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‘Favoring Sanskrit’- What the Detractors Don’t Quite Get

HHR November 23, 2014 Analysis/Insights, Archives Comments Off on ‘Favoring Sanskrit’- What the Detractors Don’t Quite Get
‘Favoring Sanskrit’- What the Detractors Don’t Quite Get
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Hariḥ Om. There has been some uproar about the Government’s decision to have Sanskrit taught in Kendriya Vidyalaya schools in place of German. The common argument is that in this more connected world we should accommodate foreign languages. But we already have- it’s called ‘English’, the official language of India. However, the matter at hand elicits a more nuanced response, therefore I present four arguments to consider:

Pedagogical Exchange Imbalance:

Let’s be fair, no Indian languages (be it Sanskrit, or even Hindi) are offered in the curriculum of German, French and Spanish schools. Nobody has wagged their finger at this exchange imbalance, yet when it comes to India, we are expected to dismiss our own native language and accommodate foreign languages which may not necessarily serve utilitarian benefit for all and sundry.

On a personal note, I studied French in school/Junior College for 5 years, and another 2 semesters in University. Not once in my life have I had any practical use for it- not even to order a side menu of pomme frites. On the contrary, what I regret most is not taking lessons in Sanskrit as a child, because that is the language which is most beneficial to me today Yet it is noteworthy that going to school, nobody took French thinking it is going to help them in their careers. We all took it because there was a misplaced sense of “cool” associated with it, as opposed to Sanskrit, given the sordid way in which it was being portrayed to us as an ancient, unspoken, dead language, which leads into the next topic.

(In a different article I will try to explain the psychological basis behind why some things are considered “cool” while others aren’t, and how English spoken in a broken European accent (French, Italian etc.) is considered desirable, but perfectly spoken in say a Tamil accent is still looked upon as undesirable, even by Indians…
in fact, especially by Indians.)

Attempts to establish Sanskrit as a dead language:

There are global nexuses at work (including some religious bodies) who would greatly profit from our inability to speak the language, knowing fully well the impenetrable barrier it would create for us. Therefore, serious attempts are being made by employing Western Indologists, Sanskritologists and their Indian Sepoys on this front to achieve this end. By relegating Sanskrit to the past, we have a lot to lose. First of all, it forms a continuous thread from the past, leading up to our present and enriches us by carrying the voices and expressions of countless generations of cultural narratives.

All languages in India derive their existence from Sanskrit (except Tamil, which developed independently). It has the most well established system of grammar known today. Rest assured this is not quackery or pseudo-science. Rhetoric which invokes unfounded idealism is to be despised. However, the fact remains that Pāṇīṇi’s monumental work, the Aṣṭādhyayi, composed over 2500 years ago, is leagues beyond even the most modern expositions on grammar and goes unmatched in its perfection.

Innumerable works from all fields of knowledge have been written in Sanskrit. It is one of the few things we have today which not only holds modern relevance, but also serves as a connecting link to our own past and wisdom traditions.

Furthermore, Sanskrit is very much taught and spoken in many places in India, it is the second official language of Uttarkhand, and it is not, as is being portrayed, an ancient, dead language, but a living, widely spoken one.

Globalized, Competitive World Argument:

The other day, someone put up an argument that in order to be competitive in this globalized world, we should include German in our syllabus. This is a totally misplaced idea. To begin with, the new world we are headed toward is a world of the rising Asian Economies led by China and followed closely by India. In fact, 2014 marks the fated time when the GDP (PPP) of China exceeds that of the US. The European Union is already in a slump and not likely to recover from it.

The shift of power from West to East is inevitable and evident. In fact as we stand today, India is the third largest economy in the world, only after US and China. In such changing scenarios, it would be a far better argument to suggest introducing Mandarin or Cantonese in India than German.

The strong hold that the West somehow appears to have over India is only notional, not real anymore. But of course given that we have still not recovered from our colonial hangover, it will take some time before we begin to see that.

Free-market Economy Comparison Argument:

The other argument made is that in a Free-market you have to give in to demand and supply. This is a flawed proposal, for, what they are in essence proposing, is a model of Free-market Economy in a place where there already exists a Monopoly. Western Universalism (including in Academia) has become a hegemony, and standards set by them have become the global norm. The playing field is uneven and already favored to their advantage. Therefore, special considerations were given to French, German etc during the colonial AND post-colonial era, while Sanskrit remained largely snubbed. If we are to invoke an Economic model here. There is no practical Government in the world which relies solely on the invisible hand of the market, there are always Economic laws and balances in place for their smooth functioning.

Furthermore, a good Government provides subsidies, grants and incentives for the growth and development of under-represented sectors, especially domestic ones, and creates legislations that check the unhindered growth of monopolies (in our case, the hegemony of Western Academia). Therefore, any effort made by the Government to facilitate the learning of Sanskrit is a welcome move and should be duly appreciated.

At long last Indians have begun to see India on their own terms. As a Bhāratiya, I am half-amused, half-ashamed that this is even a matter of debate. The choice to me is very clear. Let it be a new renaissance.

Saṁskr̥tam Sarveṣām, Saṁskr̥tam Sarvatra!

by Prashant Parikh

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