Should BMTC ‘sada’ buses have bilingual signboards?

There is a funny thing about ill-conceived policy. The longer it is accepted by the people, the harder it becomes to reverse course later. The destination signboards on Bengaluru’s ‘sada’ buses, run by the public-sector BMTC have been Kannada-only for along time. English is not used.

Citizen Matters asked the state government’s transport minister R Ashoka about this and he said that only Kannada people use these buses and when reminded that this was a multicultural city, he said, “What do I do?”. But bus drivers, conductors and commuters themselves are not opposed to bilingual signboards — don’t miss our special report.

Surely our transport minister knows better. Is Bengaluru so different in the cultural and social composition of its commuters compared to Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, and host of other cities? No. So why would R Ashoka, the savvy politician, prefer to take a line like this?

Before we go further, it is necessary to reiterate a ground reality for the role of English: English is an Indian language today. It is the only real link language and has been accepted both in culture and trade as such. The myriad ways and accents English is spoken in our country only justify this. Also, its usage is far more widespread in cities. Not to forget, the state government uses English as an official language along with Kannada. All of this too, the transport minister knows. One reason the minister took this view is this: a messy politics.

There are at least some pro-Kannada groups, including one we spoke to, who have gotten used to Kannada-only signboards, and see this as their way of getting back at the‘outsiders’ they are otherwise forced to share the city with. Across party lines, politicians, do not want to upset this status-quo unless they can look good doing so.

Even amongst ‘regular working people’ who know both English and Kannada, there are those who have felt a loss of Kannada heritage in Bengaluru in recent times. Hence not all of them will come out in open arms to support a move to add English to the signboards.

Our question to the minister is this: If commuters and a transport union are themselves not opposed to bilingual signboards, why should the government stand in the way?

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6 Comments

  1. Vikram, we need TRI-LINGUAL OR ATLEAST BI-LINGUAL BOARDS in all cities of India, including Chennai, Mumbai, Calcutta and Delhi and the entire north. Its not just a problem in Bangalore. You say that you have been to U.S. and Europe. But you seem to have missed the fact that they are far more organised than India. There are sign boards with figures etc. everywhere. In India, we simply don’t have basic boards and whatever comes is politicised. Thats why we are always like this. Lets grow out of narrow politicisation of boards. All cities of India need bi-lingual boards, atleast for public transport. Period. Bangalore is one of those cities. Read my comments in the other article where I have mentioned some practical problems that I myself faced when I went to other cities and have seen it happen in Bangalore too. Do we want more traffic congestion in Bangalore for our failure to put up proper communication boards so that public transport becomes a little more friendly? Or, can we be more broad minded and have bi-lingual boards on all 4 sides of a bus, with proper font size, colour and style with proper illumination and other friendly measures and help ease out traffic a little bit?

  2. @Vikram:
    Your argument undermines the storied Kannada hospitality! Multilingual sign boards is quite comforting to a newcomer in the city. Plus we need to do everything to encourage the use of public transport. Isn’t that the way to alleviate traffic congestion?
    I certainly don’t think Kannada heritage is so fragile that English/ Hindi will trample all over it.

  3. @MR VINCENT:
    I am sorry, english maybe the link language, and hindi the national language, but if we put TRILINGUAL BOARDS EVERYWHERE, ONLY THEN THE PRO WILL BE SOLVED, FOR THAT LET ALL STATES AGREE TO PUT UP TRILINGUAL BOARDS(ENGLISH-HINDI-LOCAL LINGO)

  4. Firstly, I am an ordinary citizen with no excess love for kannada, but due to many ordinary citizens who dont love kannada, this problem has been creaated!
    I dont see the logic in this debate!!-BUSES HAVE NUMBERS ALSO,SO IF U CANT READ, REMEMBR THE BUS NUMBER!! I have travelled to US and Europe so many times, and one thing i have learnt is that ‘When u go to a place where a language is spoken’- either learn that language, or adjust. I AGREE WITH ASHOK, IN KARNATAKA, THE INTEREST OF NATIVE PPL WHO READ ONLY KANNADA COMES FIRST,OTHERS SHOULD PUT UP WITH THIS MINOR INCONVENIENCE, IF THEY RESPECT THE MAJORITY…

  5. This is all to do with politics. Our nation was deliberately divided on the basis of language to advance and perpetuate the divide and rule policy in the 50s. Local languages are very essential and must never be compromised. But to take this to extremes is another thing altogether. There is a lot of hypocrisy. All those who claim to stand for their respective local langauges send their children to English medium international schools and to foreign countries. But they want the common man on the road to remain deprived of that. Let me see how many people who swear by local language are ready to send their kids to govt. run schools and admit themselves in municipal hospitals when they are sick.

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