InScript Keyboard and Unicode for Sanskrit : A Review

Any Hindu who has been an enthusiastic student of Hindu texts would find it most annoying to work with QWERTY keyboards. In fact, one finds it amazingly stupid that Unicode for Hindu languages is so convoluted to use. Result: We end up using English Alphabet for writing on computer in Hindu languages.

Note: The use of word “Hindu language” is deliberate. If you find it disgusting, you may please press your left mouse button after moving the mouse pointer to the top right corner of your browser i.e., you may get lost. No apologies.

This post will take a look at Unicode standard for Sanskrit and InScript keyboard layout. While it is understandable that Unicode standard for Sanskrit evolved the way it did, it is unpardonable that Govt. of India standardized InScript Keyboard for not just Sanskrit but all Indian languages in the way it did. It is not only preposterous that Govt. of India did it that way, the sanctimoniousness with which they proclaim that they did an awesome job, is even more disturbing and annoying.

Some History of InScript and Unicode

Unicode standardization has had a very interesting evolution. ASCII was the de-facto standard in computers and communication for most of the early history of computers. In late 80s, the potential of computer and computer based communication mandated that there be a wider scheme to include other natural language scripts in the encoding. Subsequently, a 16 bit encoding was formulated to including other languages. Subsequently, Unicode Consortium came into existence in early 90s and since then they have been working with ISO to standardize encoding for different languages which have a script. It is notable that the first standard itself had most of the Indian languages – Devanagari, Hindi, Gujarati, Gurumukhi, Oriya, Telugu, Tamil, Bangla, Kannada and Malayalam.  By 2009, characters for Vedic Sanskrit were also added.

What was Government of India doing through this time? It was not as though Government of India was asleep. It did do some work. But was that work really sincere? One can only speculate. Government of India prides itself as the protector of cultures. What had it done to protect any culture in India? It is laughable. This is probably one of the reasons why experts of public policy discourse like Subash C Kashyap lament that Government of India is more interested in protecting Government, powers of Government and powers of Government Machinery than in delivering Governance or in protecting culture [from his book Indian Constitution: Conflicts and Controversies | not verbatim]

Government of India started a project called Indian Script in 1987. Championed by Department of Electronics, it was one project that would change the way Indians look at technology, if we were to believe Government of India. Surely, India has had its share of Sibals in past too. The Government of India’s InScript Standard Keyboard layout compliant with QWERTY and Unicode is a great failure.

You may ask why. Answer to yourself : “How many InScript keyboards do you see in your daily life? Probably you would find a computer in almost every shop, every house you visit. Yet not one InScript keyboard?”

InScript Layout Sucks. Period.

The way European scripts evolved is extremely different from the way Indic scripts evolved. How much ever Indo-European language experts speak of great coherence between European languages and Indian languages (oh, wait did you say only Sanskrit? … sorry about that!),  the way Hindus look at and understand Hindu Language scripts and the way Europeans look at and understand Indic scripts is “extremely different”.

Let me show you how exactly InScript failed in its objective.

One of the most important and dumbest mistakes the dumbos at DoE in 1988 did was to map Unicode Devanagari character set completely to InScript layout. This is unpardonable mistake. I do not have evidence but I think DoE made no effort to consult any Hindu Sanskrit expert in building this standard.

Another great mistake was not to map Hindu understanding of Hindu Scripts to the standard. Result is that Gunakara (guninatalu as we call in Telugu) gets mapped to what Unicode consortium thought was the right way to understand the script. It is elementary class text book stuff that gunakara is an important part of writing all Hindu languages. What makes क from क् is gunakara. There is a perfect algorithmic way in which one learns Gunakaras. In fact, the division of varnamala into  svara (what we call acchu in Telugu) and vyanjana (what we call hallu in Telugu) is ingenious. With Gunakara applied on Vyanajana with one of the svara, you get a letter. This is probably one of the reasons why using the word Alphabet to describe Varnamala is outright stupid. Vyanjana as is cannot make up any usable letter. When applied with svara through Gunakara it makes perfect sense. Once Gunakara is applied, every letter gets a meaning. This is best explained by IITM project called Acharya and by Chitrapurmath.

Have a look at the standard layout of InScript Sanskrit keyboard here. Copied in this post for your convenience

The Great Govt Of India’s Greatest Invention – The InScript Sanskrit Keyboard Layout which disregards basics of Hindu Language Scripts!

Every vyanjana should get coupled with svara to make a akshara. As you can see in the layout, it has no vyanjana. One good way to implement this is to use Control key in QWERTY keyboard to indicate that the gunakara is intended. Mapping akshara to keyboard is a great mistake. Unicode did it, which is not such a big deal. But Government of India too did it. This is not the way Hindus write their languages. Ergo, they cannot use this keyboard to type their languages on a computer. The result of InScript standard layout is evident.

InScript Standard ignores all these important aspects of Hindu scripts. For once, let me say it. I have found no evidence whatsoever so far to the contrary – “Hindu languages have evolved in such a way that in the associated scripts, what is written is what is spoken and what is spoken is what is written. There is a superb correlation of every word  written with how it is spoken. Anywhere in the world what is written in Sanskrit should get pronounced the same way, of course neglecting the accent”. Prove me wrong if you can.

Result of InSript’s mistakes

The result of InScript’s mistakes is there for all of us to see. The Keyboard is rarely used. Therefore, the freaking stupid dumbos at DoE made Indians miss another great opportunity to ensure the languages survive – revolution of computing technologies. Most people now depend on transliteration rather than Unicode and InScript Standard Layout for whatever texts they need to write in any of the Hindu Languages.

DoE’s stupidity is nothing new. They were part of most of the mess that was created in Telecommunications. The sanctimonious Government of India wanted all the Indians to believe that whatever it is doing is right. Gullible Hindus, as always, fell into the trap. The reader is suggested not to ever dream that this will change. It will not. One can consider that there is no future for InScript standard in its current form.

It would have been “easy” – let me stress it – “super easy” for DoE to come up with a standard QWERTY and Unicode compliant Keyboard for Hindu Languages. Super Easy. It is just a matter of simple key stroke to unicode mapping! Thats it! It can be achieved with a simple logic circuit inside the keyboard. It could have been simply made part of the standard. What did DoE do? Killed the greatest opportunity Hindus could ever have to make their languages survive and sustain.

I wish all those who couldn’t spare one thought while doing this, thus ending up formulating this stupid standard, suffer their worst in this life and the next. Say aloud “Tathastu!”

PS: I request all Internet Hindus to call Sanskrit, Hindi, Gujarati, Oriya, Kashmiri, Punjabi, Bangla, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Manipuri, Assamese, Nagamese, Mizo tawng etc., as Hindu Languages and not as Indic Languages.

PS2: Poor fellows at C-DAC even proposed several enhancements or rather changes to InScript but by the time C-DAC did so, InScript was practically dead. Imagine, what could have happened, if DoE got it right the first time. I have only crass words for DoE and Government of India in this regard.

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2 comments

  1. It was Late Prof. R.K. Joshi of CDAC Mumbai (erstwhile NCST) who had spearheaded the phonetic approach for Hindu languages and unicode and had done a lot of work. But he had strong opposition from the infamous ISCII like InScript due to politics. He did not have any worthwhile political supporters. In fact he is the father of Mangal Font. I worked a little bit with him relating to Vedic swara glyphs before it was approved. He went to a crucial meeting at CA to present the case where it got adopted. He died of heart attack there. This was somewhere in February 2008.

  2. Akhilesh verma · · Reply

    type the special correctors in Unicode Hindi typing ! = alt+1057

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