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Deccan Herald » DH Education » Detailed Story
ENGLISH FOR YOU
The darker face of democracy

Jacob Zuma, former Vice President of South Africa, is much in the news these days in this part of the world. For the last nine months he had been fighting a case in the Johannesberg High court. He had been accused of raping a woman to whom, it appears, he was a father figure. She visited him (some ten months ago) and stayed at his place overnight. Zuma, it seems, raped her that night.

When the woman accused him of rape and filed a case against him, Zuma was relieved of the high offices he held in the party and the government. The trial went on for nine months. Last week the judge pronounced him not guilty. It was, as Zuma had maintained all along, consensual sex and not rape. The judge relied heavily on the testimony of Zuma’s daughter, who presented a picture of the happenings that evening (when the woman visited her father) which strongly suggested that she (the woman) had every intention of seducing her father. Zuma is 61 and a sturdy Zulu.

The spectacle organised by the supporters of Zuma near the court all along, and the final ‘Victory Parade’ last week, which brought life in the city to stand still is something that will be long remembered. One shudders to think of what could have happened if the verdict had gone against Zuma. The other face of democracy, the dark face, when the rabble take over a city defying law and order, is something too horrible to contemplate. In our own city of Bangalore we had a recent spectacle of this when a matinee idol passed away. For no rhyme or reason the city was brought to its knees, with law —abiding people covering in fear. Ruthless and unscrupulous politicians who manipulate these crowds raising caste, communal and sectarian slogans are the worst enemies of democracy

Unless one is watchful, democracy passes into despotism, as Plato noted long ago. We should all remember that ‘Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate clink …. do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field.’ (Edmond Burke)

Now, as always, the only bulwark against anarchy in a democracy is a literate, educated society. But an illiterate, fragmented society is the swamp in which some politicians thrive, as witnessed in the developing and under- developed countries. They will do everything to swell ‘the rising tide of mediocrity’ for it is on such a tide that they ride to power.

The cynic that he was, Bernard Shaw quipped: ‘Democracy substitutes election by the incompetent for appointment by the corrupt few’ (Man and Superman). But with all its shortcomings democracy is still the best form of government. And every concerned citizen should see what he can do to make the system work.

‘the below statement’

The use of below in Indian English is well worth a study. It is both interesting and entertaining.

Several railway officers have assured me that a standard opening in railway official correspondence is:‘Dear Sir, with reference to your above see my below’.

Apart from its below- the- belt suggestion, the use of below here is well-attested in other registers of IE. The below painting of Modern Contemporary Art depicts all below bulletins in a picture form (from a brochure brought out by a Tamil Association). I fail to understand what ‘all below bulletins’ are as I fail to see any bulletin whatever. Whatever the reference of ’bulletins’ may be, note the use of below as a premodifier: below painting, below bulletins.

Below can be used as a adverb:go below the deck; we saw the blue waters spread below us. But in IE we see the use of below as an attributive modifier of a noun — the below statement .

This use is not possible. You can say ‘the above statement’ but you can’t say ‘the below statement’.

Why?

Perhaps this has to do with what can be taken as already known to the reader. If, after a statement, you say: ‘The above statement’, the hearer/reader is aware of the statement. But with ‘the below statement’ there is no question of the hearer/reader already having knowledge of the statement. You will have to say:‘the statement below.’ That is, the above statement presupposes the reader’s knowledge of what is being referred to. If this is a property of the attributive use, you can’t have the below statement because there is no way the reader can have knowledge of what is yet to come.

The writer can be contacted at vinven@it.bw

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