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How Indians have popularized the terms ‘Aunty’ and ‘Uncle’ across the world

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By Vishnu Bisram

I often hear outsiders say that Guyanese and Trinis have more ‘aunts and uncles’ than anyone else on the globe. It is because people in both societies (and probably Suriname as well) tend to refer to elders by the endearing ‘Aunty’ or ‘Uncle’ rather than by their names or as Mr and Ms.

I travel extensively around the globe and from my findings, the terms Aunty and Uncle apparently were introduced and institutionalized in the Caribbean by the indentured Indian laborers, because in societies where there aren’t large numbers of Indians, the terms are not commonly used.

Among Indian communities worldwide, Aunty and Uncle are commonly used to refer to elders even if they are not relatives. They are used all over India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nepal, even in government offices. The terms are used in Fiji, Malaysia, Singapore, Burma, Mauritius, etc where there are large communities of Indians. I heard them used by Indians to address complete strangers, as in Guyana, in places like Australia and New Zealand and in North America, UK, Barbados, Jamaica, Grenada, and Guadeloupe. When I first visited Australia in 1995, there were hardly any Indians. But by 2015, there were large communities of Indians among whom Aunty and Uncle are in common us as well as ethnic kinship terms (Cha Cha, Cha Chi, etc) to refer to blood or marriage relatives.

In Trinidad, as in Guyana, while Aunty and Uncle are used, I heard non-Indians refer to others as ‘Mister’ and ‘Missus’. Some Indians also used Mister and Miss to refer to fellow Indians they are not familiar with, but in general Indians tend to use the more endearing Aunty and Uncle. In Guyana, Indians in rural areas tend to refer to some non-Indians as Aunty and Uncle and rural Africans also use the terms to refer to some Indians in their communities among whom they grew up, as well as fellow Africans.

In Durban and other parts of South Africa, Aunty and Uncle are commonly used among Indians along with their ethnic kinship terms. Some Blacks who live in Indian communities also follow Indians and use Aunty and Uncle in referring to older Indians.

In Fiji, the Black Fijians also refer to older Indians as Aunty and Uncle. The same is true in Mauritius where Creoles (local Blacks, Mixed and French) who live among Indian communities follow suit. In Australia, I heard some Whites, who regularly socialize with Indians among whom I interacted, refer to elderly Indians as Uncle and Aunty as well. Ditto in New Zealand! But in the mainstream, Whites in Australia and New Zealand use Mr and Ms to refer to others (regardless of age) as a mark of respect as is the norm in North America and Europe.

The interesting finding in my travels, is that in North America and Europe the Indians persist with using Aunty and Uncle to refer to older folks. In British Columbia and in Los Angeles and San Francisco among Fijian Indians, ethnic kinship terms and Aunt and Uncle are commonly used. Youngsters in San Francisco called me uncle at a store. And Hindus in their temple surroundings or in a community relationship, whether in New York, Florida, San Francisco or Dallas use Bhai and Bahin to describe those in their age group. Some Indians use Mai and Pai as well as Cha Chi and Cha Cha, Nani and Nana, Mamu and Mami to refer to those much older than them even when there is no blood relationship. It is all done out of respect for the elderly or for fellow humans. A visit at a West Indian temple in Brixton, London found Bhai and Bahin commonly used to refer to each other as is the custom in America.

Among Indians it is considered disrespectful not to refer to someone much older than yourself as Aunty or Uncle even in societies like the US. However, at the workplace, Mr and Ms are routinely used. (Photo Credit: www.notonthehighstreet.com)

The story was first published in Guyana-based The Stabroek News as a Opinion Letter. It may be noted that Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad have a rich presence of people of Indian origin.

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How telecom has become driver of economic change in India

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The country's hyper-competitive telecom sector has led the revolution from the front.
The country's hyper-competitive telecom sector has led the revolution from the front. Wikimedia Commons
  • India has done well to stay ahead of the curve in the technological revolution
  • The sectoral change in productivity has been the highest in the telecommunications sector since the reforms of 1991
  • India has managed to provide the cheapest telephony services around the world

For the most part of human history, the change was glacial in pace. It was quite safe to assume that the world at the time of your death would look pretty much similar to the one at the time of your birth. That is no longer the case, and the pace of change seems to be growing exponentially. Futurist Ray Kurzweil put it succinctly when he wrote in 2001: “We won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century – it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate).” Since the time of his writing, a lot has changed, especially with the advent of the internet.

India has done well to stay ahead of the curve in the technological revolution. The country’s hyper-competitive telecom sector has led the revolution from the front. In fact, according to Reserve Bank of India data, the sectoral change in productivity has been the highest in the telecommunications sector since the reforms of 1991, growing by over 10 percent. On the other hand, no other sector has had a productivity growth of above five percent during the same period. It is no wonder that it has also been one of the fastest-growing sectors of the Indian economy, growing at over seven percent in the last decade itself.

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Such an unprecedented pace of growth has been brought about the precise levels of change that Kurzweil was so enthusiastic about. Today’s smartphones have the power of computers that took an entire room in the 1990s, and the telecom sector has had to keep up with a provision of commensurate internet speeds and services. Meanwhile, India has managed to provide the cheapest telephony services around the world, which has hit rock bottom after the entry of Reliance Jio. This has ensured access to those even at the bottom of the pyramid.

A rise in internet penetration has distinct positive effects on economic growth of a country.
A rise in internet penetration has distinct positive effects on economic growth of a country. Wikimedia Commons

Even though consumers have come to be accustomed to fast-paced changes within the telecom sector, the entry of Jio altered the face of the industry like never before by changing the very basis of competition. Data became the focal point of competition for an industry that derived over 75 percent of its revenue from voice. It was quite obvious that there would be immediate economic effects due to it. Now that we’re nearing a year of Jio’s paid operations, during which time it has even become profitable, we saw it fit to quantify its socio-economic impact on the country. Three broad takeaways need to be highlighted.

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First, the most evident effect has been the rise in affordability of calling and data services. Voice services have become practically costless while data prices have dropped from an average of Rs 152 per GB to lower than Rs 10 per GB. Such a drastic reduction in data prices has not only brought the internet within the reach of a larger proportion of the Indian population but has also allowed newer segments of society to use and experience it for the first time. Since the monthly saving of an average internet user came out to be Rs 142 per month (taking a conservative estimate that the consumer is still using 1 GB of data each month) and there are about 350 million mobile internet users in the country (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India data), the yearly financial savings for the entire country comes out to be Rs 60,000 crore.

To put things in perspective, this amount is more than four times the entire GDP of Bhutan. Therefore, mere savings by the consumer on data has been at astonishing proportions.

Today's smartphones have the power of computers that took an entire room in the 1990s, and the telecom sector has had to keep up with a provision of commensurate internet speeds and services. Wikimedia Commons
Today’s smartphones have the power of computers that took an entire room in the 1990s, and the telecom sector has had to keep up with a provision of commensurate internet speeds and services. Wikimedia Commons

Now, this data has been used for services that have brought to life a thriving app economy within the country. So, the second level of impact has been in the redressal of a variety of consumer needs — ranging from education, health and entertainment to banking. For instance, students in remote areas can now access online courseware and small businesses can access newer markets. Information asymmetry has been considerably reduced.

Third, a rise in internet penetration has distinct positive effects on economic growth of a country. These effects arise not merely from the creation of an internet economy, but also due to the synergy effects it generates. Information becomes more accessible and communication a lot easier. Businesses find it easier to operate and access consumers. Labour working in cities has to make less frequent trips home and becomes more productive as a result. Education and health services become available in inaccessible locations. Multiple avenues open up for knowledge and skill enhancement.

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An econometric analysis for the Indian economy showed that the 15 percent increase in internet penetration due to Jio and the spill-over effects it creates will raise the per capita levels of the country’s GDP by 5.85 percent, provided all else remains constant.

Thus, India’s telecom sector will continue to drive the economy forward, at least in the short run, and hopefully catapult India into 20,000 years of progress within this century, as Kurzweil postulated. The best approach for the state would be to ensure the environment of unfettered competition within the industry. Maybe other sectors of the economy ought to take a leaf out of the telecom growth story. The Indian banking sector comes to mind. However, that is a topic for another day. (IANS)

(Amit Kapoor is Chair, Institute for Competitiveness, India. He can be contacted at Amit. Kapoor@competitiveness.in and tweets @kautiliya. Chirag Yadav, a senior researcher at the institute, has contributed to the article.)