domestic chores during the pandemic with less time to focus on their education. Studies show a gender-based digital device, with 33.6% of girls not having access to digital devices and 64% saying that boys had more access to devices and the internet in their communities. Many girls studying before the pandemic couldn’t return to classes as their families didn’t want to spend their savings on their daughters’ education.

Unicef released an alarming report predicting that 10 million more girls would be at risk of child marriage by the end of the decade due to the pandemic. Education is a protective factor against child marriage. Still, with school closure and increased economic strain, girls are pushed into marriage as a last resort to help ease the family’s financial burden. Strict policies, ensuring access to health services and providing social support to families are vital to ensure girls stay in school. Similarly, another significant problem faced by girls attending school is menstruation. 

A 2018 Delhi based study found that 40% of girls didn’t go to school while menstruating. The fear and embarrassment that breeds from the social stigmas around menstruation and the lack of proper sanitary materials, no privacy at school, restrictions imposed on girls, and their mother’s education lead to a drop in attendance which hampers education. Not addressing these things in policy means that little will be able to be done when the issues arise. Interventions to reduce social taboos, increase awareness, provide healthcare and expand the curriculum to provide sound information are essential to combat this problem. The Early Warning System, like other policies, should find ways to implement interventions that account for these factors and include clauses that aim to address these gender-specific issues. 

The National Education Policy of 2020 faced a similar backlash. Specific provisions might promote girls’ education, such as the provision of a Gender Inclusion Fund which would be utilized towards an equitable education for girls and transgender students and an increase in public investment to bring down education spending. This policy, however, encouraged public-private partnership in education which might lead to more schools turning private and becoming inaccessible and unaffordable. Increased tuition would make it harder to convince families to spend on girls’ education and lead to them dropping out. 

While the EWS didn’t mention digital education, the NEP pressed on it without making any provisions for the infrastructure required. The policy’s consolidation of school complexes provision would increase dependence on Open School, the national distance learning program. Any emphasis on this for girls would lead to increased domesticity and curbs on their freedom where they would have a degree but not be able to do much with it. Here, not including girls’ education and other marginalized communities in the policy leads to exclusion. It is crucial to look at policy-making from a gender lens and make gender-specific policies to ensure genuinely equitable education for girls. 

The system will send an automated SMS to the parent/guardian any student who has missed more than 66% of working days in a month or missed more than 7 days in a row. If there is no response, it will send an Interactive Voice Response (IVRS) call to understand the reason for absenteeism and make a note in the system if anything is detected. If there is still no response, the teacher will call the parents up and will enter the details in the system. Home visits are conducted if the parents are unreachable or the child is detected to be “high-risk” and adequate steps are taken on a case by case basis. 

Given the policy’s recent implementation, there isn’t substantial data on the interventions made in the cases of girls as compared to boys. While the policy remains largely ungendered, it is important to consider the differing reasons for absenteeism amongst girls and boys. Among adolescent boys, the biggest cause for missing school has been child labour which has been hard to solve since councelling and encouraging them to go to school may help but the families still need their income. Amongst girls on the other hand, the biggest causes include early marriage and menstruation. Kundu said that four of their successful interventions were in cases where parents wanted to get their daughters ages between 15 and 17 married. The parents were counseled to push this decision until after they completed school. 

The policy was able to become fully functional only in April given that it can only be implemented when students are physically attending school which was optional until now due to the pandemic. The policy also made no arrangements for online school and helping those who were having a hard time accessing education while they were at home. In 2021, a Delhi-based NGO conducted a survey and found that 56.1% of girls had an increased responsibility to complete domestic chores during the pandemic with less time to focus on their education. Studies show a gender-based digital device with 33.6% of girls not having access to digital devices and 64% saying that boys had more access to devices and the internet in their communities. Many girls studying before the pandemic couldn’t return to classes as their families didn’t want to spend their savings on their daughters’ education.

The National Education Policy of 2020 faced similar backlash suggesting that while there were certain provisions that might promote girls’ education such as the provision of a Gender Inclusion Fund which would be utilized towards an equitable education for girls and transgender students and an increase in public investment to bring down education spending. This policy however might lead to schools becoming inaccessible and unaffordable and girls dropping out. It is crucial to look at policy making from a gender lens as well as make gender-specific policies to ensure truly equitable education for girls. 

Reya Daya is a third-year student studying psychology and media studies at Ashoka University. Her other interests include writing, photography and music.

Picture credits: Unicef

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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Issue 23

Issue XXIII: Editor’s Note

The ‘economy’ is an elusive term. In all its intricacies and grandiosity, this complex webwork that carries flows of money, people, and capital almost resembles a colourful living being. It breathes, expands and sometimes utterly collapses under its own weight. We can try to keep it healthy and enjoy the opulence it provides or we can entagle ourselves in greed and ruin its capacity to give. The world as we witness it today is marred with concerns around our economy on the world stage and at home. The 23rd Issue of Open axis explores the humanity of the economy and attempts to address the concerns of our times. 

There are pertinent conversations to be had about how the ‘othering’ of social groups through language and food, the tense political climate and a rapid tide of digital modernity have affected growth and prices in the country, touching every part of our lives. The world beyond our borders is also going through an eerily turbulent time with war on the European continent and deep political uncertainty in South Asia. As we carry on the nascent memory of the toughest times during the pandemic into a new era, our writers take on the challenge of joining these conversations with grit and insight. 

To begin with, Rutuparna Deshpande writes on the state of socio-political data in the country, investigating the new draft data policy and open government data websites that collect citizen data from everyday operations of government agencies. Furthermore, he explores the facets behind researchers’ distrust of this data, and what the consequences of that may be. 

With the ongoing economic crisis in Sri Lanka, Shree Bhattacharyya does a deep dive into the representation of South Asia by the western media and inspects the neglect, possible biases, and lack of adequate coverage that may be seeping into media attention of South Asia. In line with our constant efforts to cover the Russia-Ukraine crisis, Maahira Jain writes on the current condition of Ukrainian refugees, their treatment by other countries in the west, and jarring similarities to the refugee treatment during other global crises. 

Micheal Kugelman, Deputy Director of the Asia Program and Senior Associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center writes on the soaring oil prices in India, and the relation of this inflation with the growing political instability in South Asia. 

The last month has seen some of the most brutal cases of minority targeting across the country, be it the violence of Ram Navami or the banning of meat shops during Hindu festivals. Maya Sharma from NDTV writes on the current state of communal politics in Karnataka, and how the ruling government is turning a blind eye toward minority hatred. In ‘Hindutva’s Narrowing Scope,’ Akanksha Mishra writes on the ideology behind Hindutva, and how the crux of the ideology is primarily upper-caste and Brahmanical, hiding behind a farce of unity. 

In ‘India’s Beef With Meat,’ Lakshay Sharma delves into the politics of food in India, and how food has transformed from a gesture of love and care, into a vehicle of communal disharmony. At the intersection of food with the economy, Jaidev Pant writes of the factors promoting the economic growth of third-party aggregators in the food delivery industry, and how these may be coming at the cost of restaurant sales and exploitation. 

Fahad Hasin writes on India’s economic prospects in light of the growing majoritarianism in the country. He argues that rather than hampering the economy, proper economic growth could overshadow and further mask the rising religious polarisation.

Amit Shah recently stated that Hindi should become the common language that different states communicate in, replacing English. While the statement has invited considerable criticism from the opposition, there is also a need to critically engage with such a proposal. Biplob Kumar Das writes the about the problems with enforcing Hindi as the sole official language of India. Reya Daya writes on the need for gendered policy making and implementing provisions specific to the needs of girls when it comes to education with regards to the recently implemented Early Warning System.

Unboxing libertarian ideology in right-wing thought, Rutuparna Deshpande writes on the concept of freedom is often stretched beyond its meaning.

We hope our 23rd issue is able to shed some light on the intricacies of the economy, culture, religion, and all its complex intersections.

  • Biplob Kumar Das, Jaidev Pant, Lakshya Sharma, Maahira Jain, Reya Deya, Rutuparna Deshpande, & Shree Bhattacharyya
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Issue 23

Can India Afford to Make Hindi Its Sole Official Language?

In the 37th meeting of the Committee of Parliament on Official Language, held on the 9th of April, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who is the chairperson of the committee, stated that Hindi should replace English as the only nationwide official language. He said, “Now the time has come to make the Official Language an important part of the unity of the country. When citizens of states who speak other languages communicate with each other, it should in the language of India.” The statement led to considerable debate in public discourse, with Opposition leaders, especially from the Eastern and Southern regions, criticising Shah for the same.

This is not the first time Shah has proposed that Hindi should be the sole official language of the country. On the occasion of Hindi Diwas in 2019, Shah had proposed “One Nation, One Language”, saying that “it is absolutely essential that the entire country has one language that becomes the identity of the nation. If there is any language that can tie the whole country in one thread…it is Hindi.”

Shah’s statements not only shed light on the BJP’s ideological imagination of India but also crystallises the broader intentions with which this dispensation functions. The rhetoric of this kind is in continuation with other cultural markers, such as food, and clothing, that BJP is attempting to Hinduise and Hindi-ise. Yet any statement made for the proposal to push for a singular official or “national” language, irrespective of how fleetingly it was made, demands serious and critical engagement beyond political rhetoric.

For such critical engagement, it is crucial to revisit the history of official languages in our country. The Constituent Assembly had accepted the Munshi-Ayyangar formula, which proposed that Hindi will be the official language of India but English will also be used for official purposes till 1965. The intention was to phase out the use of English in the meantime and give Hindi its promised primacy after 15 years.

A crucial turning point for the primacy given to Hindi changed with the setting up of the State Reorganisation Commission in 1952. In 1956, the Commission’s report recommended the states be primarily demarcated on the basis of language among other administrative considerations. This was in continuation of the resolution adopted by the Indian National Congress in 1927 for the redistribution of provinces on a linguistic basis. Naturally, linguistic sub-nationalism gained unprecedented strength within states created on a linguistic basis, such as Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Maharashtra. The government thus passed the Official Languages Act in 1963 to implement the continuation of English for official purposes beyond the stipulated year of 1965. This was not sufficient for the non-Hindi states, especially the then Madras state, where mass protests including widespread violence spread from January to March of 1965. It was after repeated assurances by Prime Minister Shastri that Hindi would not be imposed, and an amendment to the Official Languages Act, did the protests in Madras dissipated, and English continued to stay as a language for official purposes alongside Hindi.

At this juncture it is important to question, why was there a demand in the first place for a singular “national” or “official” language? The answer lies in the understanding of a nation as a culturally and linguistically united group. This notion is found as far back as in mid-19th century Europe where German philosopher JG Fichte had argued that the basis of a nation should be a common language and culture. Herein, a nation is imagined as a monolithic entity which is united in its culture, and centralised administratively.

In India, leaders from the Hindi speaking states, primarily Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan, felt the need for English to be replaced as it was a symbol of imperialism. Yet the fact that English had evolved into a language of official communication, especially between the Hindi speaking states and non-Hindi speaking states was overlooked. The notion of a nation as a monolithic entity where language is imposed has been both tried and failed, especially in culturally diverse countries. Belgium, Canada, and Spain stand as examples. However, a monolithic and homogenous idea of a nation continues to live on in the BJP’s ecosystem of ideas, as reflected by Shah’s statement.  

In a post-independent context, the imposition of Hindi would inevitably result in the hegemony of the northern states over the rest of the country. It would unfairly disadvantage people from the non-Hindi states; they would have to learn an extra language, and would inevitably be lagging behind Hindi states in prospering professionally. In the use of English, a foreign language imposed by a colonial administration that has left the country, people from northern and southern states find themselves on par with each other. The removal of English as an official language disrupts this equilibrium. The irrefutable fact is that English today has developed into a language of convenience in communication apart from having an aspirational value. It is more rapidly learnt than ever before because of social media, and it is an undeniable vehicle of social mobility. Hence, before English is removed as an official language of India, the Union Government has to evaluate to what extent Hindi can compete with English in bringing more economic and cultural prosperity to the country.

The solution hence rests in being open to the idea of facilitating multilingualism. Literary critic GN Devy rightly says that “the current practice of clubbing together multilingual spaces with monolingual habitats is not fair to the large cities today. The language choice of citizens should be widened and not narrowed by the state. If there is a mechanical and monolithic idea of unity followed by any entity, such an entity generally generates great hostility beyond its immediate borders.” This argument also holds true for rural India, where the government has to play a crucial role in allowing the youth the option to learn English apart from their mother tongue, rather than restricting it so that they have the opportunity to compete equally with the youth from the cities.

The alternative to this is to shift our attention to improving the economy. If we imagine India to be a global economic power, forcefully strengthening one identity will only lead to internal resistance and unfairly disadvantage a large part of the country. Instead, economic progress and technological advancements, followed by cultural self-reliance are the only ways to ascertain that Indian languages are able to strengthen themselves.

Biplob Kumar Das is a Graduate Student in Ashoka University currently pursuing an Advanced Major in Political Science and a Minor in Media Studies. He completed his undergraduate degree in Political Science and takes keen interest in anything related to Indian politics, media and culture.

Picture Credit: Mint

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Issue 23

The Price of a Burger: How Food Aggregators Are Eating Into Restaurant Sales

With the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic and the expansion of digital services, one of the newest trends has been the burgeoning of food ordering via delivery services. Isolated at home with not much to rejoice about, people across the world took to ordering food to spice up the monotony of everyday life. In India, 61% of Indians in urban metros prefer home-dining services post the pandemic induced lockdowns, owing to factors such as hygiene and sanitation standards. Additionally, the vigorous and creative social media vision adopted by third-party aggregators, such as Zomato, has contributed to a steady rise in food ordering via such apps and services. 

Earlier this month, one of India’s leading food delivery firms Zomato announced a new delisting policy that would allow restaurants associated with the app to be delisted or removed from the app in cases of complaints regarding food quality such as rotten food, order mix-ups, etc. The policy, which was earlier set to be implemented on 18th April, was temporarily halted after interventions from the National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) and severe backlash from the 500,000 restaurants listed under it. Such a draconian policy, devised without any official backing and awarding undue authority to food delivery partners brings to light the complex relationship between food aggregators and restaurants in India. 

Globally, restaurants have to pay delivery partners a commission of anywhere between 25-and 30%. Similar figures are at play in India, with restaurants paying a commission  of around 18%  to the aggregators. Furthermore, as of the new GST structure enforced since January 1st, food delivery apps collect a 5% GST from the restaurants and deposit it with the government on behalf of the restaurant. While this may be seen as a strategic move to prevent tax evasion by successful players in the restaurant world, it has a significant impact on smaller restaurants with annual revenues of less than 20 lakh, as they would now be liable to pay taxes to the third-party aggregators. 

One can argue that initiatives such as Zomato Wings, launched by the food-tech giant in 2021 which aims to help procure funding for cloud kitchens and restaurants by connecting them to suitable investors and strengthening their brand position are a boon to smaller ventures. However, such initiatives heavily increase restaurant dependence on third-party aggregators. As per a recent report, cloud kitchen numbers are expected to soar as high as 2 billion dollars by 2024. While such statistics and other trends of consumers preferring home dining services are indicative of a larger shift to cloud kitchens, such delivery kitchens cannot offer everything a restaurant can, and often strip away agency from dine-in restaurants. 

For instance, dine-in restaurants are able to develop effective and long-lasting relationships with their customers over time to ensure steady inflow and revenues. However, with the shift to cloud kitchens and delivery services, dine-in restaurants are likely to lose long-term customer loyalty, given that customers have minimal to no exchanges with the restaurant directly. Further, there is no scope for customizing orders to the extent that was possible in dine-in facilities, and the changing delivery partners with every order do not make things easier. 

The lack of direct consumer interaction with restaurants manifests itself as a problem when aggregators use the information received from customers as a means to propel their own services and labels, as was exemplified through the complaint filed by the NRAI against India’s dominant food delivery players, Zomato and Swiggy. On 7th April, India’s chief competition regulator, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) ordered an investigation into Zomato and Swiggy operations upon claims of unfair allegations. These include claims of the food-tech giants hiding consumer data from restaurants, not taking any accountability in cases of customer complaints, issues regarding price parity, and indirect coercion to enter into exclusive contracts with aggregators by way of a lower listing commission. Restaurants that refuse such a contract are then charged commissions as high as 30%. 

In the past, there have been numerous accounts of backlash from multiple stakeholders and civil society regarding certain malpractices adopted by platforms such as Zomato and Swiggy, the most recent being the flak for implementing a 10-minute delivery policy that would significantly endanger riders’ safety and potentially violate traffic rules. There have also been complaints about the lack of social security for workers in the gig economy, particularly in the delivery sector. While these are crucial to ensure workers’ welfare in an economy as fragile as the gig economy, there are other crucial aspects related to the restaurant industry that must be addressed to ensure welfare for other workers engaged in the business as well. 

There is no denying that third-party aggregators are of great importance to the restaurant industry in today’s world. However, there is a need for an inherent investigation into their practices and the heavy power imbalance in this complex relationship. This deep-dive is particularly important given the steep increase in fares on commodities such as fuel, which will most definitely impact delivery services over the coming months. Therefore, it will be interesting to see what the future holds in store for third-party aggregators, and what the results of the CCI probe yield. While the probe is just an appetizer of the restaurant world finally voicing its concerns, the main course is hopefully yet to arrive.

Jaidev Pant is a third-year student of Psychology and Media at Ashoka University. He is interested in popular culture and its intersections with politics, gender, and behavior.

Picture Credits: VCCircle 

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