Opinion

Sanskrit as a National Language – The Conundrum

By Advocate Raja Chaudhary

(Advocate Raja is practicing at Delhi High Court and Honorary Advisor of LL.B Mania)

Chief Justice of India Sharad Bobde on Wednesday said that B.R. Ambedkar had proposed Sanskrit as the “official national language” of India but the move did not make any headway. However, What the honourable  CJI did not grasp was that the original proposal for Sanskrit being the national language was not moved by Ambedkar. It was late L.K Maitra, a conservative Sanskritist who moved amendment 310 A (1) in the assembly. On September 11, 1949, the then Law Minister Dr. B.R. Ambedkar supported by the Minister for External Affairs Dr. B.V. Keskar and Mr. Naziruddin Ahmed sponsored an amendment declaring that the official language of the Union shall be Sanskrit. The amendment had thirteen other signatories of whom eleven hailed from South-India including nine from Madras (now Chennai).

According to Granville Austin’s book “The Indian Constitution: Cornerstone of a Nation” and the book of Sumathi Ramaswamy ‘Sanskrit for the Nation’ Dr Ambedkar proposed the amendment but didn’t give a speech on this subject. This was the first time he explicitly did not clarify any subject. On the other hand, B.R Ambedkar vocally argued about the massive potential of English for the liberation of Dalits from caste-based oppression. For more than one and a half centuries now, English has been used as a language of freedom in the Indian context. 

However, when the CJI Bobde quoted Ambedkar’s stand on Sanskrit as the national language, the statement of some of the political supporters must be recalled.

Amit Shah in September 2019 emphasised Hindi as ‘language of country’.

M Venkaiah Naidu said on 24 June 2017- “Hindi is the national language. India’s progress isn’t possible without Hindi.”

Sushma Swaraj spoke for making Hindi the official language at the United Nations.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee won the heart of Hindi belt as the first external affairs minister to deliver a speech in Hindi at the UN General Assembly.

The constituent assembly of India had the longest debate on the official and national language policy of India between 4th November ,1948 to 14th September 1949. So, it will not be easy to summarise the ideas of Dr Ambedkar and move of the other members in one article but we need to contextualise Chief justice of India’s views because this move is coming from one of the most influential people. This is not the first time an official member of Indian government pushed Ambedkar’s stand on Sanskrit language as a policy. Dr. Murali Manohar Joshi looked for such a theme of his own in Sanskrit. In his 2016 opinion piece in The Times of India (25 April, 2016) “Ambedkar wanted Sanskrit as national language”, Dr. Joshi said that it was a little-known fact that Ambedkar wanted “Sanskrit as Rastrabhasha”.

“Without knowing Sanskrit, it is difficult to understand Bharat completely.” said Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. Mohan Bhagwat emphasised the same idea in Nagpur on July 20, 2019. 

However, the kingpins of the RSS we’re quite late in giving importance to this language when others were doing so. Mahatma Gandhi, in his numerous letters to his sons, had emphasized the need to learn Sanskrit. Without the knowledge of Sanskrit, in Gandhi’s opinion, education of an Indian would be incomplete. Swami Vivekananda in his letters addressed to various dignitaries and his Shishyas categorically reiterated the need of Sanskrit and its usefulness. It was nearly a decade after the constituent assembly debates in 1958, the RSS passed an official resolution on the language question.

The resolution states

“The R.S.S. has looked upon all languages of Bharat as National. All these languages, in spite of their superficial differences, have an inherent unity. Reflecting one and the same Bharatiya life, their literatures have established identical values. Their influence has been uniformly felt all over the country. They have been equally sustained by Sanskrit- the Rashtra Bhasha par excellence. If now some difference has come to forefront it is due to a policy of deliberate neglect of Sanskrit that has been consistently followed. The Sabha considers the present situation detrimental to national unity and feels that the language policy be unequivocally restated and firmly implemented, thus dispelling all apprehensions of the people.”Archives Of RSS.

Jan Sangh president and member of Constituent assembly’s -Shyama Prasad Mukherji, however did not support Sanskrit as the national language. He backed out from his stand on Sanskrit as national or official language saying this during one of the meetings of the Constituent Assembly while discussing the issue of languages in 1949. –

“If it is claimed by anyone that by passing an article in the Constitution of India one language is going to be accepted by all by a process of coercion, then I say, Sir, that that will not be possible to achieve. Unity in diversity is India’s keynote and must be achieved by a process of understanding and consent and for that a proper atmosphere has to be created.” 

However, Dr Ambedkar recognised this much earlier proving that his idea of nation is sharper and sounder. It is a well-known fact that Ambedkar wanted to learn Sanskrit but no Brahmin teacher was willing to teach him in Maharashtra. He had to go all the way to Bonn University in Germany to learn the language.

When manusmriti says that “He must never read the Vedas in the presence of the Shudras.” (Manu IV. 99.) Why then, did Ambedkar think that the whole nation would learn Sanskrit?

To answer this question -What is in Sanskrit? To explain it, I may commence with our Constituent Assembly debate which took place on 14.9.1949 on the question- what should be the national language of India? The famous speech of Mr. Naziruddin Ahmed explaining it.

When the Hon’ble Shri Ghanshyam Singh Gupta: “We want to hear your views on Sanskrit.”

A constituent assembly colleague of Dr Ambedkar, Mr. Naziruddin Ahmed replied: “I am extremely thankful to the Hon’ble Member Mr. Gupta. If you have to adopt any language, why should you not have the world’s greatest language?

It is a matter of great regret that we do not know with what reveration Sanskrit is held in the outside world. I shall only quote a few remarks made about Sanskrit to show how this language is held in the civilized world.

Mr. W.C. Taylor says: ‘Sanskrit is a language of unrivalled richness and purity’.

I will only give a few quotations.

Prof. Max Muller says that “Sanskrit is the greatest language in the world, the most wonderful and the most perfect’. Sir William Jones says: ‘Whenever we direct our attention to the Sanskrit literature the notion of infinity presents itself. Surely the longest life would not suffice for a perusal of works that rise and swell protuberant like the Himalayas above the bulkiest composition of every land beyond the confines of India’.

Then Sir W. Hunter says: The grammar of Panini stands supreme among the grammars of the world. It stands forth as one of the most splendid achievements of human invention and industry’. Prof. Whitney says: ‘Its unequalled transparency of structure gives Sanskrit the indisputable right to the first place amongst the tongues of the Indo-European family’. M.Dukois says: ‘Sanskrit is the origin of the modern languages of Europe’. Prof. Weber says: ‘Panini’s grammar is universally admitted to be the shortest and fullest grammar in the world’. Prof. Wilson says: ‘No nation but the Hindu has yet been able to discover such a perfect system of phonetics’. 

Prof. Thompson says:’ The arrangement of consonants in Sanskrit is a unique example of human genius’.

Dr. Shahidullah, Professor of Dacca University, says: ‘Sanskrit is the language of every man to whatever race he may belong’.”

This may be a highly romanticised  and motivated speech but the reality is that the Sanskrit indeed has a lot of progressive literature , philosophy ,arts and grammar books .It doesn’t only include Manu smriti ,Ramayana and Mahabharata .The Buddha disciples wrote over 50 thousands books in Sanskrit which  inspire us to study .The Bhandarkar institute of Oriental studies mentioned that Sanskrit has almost 3 lakhs manuscripts .There are a lot of great writer like Kalidas , Charvak ,Ved Vyas and Chanakya who have commendable research in their fields . There are a lot of signs of dissent in Sanskrit language. For example, I am quoting a great Buddhist scholar and philosopher Dharmkirti –

वेदप्रमाण्यम् कस्यचित कतृवादे स्नानेधर्मेच्छा जातिवादावलेपः 

सम्थाप्रारम्थपापहानाय चेति ध्वस्तप्रज्ञानाम् पंचलिंगानीजाड्ये

(Having faith in the authenticity of the Vedas, theism or believing in God, desiring merit in bathing, being swaddled in casteism and undergoing penance are five signs of a fool, one whose senses are ruined).

But nowadays   the voice of Sanskrit is solely for politicians’ benefit who have no real interest in it. Recently, after the 2014 election the perception created of Sanskrit literature is totally different from the ground reality.

Several high-profile leaders have given statements by misquoting the texts

“U.P. Deputy CM suggested Sita was a test-tube baby “.

Biplab Deb said “The Europeans and the Americans may claim that it is theirs, but it is actually our technology,” and

P.M Narendra Modi has linked medical science to mythology, citing “plastic surgery” and “genetic science” to explain the creation of Lord Ganesh and Karna respectively.

These are all half-baked truths. 

Sanskrit has lakhs of books written in it but every book seems silent while the irresponsible leaders are too vocal with irrelevant facts which is defaming the richness of the language. The surrender of Sanskrit intellectuals is also big a question. About 95 percent of Sanskrit literature has nothing to do with religion. It covers a wide spectrum of subjects. It deals with subjects like philosophy, science and laws. It also teaches scepticism.

Even in modern India as per report “For the Development of Sanskrit” under the chairperson Bibek Debroy, said:

About 120 general Universities offer Sanskrit at UG and PG level. There are 15 Sanskrit Universities. Though there are about 1000 traditional Sanskrit colleges affiliated to some of the above-mentioned Sanskrit Universities and 5000 traditional Sanskrit Pathshala at school level and about 1000 Veda Pathashalas in the country. Eight States have Sanskrit Secondary Education Board or Directorate of Sanskrit Education. About ten lakh students study Sanskrit in this sector. There are 10 Sanskrit Academies, 16 Oriental Research Institutes, about 60 periodicals and magazines in Sanskrit and about a hundred NGOs working for the popularization of Sanskrit. But no progress was made after the 2014 election.

Bibek Debroy proposed Sanskrit should be taught in IIT but the question is why? Why not introduce technological courses in Sampurnanand Sanskrit University and Kameshwar Singh Sanskrit University, Darbhanga? 

We also need to ponder that when Firoz khan, a Sanskrit professor of BHU was denied to teach Sanskrit how will it be possible for Sanskrit to become the national language! 

It was the duty of Sanskrit institutions, scholars and leaders to first give everyone a fair access to the language and only then discuss the issue of national language. This needs Sanskritization of marginalized class.

As In Malavikagnimitram kalidasa said –

राणवमत्ये साधु सिं चावप काव्यं निवमत्यिद्यम्  

सन्तः परीक्ष्यान्यतरद् भजन्ते मूढः परप्रत्ययनेयबुवधः  

-Maalavikaagnimitram, 1-2 

(Everything is not great just because it is ancient. Nothing is bad just because it is modern. Intelligent people consider things after properly examining it. Idiot simply believes what others say).

Sanskrit needs rehabilitation, restructuring, modern great technological research and replanning. The marginalised class need to reclaim their language and literature. I think only with this, Ambedkar’s dream will be fulfilled. Only quoting Dr Ambedkar is not enough to accept it. Though Sanskrit was not accepted as the national language of India, it has been placed in the 8th Schedule to the Constitution and is also referred to in Article 351. Our Constitution has done great justice to Sanskrit. Any move towards making it the national language is possible only after the society gives up the long held narrow understanding of Sanskrit and its culture and truly embraces it.

Categories: Opinion

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