Sanskrit and the Secularists

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement in Dublin last month when Irish students welcomed him with Sanskrit shlokas seems to have raised the hackles of our so called “secularists” with several going out of their way to say “We are secular, Mr. PM and we also love Sanskrit”.

Ms. Seema Mustafa wrote a long letter to prove that secularists are not Sanskrit-baiters. While she may have written out of true anguish and she probably also likes the language, the history, of secularist opposition to Sanskrit does not back her claims.

One merely has to recount the numerous petitions filed over the decades even when Sanskrit was an elective subject to see the kind of lobbying for the inclusion of Persian and Arabic among other options alongside Sanskrit to in the name of secularism.

Secular History of support for Sanskrit

One of the major decisions in this regard came in 1994 (way before Narendra Modi sprang on the scene) in which the Court completely refuted the claims that teaching Sanskrit was against secularism because Arabic or Persian were not accorded a similar status in the educational system.

The verdict was delivered by Justice Kuldip Singh and Justice B. L. Hansaria in response to a writ petition filed by Santosh Kumar and others in 1989 against the Secretary, Ministry of Human Resources Development and Government of India. The court said that “a secular state is not hostile to religion but holds itself neutral in matters of religion” (para 16). It quoted from the Sanskrit Commission’s Report to show that Sanskrit was a binding and unifying force in India. Paragraphs 19 and 20 of the judgment spelt out the views of the Court in no uncertain terms”.

Another petition was filed by Aruna Roy and others, whose secularism was never doubted, (Writ Petition (Civil) No. 98 of 2002) again objecting to the inclusion of Sanskrit in the education system.

Beyond education, the self-professed secularists tried every trick to block Sanskrit gaining a place of prominence in the polity. For example, Kannada sociologist M.N. Srinivas coined a term Sanskritisation, which denotes the acquiring of Brahminical or Hindu ethos by the so called lower castes. The use of Sanskrit here implicitly implied that Sanskrit was a language of higher echelons of the society only (read Brahmins) and lower castes acquired it to gain recognition. Otherwise, the moving to higher echelons of the society by lower strata is generally denoted by the term ‘upwardly mobile’ class.

When Karnataka government proposed to set up Sanskrit University, most of the secularists sprang up to oppose it. When the bill on Sanskrit University came up for debate in the state Legislative Council in 2009, the opposition moved a bill asking for the setting up of the Urdu University alongside it.

Congress member V S Ugrappa and Janata Dal (Secular) leader M C Nanaiah, the parties of which secular credentials are never questioned by ‘progressive’ intellectuals, argued that Sanskrit University could be set up then ‘there should be nothing in the way’ to set up Urdu one.

Clearly, intelligentsia’s idea of secularism was that Urdu, Arabic and Persian should be placed along and in equal proportion to Sanskrit.

Opposition to setting up of Sanskrit university was not limited in Karnataka alone. When the proposal to establish an university at Kalady, the birthplace  of Adi Shankaracharya, in Kerala came up, Marxist Communist Party opposed it vehemently. It is because of their opposition that the setting up of this university got delayed and it was only after Shankaracharya of Sringeri Mutt donated Rs 1 crore towards it, that the then Chief Minister K. Karunakaran took some steps in this direction.

Even when this university was established, the Marxist lobby usurped it leading to the appointment of Prof. K.N.Panicker as its Vice Chancellor. He established a Chair in the name of E M S Namboodiripad in the university, who had opposed its idea from the start, and brought the university to such a pass that an expert study group sent by the UGC recommended urgent and drastic measures to mend it.

It is pertinent here to point out what Tamil writer and Joe D’ Cruz said recently of status of Sanskrit in India. According to The Hindu, he said,

“People have been misguided for 60 years about Sanskrit and have been kept away from learning it. There was a notion that Sanskrit was the preserve of the higher echelons of the society and it was the language of the Hindu texts.”

D’Cruz is a Christian and a Sahitya Akademi award winner. He is also president of the Samskrita Bharati, Uttara Tamil Nadu and it is common knowledge that Samskrita Bharati is a RSS-affiliated organisation. But it proved my point that one who wants to nurture one’s love for Samskrita has to go to RSS or similar organisation – because Secularists never loved Sanskrit!

(Author: Devidas Deshpande, Journalist and Translator. He lives in Pune.)


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