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News & views

Desikan, India consumer champion and plain-language pioneer, dies at 82

Desikan RR Desikan, one of India’s leading consumer activists, died at his home at Vettuvankeni, Tamil Nadu, India on 27 June at the age of 82. He devoted much of his life to campaigning for better rights for shoppers and service users in a country where consumer interests are often neglected and people feel powerless to complain.

Desikan (pictured with his wife Nirmala in Chennai, 1993) was keen on the use of clear language in public information and product particulars, which in India are often bedevilled by pomposity, legalese and a style of English reminiscent of the colonial era. The resulting obscurity is often used as cover, Desikan felt, for inertia, incompetence and low standards among public services and utility companies.

In the late 1980s, Desikan sought help from the UK’s National Consumer Council on how to introduce plain-language ideas to consumer groups and sympathetic companies. This led to Martin Cutts of Plain Language Commission being invited by the British Council and Desikan’s Federation of Consumer Organisations of Tamilnadu (Fedcot) to visit India several times in the 1990s to conduct workshops and give lectures all over the country.

Desikan was a great persuader, with a winning combination of presence and charm that gained him friends and admirers all over India.


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