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Sanskrit, a synonym for Communalism - varnamvarnam
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Sanskrit, a synonym for Communalism

Sanskrit

In a column analyzing the BJP victory in Karnataka, Indian Express columnist Seema Chisthi wrote the following paragraph.

The much-Sanskritised chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, who had also campaigned in Karnataka, was calmly in conversation with the TV anchor, commenting on national issues. Very difficult to engage on matters outside Gujarat usually, he signalled his stepping onto a national stage on Sunday — a Sanskritisation (a phrase coined by a Kannadiga sociologist M.N. Srinivas, incidentally) in political terms, which could have violent consequences for not just his party, but also for how politics may take shape quickly, and feverishly, before 2009.[He who holds Bangalore

Usually you see the word saffronization associated with the Hindutva folks, not Sanskritization. This word, which was used as a pejorative during the anti-Brahmin movement, is not in vogue in public commentary these days, but the revival is with mischievous intent. Narendra Modi and Sanskritization, well you get the association. Now the name of a language has become a synonym for communal politics.

In fact this attempt to brand Sanskrit as a non-secular entity happened once before, believe it or not – by the Central Board of Secondary Education. It was an attempt to pull the rug off India’s cultural heritage and history by branding an entire language as not-secular.

At that time the Central Board of Secondary Education decided not to offer Sanskrit as an elective because

  1. If they offered Sanskrit, they would have to offer Arabic and Persian since they were also classical languages. If Sanskrit alone was offered ignoring Arabic and Persian, then it would not be secular education, so went the reasoning.

  2. If they offered Sanskrit, they would also have to offer other languages like French and German and even Lepcha.

The Supreme Court in a landmark verdict rejected the accusation that teaching Sanskrit was against secularism. To make that judgment, the Court first defined secularism as neither pro-God or anti-God, but the ability to treat devout, agnostic and atheist alike and to be neutral in religious matters. To be a secular person you don’t have to reject your religious beliefs; you could deeply religious as well as secular. To illustrate the case, the Court cited two Indians – Mahatma Gandhi and Swami Vivekananda – to “dispel the impression that if a person is devout Hindu or devout Muslim he ceases to be secular.”

Regarding the language, the Court wrote that Sanskrit was the language in which Indian minds expressed the noblest ideas. It was also the language in which our culture, which includes the Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, the teachings of Sankaracharya to Vallabhacharya and classics of Kalidasa to Banabhatta were expressed. Without understanding Sanskrit, the Court wrote, you cannot understand Indian philosophy on which our culture is based

There were two other reasons (a) Sanskrit is in the Eighth Schedule, while French, German, Arabic, Persian and Lepcha are not and (b) Article 351 of the Indian Constitution.

Now Seema Chisthi is taking us two decades back, once again to imply that Sanskrit = Communal, thus giving a language such a narrow definition that it would disconnect an ancient nation from its rich cultural heritage. Soon Sanskrit speakers, students of history, and Indian philosophy will be branded communal and the volunteers of Samskrita Bharati will be compared to Mohammed Afzal.

Lets watch to see if our eminent journalists, defenders of secularism and guardians of enlightenment pick this up.

Related Links: The Supreme Court Verdict


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