October 06, 2015

India: No ideology can claim ownership of Sanskrit (Kuldeep Kumar)

source: ABP Live

No ideology can claim ownership of Sanskrit

Kuldeep Kumar

Tuesday, 06 October 2015

Kuldeep Kumar Senior Journalist and Columnist

Like Hinduism, Sanskrit too is being used as a tool to promote the political agenda of Hindutva and an impression is being created by no less a person than the prime minister of the country that secular and liberal people are against this great classical language. On September 24, when Irish children recited Sanskrit shlokas to welcome Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Dublin, he took a dig by saying that had it been done in his own country, questions would have been raised on secularism, thereby implying that those in India who hold secular beliefs do not like Sanskrit and view it as the language of orthodoxy and communalism.

Nothing could be further from truth. Like any other language, Sanskrit is neither secular nor communal. The nature of its content is decided by the people who use it. Those who espouse secularism have never opposed it. In fact, top communist leaders like S A Dange and E M S Namboodiripad were Sanskrit scholars. Eminent Marxist historian D D Kosambi was a great Sanskritist who set new benchmarks in textual criticism by bringing out critical editions of Bhartrihari’s works and was invited by Harvard Oriental Series to edit Subhashitratnakosha of Vidyakara. Marxist philosopher D P Chattopadhyaya has written a number of scholarly works on Indian philosophy and its rationalist traditions. Whether it was S. Radhakrishnan or S N Dasgupta, these great scholars were part of the secular stream. Even today, Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, a self-professed liberal-secular economist, happens to be a formidable scholar of Sanskrit. He informs us that English is his third language as the first and second places go to Bengali and Sanskrit. Sen is widely read in Sanskrit literature, which consists of not only literary works of poetry and drama, but also religious, philosophical, scientific and political treatises.

However, the aggressive manner in which the Modi government has chosen to promote---rather, impose---Sanskrit does give rise to misgivings, especially in view of its attempt to dub liberal-secular persons as anti-Sanskrit. At the moment, Union Ministry of Human Resource Development is busy considering the report of the Second Sanskrit Commission that was set up in January 2014 on the eve of the Lok Sabha election by the UPA-II government. The irony is that the even the Manmohan Singh government took this step to ostensibly placate the Hindu sentiment. Treating Sanskrit as a ‘Hindu language’ is as absurd as dubbing English as a ‘Christian language’.

Sanskrit is undoubtedly the repository of India’s cultural, literary, philosophical and scientific heritage and there can be no quarrel with attempts for its promotion. All over the world, ancient classical languages like Greek and Latin are studied. But they happen to be dead languages as they fell in disuse long ago. And so is Sanskrit which is not spoken anywhere in India except one or two villages in Southern India. This has always been the case as the knowledge of Sanskrit was mainly confined to the Brahmins while the vast masses spoke indigenous languages. Had it not been so, Mahavir and Buddha would not have delivered their sermons in Prakrit and Pali respectively and the religious literature of these two great religions would not have been written primarily in these two languages.

However, efforts are being made to revive Sanskrit as a living language as the proponents of Hindutva view it as a great symbol of Hindu heritage. According to media reports, the Second Sanskrit Commission has recommended laboratory tests to ascertain the efficacy of Vedic rituals and other ancient beliefs. It wants appointment of Sanskrit teachers on the faculty of all educational institution that impart scientific and technological learning. Among its other recommendations are teaching of Sanskrit from Class 1, setting up of a School Board of Sanskrit Education and a Sanskrit University in every state, setting up of Kendriya Sanskrit Vidyalayas, signs on roads, government offices, hospitals and other such buildings in Sanskrit, broadcast of Sanskrit programmes by private TV channels and radio stations and separate TV channel for Sanskrit.

In view of the pronouncements made by Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma and Indian Council of Historical Research Chairman Y S Rao, regarding the existence of spacecraft, missiles, nuclear weapons and other marvels in ancient India, such emphasis on Sanskrit generates a sense of unease among people. On one hand, the government talks of skill generation and linking education to jobs, and on the other, it accords such lop-sided importance to Sanskrit to revive the so-called “glory of the past”. To India’s aspirational youth, this cannot be very reassuring.

By Kuldeep Kumar

Senior Journalist and Columnist