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A needless controversy

A needless controversy
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Going by available indications, Sanskrit will be taught as a third language, if not the only one, and German language is not being banished from...

Going by available indications, Sanskrit will be taught as a third language, if not the only one, and German language is not being banished from India, so to say, but will be taught as a foreign language, one of the many. Whether this will end controversy raging for the past month is uncertain. Politics has crept in since the Ministry of Human Resources Development (HRD) on October 27 decided to introduce Sanskrit in place of German in over 500 Kendriya Vidyalayas, and that "teaching of German language as an option to Sanskrit will be discontinued herewith".

The abrupt decision affects over 70,000 students from classes 6 to 8 who will be asked to switch over from German to Sanskrit. Students have protested and a group of parents have approached the Supreme Court. The matter is pending before a bench headed by Chief Justice H L Dattu. A political agenda has become all-too apparent from the way organizations affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) have jumped into the fray. Some have demanded that Sanskrit be made compulsory at school level. The government has rejected that, but that has not allayed fears.

It is difficult to ignore definite moves to appoint new chiefs and members of governing bodies of several educational and cultural organizations, to replace those with “Marxist, colonial and Congress” orientations with advocates of “Indian cultural values.” The latter group has vociferously chanted “our time has come.” Such efforts have resumed after a decade with greater force and emphasis, bolstered by the enhanced political clout that this year’s Lok Sabha elections bestowed on Bharatiya Janata Party. HRD Minister Smriti irani has angrily denied that her government is imposing Sanskrit as part of “saffronisation’ of education and considers the controversy ‘deliberate’.

After announcing that Sanskrit would be the third language, she has said it would not be compulsory and would remain one of the 23 Indian languages to be taught under the three-language formula. Irani had earlier said that teaching German under an MoU signed in 2011 was in violation of the Constitution. Her ministry is investigating how German came to be taught in school as the third language. Media reports and social media postings are replete with accusations of a ‘conspiracy’ hatched by the erstwhile UPA Government.

Expectedly, the Germans are perturbed. Chancellor Angela Merkel raised it with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during their meeting in Brisbane. Modi assured Merkel that he himself is the votary of young Indian children learning other languages. How it is best done within the confines of Indian system would be worked out.

German Ambassador to India Michael Steiner organised a ‘satsang’ to laud the Indian culture and Sanskrit, where Irani was invited. The message was: Sanskrit and German can both be taught without appearing to be competitive or contradictory.

While the controversy is raging on at political and diplomatic levels, the students are at a loss. The schools have pleaded that the issue must be dealt with in a manner that is least detrimental to the interest of students and teachers.

National Progressive Schools’ Conference (NPSC) chairperson Ameeta Wattal has said: “Subjects have evolved overtime and choices have widened. There is a whole new way of looking at education and the government did not take cognisance of the evolving changes, and now schools cannot be blamed for that.”

Wattal added: “If we are talking about uplift of the education system, this needs to be looked at closely. There are teachers trained in this discipline and leaving them without livelihood is unfair.” While these are bare facts and perceptions about the controversy, it is necessary to ponder if so much time, effort and space in the media are necessary – not that anyone involved is going to pay heed.

The question is whether or not we should strive to afford our children the chance to learn languages that might enhance their skills in future. Even larger question is why learn language or languages? Language is meant to be used as a tool of self-expression and for communication. In a country with 20-plus official languages and numerous other languages and their dialects, it ought to be more-the-merrier. It should be kept above regional or regional considerations, least of all, not to say my-language-is-superior-to-yours. But to us language has been a bone of contention and of divisive strife.

Central to the debate now underway is teaching/learning at the school level. Indeed, a language is best learnt while young. School students, particularly at the secondary school level, are best suited for it. Time was when they were offered Latin and Sanskrit, French, German and Russian. Persian has been popular among the Muslims and Pali, Prakrit and Ardhamagadhi, among the Buddhists.

As we have gone global with the help of English, we have insulated ourselves from classical languages that do not help get jobs. But globalisation should mean that we learn at least, those that do. Sanskrit is indeed a classical language and should be learnt. Our scriptures are written in Sanskrit, though translations in just about any language you want are available. The problem starts when a language is imposed, for political or religious reasons.

The learning/teaching of Hindi is a case in point. Undoubtedly, a rich language spoken by the majority of Indians, it is the Rashtra Bhasha. But official attempts to make it Raj Bhasha have impeded its free growth. Notings on government files may be made in Hindi and English, but for all practical purposes, English has become the language of governance of academics, especially science and technology, and the lingua franca that unites us.

Attempts to impose any language as medium of instruction have been counter-productive. Cases of Gujarat and West Bengal are before us. They did away with English as the medium of instructions right up to the graduation. Best of students from their schools and colleges failed to get admission outside the confines of the states. A whole generation grew up without the benefit of this universal language.

It helped no one that the politicians of the time were so inward-looking and foolish and would yet send their children to English schools and colleges. It needs asking our cultural custodians how is Sanskrit going to help get access to jobs and avenues of study in a globalising world? The schools ought to offer as many languages as is academically and economically feasible.

f Sanskrit is to be introduced to the exclusion of all else, let the demand come from parents and students, not from people with political agenda who have no real stake in the education system.

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