In 1774 the Supreme Court in Kolkata, then capital of British colony of India, decided to transact its business only in English. That was the first major move away from Persian, then official language of the Mughal Empire. More and more Indians began to learn English from private and public schools. A committee report on public instruction of British India asserted in 1834: “In the present circumstances it is no longer a question of whether English or Arabic or Sanskrit is to be preferred. The popular taste as far as it can be judged, had declared in favour of English.” * English went on to become, in the next two centuries, the language of administration and also the elite, a role played by Sanskrit in the previous millennia.
When India became Independent in 1947 Sanskrit did not become the national language. Free India’s Parliament adopted Hindi and English as official languages and the Constitution provided that English would give place to Hindi by 1965. But in 1965 anti Hindi riots erupted in Tamil Nadu and the Indian constitution was amended in 1967 to guarantee use of English as official languages for as long as the states and union territories wanted to do so.
Now with over 68,000 titles brought out annually India is the third largest publisher of books in English after only USA and Britain. There maybe over 100,000 schools with English as the medium of instruction in India today. India has the second biggest English speaking population next only to USA yet about 80% of Indians don’t speak English. The combined daily circulation of English newspapers is 4 millions but it is 40 million for Indian language dailies. National English newspapers and media channels, though smaller in volume, have a disproportionately large influence in national debates by virtue of English being a national language linking all of India. No Hindi newspaper has such a reach.
Many private and government aided efforts to revive and popularize Sanskrit were undertaken since Indian became free but without any sign of it gaining popularity substantially to the point of it being considered possibly as a national language. Among the states only one state of India, the recently created Uttarakhand has adopted it as the official language. Many states do not have Sanskrit learning in their school curriculum. It must be mentioned that Sanskrit is considered by student community as a difficult language to learn and there appears to be a strong case here for making Sanskrit simpler to learn. Central Board of Secondary Education offers Sanskrit as an option for some classes.
In post Independent Indian politics Sanskrit learning has suffered a setback with some politicians and minority activists associating it with Hindu nationalism. Though they are a minority in India, their views have had enormous influence on public school education in India due to political and media pressures. That the minority educationists are not at all looking at Sanskrit as a possible national link language can be seen from the fact that their educational institutions are not known to engage in popularizing Sanskrit. Even though sadly the same can be said about a lot of the other community institutions also.
A few years ago I had the opportunity to see the effect of a two week spoken Sanskrit class on post matriculate level students studying technical courses in a school. It was offered as a non compulsory study and about sixty percent of the students joined it. I could hear them joyfully shouting Sanskrit sentences to say “Switch on the fan”, “Where is my pen?” “I am going to Pondy” etc etc. As the course ended I observed an unusual change in the students. As they emerged from the Sanskrit class there was peaceful nobility, quiet confidence and happiness about them. Such a transformation was not seen after compulsory spoken English classes. The students seemed relieved when it was over and even if the learning was made fun and activity based, it was stressful for them to speak in English, not to mention writing. Though their level of proficiency improved most could never learn to speak or write properly or put two sentences together. Unfortunately the spoken Sanskrit classes were never again conducted there though the organization that offered it free of charges at the first instance was ready to do it again.
The Mother who started Auroville as a universal town to realise human unity, when asked about the language to be taught in its first school at a community named “Aspiration” in 1971 had suggested the following languages: Tamil, French, a simplified Sanskrit to replace Hindi as the language of India and English as the international language**. On the question of national language for India she had said, “”The Sanskrit ought to be the national language of India”.*** Today one wonders if any Auroville outreach school teaches Sanskrit not to mention schools in the central parts.
In this background I was a pleasantly surprised to read a few days ago that a Muslim girl of Kendriya Vidyalaya school under CBSE in Chennai had top scored in Sanskrit examination among all KV schools in Tamil Nadu.
Here are some excerpts from the newspaper report :
– It was not just that Anjala Beegum of DAV Higher Secondary School in Mogappair secured the first rank in the Class X examination, she also achieved the unusual distinction of a Muslim student topping the State in Sanskrit. With a whopping score of 497 on 500 and a centum in Sanskrit, Anjala Beegum in a way emulated her brother Gulsar Ahamed by getting on the toppers list for Sanskrit.
– Anjala says simply, “I chose Sanskrit as my second language since my brother secured the second rank in the State in Sanskrit in 2008.” She takes the opportunity to thank her Sanksrit teacher, Sridhar Venkatramani, for coaching her.
Anjala adds that she regularly attended the yoga sessions, two hours a week, at her school to improve her concentration and focus. “I used to meditate daily especially during my exams. I had yoga class at school twice in a week,” she says.
Anjala’s father Abdul Hameed, a senior engineer at ICF, was quick to give all credit to his wife, Saira Banu, a housewife, for the scholastic success of their children. “All credit goes to Anjala’s mother, who is always behind the children’s success,” he said.
Hopefully news like this may add strength to people working to popularize Sanskrit to make it, one day possibly, the national language of India. For all those interested in spreading usage of Sanskrit, here is a good website http://samskritabharati.in/
* Principles and methods of teaching of English, DDE, Pondicherry University
**Collected Works of The Mother, volume 13, page 233
* **Collected Works of The Mother, volume 13, page 379