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Shiva : Indian Script Reform Initiative

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Indian language scripts are numerous, diverse and are each complex in form which offers a great challenge in their learn ability and implementation in digital systems. That complexity in form (typography) is unnecessary and serves no practical purpose. We can easily modify these forms to simpler forms under new scientific considerations, without changing anything in the Orthography (How we spell the words in the characters).

"Shiva" is a proposed artificial script system which has been designed to include all Indian languages with one common script which offers wide ranging advantages. It can be learnt in half an hour because it can be deduced, can be arrived at through simple logical rules. It is simple in form so it embraces interfaces to digital technologies of current times. No orthographical changes have been introduced; the script has only been modified in its form. Such an idea may appear outrageous at first, but it will become inescapable in the zone of ten years if we are to really bring digital emancipation to our billions. Linguistic script reform is inevitable. The earlier we start at it, the better it would be.

Winner of Economic Times Power of Ideas
Contest 2010

India in its golden ages used to write in a much simpler Brahmi script when India was a knowledge economy flourishing in learning, arts and trade. The complex Devanagari and related script were only introduced from the 12th century onwards. It may not merely be a historical coincidence that it was also the beginning of decline of India and its perpetuated slavery to invaders then onwards. At the time of independence, literacy was 12%. It must have been less than a percent for hundreds of years which was the cause of our misery. It is a resultant of the imposition of complex script systems.

India has the largest number of illiterates in the world. With 66% literacy obtained only in recent times, it is still well below the world's average of 84% literacy. One of the unrecognized barriers to literacy in India is the complex scripts of our Indian languages which resist easy learning and students give up and drop out. While this is true for young learners, this is even truer for uneducated adults attempting to learn to write for the first time. The complex form of the scripts also resists implementation into digital technologies. For example, its support on mobile phones, computers and other digital interfaces are limited because they require high complexity display technologies, which are costly.

Similarly Indian languages are numerous and diverse and although they have large symmetries within them and could have been largely interoperable, they resist that due to the differences of scripts between them.

The proposed pan Indic inclusive script called Shiva addresses all of these problems. The utility of such a linguistic reform is India wide and would touch all aspects of life. Shiva is about linguistic reform for India and also applicable to the subcontinent. Its implementation will result in far enhanced literacy, interoperation between languages of India and hence unity between people and also will result in easy integration of digital technologies to regional languages of India. Shiva has been designed from the drawing board with the following scientific considerations - single generic vector based script common for all Indian languages, simple common display technologies of low complexity, segment display and other electro mechanical display systems, a consistent logical system which is inclusive of all languages, orthogonal in representation with no overlaps, good reconcilability and readability from far and suitability to OCR technologies, easy to learn and interpret, deduced through few simple logical rules, efficient in space, mono space font. Overall the Shiva script offers ease of integration to digital systems that far surpasses the Latin script.

An implementation of Shiva as a fully developed working model supporting inclusion of all Indian language scripts is already supported within the popular Panini Keypad technology. It is being downloaded by over 800 people everyday who are being exposed to this concept and its functioning. It is an unobtrusive manner of creating awareness and familiarity of this concept with the lay user via a mass user product with huge user base. This manner of introduction of the concept to the lay user is a clever attempt at getting him familiar to Shiva even before any activism is introduced in this regard. In this manner, a new concept such as a new script will not appear like an imposition to be resisted without studying its merits. It also brings the awareness of its unique merits to the general population who would be informed participants on such a matter on a future date.

We are also creating awareness of this initiative along with the need of linguistic reform with visionary thought leaders of society. It is through their support that such a revolutionary concept will gradually find firmer footing. Such a linguistic reform would increasingly be inevitable to embrace if we are to take our 1 billion towards true digital inclusion in this century.

The utility that can be brought about through such linguistic reform cannot be quantified in figures. What could be the price tag of raising the literacy level of India with its related benefits? What would be the price tag of ease of adoption of digital technologies for Indian languages? This particular initiative of our company falls under social entrepreneurship while we have other technologies which are designed for commercial licensing and which have already received a very good response from all stake holders and are on their way to adoption.

Mahindra Spark the Rise submission

Panini Keypad