We should not ignore Sanskrit's troubled history

Sir, Sanskrit has enriched Indian languages and many Indian languages have contributed to Sanskrit. Sanskrit is part of our legacy. We are proud of the legacy. However, we should not forget that this beautiful language, this scientific language, this magnificent language has also been the instrument of caste oppression, caste discrimination and caste subjugation. This is also a part of the Sanskrit legacy. We have a glorious legacy of Sanskrit and we also have a very disquieting and a very unfortunate legacy that it was used as an instrument by human beings to subjugate large sections of our society. So, in our eagerness to promote Sanskrit, we should not ignore the troubled history of this language. Sanskrit is not spoken by many people. Hardly 15,000 people in India speak Sanskrit. ...(Interruptions) Sanskrit is not the spoken language. It has been the language of priests; it has been the language of the courts, but, it has not been the popular language. Buddha preached in Magadhi. The Bhakti Movement took place in regional languages. However, since Sanskrit is part of our cultural legacy, we take pride in it.

Sir, on the 3rd of February, 2020, there was an Unstarred Question in Parliament. This was Unstarred Question No.171 in the Lok Sabha. And, the question asked to the Minister of Culture was: What was the expenditure on Sanskrit and what was the expenditure on other classical Indian languages? I want to give this information to this House because we are in danger of giving greater importance to Sanskrit that it deserves at the cost of other regional languages. The answer by the Minister of Culture on the 3rd of February, 2020, reveals that in the last three years, the Government of India spent Rs 640 crores on the popularisation of Sanskrit. ...(Interruptions)

Let me finish. But look at the expenditure on other classical Indian languages. The Government of India spent Rs 24 crore on Tamil, Rs 3 crore on Telugu, Rs 3 crores on Kannada and zero on Malayalam and Odia. These are the six classical Indian languages of India; Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Odia...This completely negates the policy which we have to follow. These are the languages spoken by millions and millions of people. Tamil is not a language of Tamil Nadu alone, it is a national language. Kannada is not a language of Karnataka alone, it is a national language; Malayalam is a national language; Odia is a national language; Telugu is a national language. These are spoken by millions of people. But, for a language that is spoken by 15,000 people, we are spending Rs 650 crores. This is the admission by the Minister of Culture alone. Sir, we may not like this, but, this is a fact that historically Sanskrit has always been the elite language. I find my friend, Mr Bhupender Yadav is shaking his head. Let me remind him what Valmiki Ramayana says, when Hanuman is seeing Sita for the first time in Lanka, Hanuman tells himself, and I want to quote from the Valmiki Ramayana: “If I speak in Sanskrit: ‘Sita will get frightened thinking that I am Ravana’.” This is what Hanuman says and this is what Valmiki says in Sunderkand of Ramayana. Hanuman goes on to say “I will therefore speak only in the language of the people”. Even Hanuman did not speak in Sanskrit to Sita. He spoke in the language of the people and I wish this government speaks in the language of the people and spends more money for Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Odia, Malayalam and not spend money only in Sanskrit because that is a very distorted picture of Indian civilisation.

Sir, I have two points on the Bill. First point is that there are three institutions, Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeetha in Tirupati, Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeetha in Delhi and Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan in New Delhi. I want to make one suggestion to the honourable minister. The greatest name in Sanskrit Grammar, the man who invented Sanskrit Grammar, who is considered a genius even today by everybody, who lived in the 7th Century BC was ‘Pāṇini’. I would request the honourable minister to name one of these institutions after Pāṇini. After all, Pāṇini was born in the North-West Frontier Province, whether he would be eligible under CAA or not is a separate issue, but, by naming one institution after Pāṇini, we would be recognising this great man who made Sanskrit what it is today. It would also give a signal that Sanskrit is not India’s legacy, it is not Hindu legacy, but, it is the legacy of the entire subcontinent.

Secondly, sir, I would suggest to the honourable minister, the second big name in Sanskit grammar is Patanjali. Unfortunately, if you name an institution today after Patanjali, it will send the wrong signal. So, I will not recommend Patanjali. There is a third name, who we, all the students of Sanskrit have learnt when we were in school, the Ashtadhyayi and the Amarakosha. Pāṇini’s Ashtadhyayi and the Amarakosha of Amarasimha. Amarasimha lived in Ujjain, in the 3rd Century AD, I would request the honourable minister to name the second institution after Amarasimha and not Patanjali. So, one institution should be named after Pāṇini and one institution should be named after Amarasimha.

Finally, sir, these three central universities will add to the forty central universities that are under the Ministry of Human Resource Development. However, the track record of managing the central universities is pathetic in the last few years. JNU has been destroyed; Allahabad University is being destroyed. So, the notion that by becoming a Central University, suddenly, things will be set right, has been proved wrong, and, I would, therefore, seriously urge the honourable minister to give a thought to the governance structure for the central universities, to liberate the central universities from the stranglehold of the ministry of Human Resource Development. Why should the minister be the chancellor of the central university? Why can't we find a distinguished Sanskrit scholar to be a chancellor? Divest your resources so that these Universities can be run independently and professionally. 

Edited excerpts from a speech by Rajya Sabha MP Jairam Ramesh on The Central Sanskrit Universities Bill, 2019, New Delhi, 16 March


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