By Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee
Some people like to create an event out of a non–event and thereby give rise to some controversy. It is unfortute that politics has vitiated every aspect of our life. Due to the self–promotion of the political leaders much good might have been lost, which would have benefitted the people of the country a great deal. But who cares for that? In the political scerio it can be noticed that the opposition parties obstruct any government proposal just for the sake of opposing, even if it is a reasoble one, possibly just to keep their organizations alive in public mind. These publicity stunts may make headline in the newspapers, but do not do a mite of good for the tion or the country. Self–interest seems to rule supreme in this modem era and self– promotion has elbowed out patriotism.
Now language too has been politicized. As far as we know language implies use of words in an agreed way as means of human communication. It is a system of words of a particular community, country etc. It has nothing to do with religion. The recent controversy between teaching Sanskrit or German in the Kendriya Vidyalayas seems to me to be ridiculous, to say the least. The HRD Minister recently ordered all Kendriya Vidalayas (KVs) to stop teaching German that was in violation of the three–language formula enunciated in the tiol Policy of Education, 1986. The minister has asked to revert to teaching Sanskrit or any other Modem Indian Language. I believe that there is nothing wrong in the instruction. How could German replace Sanskrit? It is really inexplicable that a foreign language could usurp the place of an indigenous classical language. None can deny that Sanskrit is one of the richest languages in the world. Once Sanskrit was a compulsory language in the schools and we had to learn it. I found it to be a fasciting subject. It is strange that such a rich and wonderful language was banished from the school curricula.
In pre–independence era, when India was under British domition, Indians adhered to their culture and tradition with great devotion. Sanskrit was given due importance and respect. People never followed an Anglo–Indian culture. But after independence the picture gradually changed. Our imperial masters left us to fend for ourselves, but they also left their tradition and culture behind for us to take over. Mahatma Gandhi and his loyal followers struggled hard to gain independence for the country and suffered a lot. Filly they succeeded in their objective and we are reaping the fruits of their endeavour. Yet the people of this modern era have become more westernized after independence and seem to have forgotten the Indian culture.
Broadly speaking language serves functiol or cultural purpose. If we consider our three–language formula we can say that obviously English serves the tiol purpose. In fact, English is very necessary for us. It is a very rich language with a treasure of literary gems and it can also be called a world language, since we can communicate anywhere in the world with English. Even in our own country we need English to communicate with people from diverse regions, as their languages are different. Most people here know English to a certain extent and it is a compulsory subject in schools and colleges in our country.
It is good to learn various languages, since it broadens our knowledge. But that does not mean that one should abandon his/her own language. But that is what is happening in our country. There are some children in our country whose parents feel proud if they cannot express themselves adequately in their mother tongue. In our own state I have noticed mothers encouraging their children to speak only in English. When the examition results are announced some mother proudly says that her child obtained very good marks in all the subjects except Assamese. I can’t fathom the mentality of these people. What kind of vicarious pleasure do they get by disparaging their own mother tongue?
In the three–language formula the children have to learn English, Hindi and the mother tongue. But for the Hindi–speaking children the choice of the third language, that by law, must be any of the Modem Indian Languages or Sanskrit. The choice of a modern Indian language clearly helps in developing a sense of tiol unity. In case of Sanskrit, it helps us to connect with our cultural past, a crucial role of education everywhere. But what is the necessity of introducing German in our schools?
Formal education started in Europe from the beginning of the second millennium. They were meant for a small number of elites, just as in ancient India. These schools provided education in Latin and Greek to prepare the students to join the universities of Paris, Oxford and others that were being slowly set up all over Europe. Latin was the language of the Bible and academic discourses, while educated Europeans accepted ancient Greece to be the source of their civilization.
Modern mass education started in the second half of the nineteenth century. After primary education up to the sixth grade, depending on their aptitude, students were sent to three types of high schools, that needed six, five or four years to complete the studies. The first type was called Gymsium, whose students were allowed to enter a university. Latin and Greek were compulsory subjects in the Gymsium. It was modelled after Plato’s Lyceum. It is obvious that the western people knew that tradition and past culture should be honoured. In contrast it can be clearly noticed that some people in our country do not honour past tradition and culture and hence they do not want Sanskrit to be brought back to our school curriculum.
After the Second World War mass university education started in Europe and the requirements for admission were considerably relaxed. Latin and Greek are not compulsory any more to enter a university, but the good students still take up the classical subjects as in earlier times. Then why should our students be deprived of the chance to learn Sanskrit in the schools? Sanskrit is the storehouse of many treasures. A large part of our classical literature, philosophy, mathematics and scientific discoveries are written in Sanskrit. There are a large number of books written in Sanskrit. They include classics like Shakuntala, Meghdoot of Kailas, many other books of famed scholars, the epics of ours, Ramaya and Mahabharata, including the Gita. All these are invaluable books written in Sanskrit. The Western thinkers in Europe still take the mes of ancient Greek philosophers like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. They seek inspiration even from the pre–Socrates Greek philosophy. But sadly enough our westernized elites are trying hard to erase Sanskrit from our consciousness. Yet the mes of distinguished linguists like Panini, Pmgala and Hemachandra are well–known. So are the mes of great mathematicians like Aryabhata, Bhaskara, Brahigupta and some others.
It is unfortute that such a rich and fasciting language like Sanskrit has become a dead language due to the step–motherly attitude of the concerned authority. It is our misfortune that we have been uble to give due importance and honour to such a glorious language. It is time we revived the Sanskrit language for the good of the country and the tion. I do not understand why any controversy should arise in bringing back Sanskrit to the school curricula. Introduction of Sanskrit will surely make a student cognizant of India’s past traditions and culture, without which his education will not be complete. It is good to learn various languages. A student’s knowledge increases if he learns more languages. They can learn any language of their choice like German, French or any foreign language they fancy, but not at the cost of Sanskrit. The foreign languages should be taught as optiol subjects and not as compulsory.
I wonder why we see animosity in some quarters against Sanskrit. This may be due to the obsession of some political parties with the so–called Secularism. The dictiory meaning of ‘Secular’ is “non–religious”. That is, a secular person is one, who is not concerned with religion. We usually believe that secularism signifies tolerance to all religious. And most of the countries in the present era are secular as far as my knowledge goes. In fact, in an age of multifarious religions, I think none can afford to be commul. But it seems that some people are of the opinion that denigrating one’s own religion and extolling another’s religion is the measure of secularism. But it is a lopsided view of secularism. I think it is very important to keep religion apart from politics. But it seems that some of our leaders belonging to diverse parties interpret secularism according to its usefulness for their own interest. They possibly want to strengthen their vote bank by appeasing some community. Otherwise why should they object to the declaration of Bhagavad Gita as the ‘tiol scripture’ (Rashtriya Granth)? In their view the Gita is a religious book and so it cannot be given more importance than the holy books of other religions. These people say that the constitution of India mandates equal treatment and respect to all religious. One of the leaders of the opposition asked how one holy book could be deemed as being “holier” than others in a multi–faith country.
The appeasement policy of some political parties to woo voters from some communities, have done immense harm to the cultural tradition of the country. Without harping on the bogey of secularism they should think about the culture and tradition of India, which one should never forget. Apparently they have a wrong union about the Bhagavad Gita. Those who have read the Gita must have realized that it cannot be regarded as merely a religious scripture. The Gita contains more philosophy than religion. It has been translated to several foreign and Indian languages. In 1785 it was translated for the first time into English. Since then this highly philosophical book has been warmly acclaimed by the western intellectuals. At the beginning of the 19th century, in 1808, it was translated into the German language for the first time by Sir Frederic Srezel. Towards the end of the 19th century Sir Edwin Arnold translated the Gita from Sanskrit to English, which was expressed in the prose form. It was also translated into Latin, Greek, Turkish and to all Indian languages. In 1986 Babara Stoler Mills, an acclaimed Sanskrit scholar, made another translation of the Gita and in this copy she has explained in details the influence of the Gita in the writings of several famous English poets and writers like T. S. Eliot, Henri David Thoreau and Raif Waldo Emerson. In every translation the writer expresses the existence of the global value of the moral, spiritual and social teachings of the Gita. Some research scholars have firmly stated that the Gita is not merely a scripture of the Hindus, but it has acquired the status of a universal scripture. To explain it as a Hindu scripture is not correct. The Gita has been interpreted in diverse ways by the intellectuals. The scripture has been interpreted by Mahatma Gandhi, Lokmanya Tilak, Raja Gopalachari, Radhakrishn and many others according to their own understanding. Famous intellectuals like Swami Vivekanda, Mahatma Gandhi, Radhakrishn, Raja Ram Mohan Rai, Tilak and many others from diverse regions have themselves admitted that they have been influenced by the Gita. Besides the Indian thinkers some famous foreign writers including Max Muller, Aidwich Huxley, Leo Tolstoy, T. S. Eliot, Henri David Thoreau, Raif Waldo, Emerson and many other world–famous writers have openly admitted their admiration for the Gita.
Any reader of the Gita can see that the word ‘Hindu’ does not occur even once in the whole of the book. It interprets the meaning of human life and gives explations regarding some philosophical questions referring to the soul and also the duty of human beings and liberation. The Gita also asks people to work for the welfare of humanity. It recommends “Niskama Karma”. That is, one should do his duty and it must be disinterested in fruits action. The Gita explicitly says that one has the right to action, but no right to demand fruits of action. One should do his duty without hoping for any reward. This invaluable scripture is highly respected by the intellectuals all over the world, though it has been dismissed as a religious scripture by our self–opinioted political leaders.
The Gita has lost its importance in its place of birth, which is a great pity. It does show that we Indians do not know how to respect our own culture and tradition. It has become a habit for the urban elite Indians to push their rich legacy to the corner and embrace western culture as their own. Our young people talk in fractured English and have adopted western apparel, manners and culture as their own, forgetting that ancient India was famous for its intellectual, scientific and cultural achievements. I think that the children of this era should learn about our glorious past. They should not be encouraged to disparage their tradition and culture. Rather they should respect their own culture and be proud of it. Only then each child would realize his/her true identity and would grow to be the worthy patriotic citizen in future.
(The writer is a former Head, Department of Philosophy, Cotton College, Guwahati)