Germany’s duet with Indian liberalists

Not all in India may be effusively praising the German Ambassador Michael Steiner’s tributary music video in which he, his wife and the former Indian Foreign Minister have acted. It may rather be seen as indicative of a special relationship the previous govt. seems to have had with Germany that made it possible for German to take the place meant for a third Indian language in a govt. funded central Indian schooling system. The present government reverted to Sanskrit mid course last year pointing out that, according to rules, only an Indian language qualifies as third language and German is not an Indian language. The rule was based on what is called as ‘three language policy’ wherein Hindi, English and another Indian language are taught as 1st, 2nd and 3rd languages respectively in Kendriya Vidyalayas. (KV’s were originally started for education of children of defence service personnel and then extended to children of all employees of the central govt.) The Ambassador brought diplomatic pressure to continue teaching German in KV’s through Chancellor Angela Merkel who soon raised the issue on meeting Mr. Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, at a multilateral forum. The PM assured her of due consideration but there was no change in the govt.’s decision.

The German Ambassador Michael Steiner at Goethe Institut, Mumbai

Indian liberalist intellectuals condemned the govt. decision on numerous grounds and some parents of KV students moved the Supreme Court to quash the govt. order. After arguments the govt. proposed to the court that students learning German in the current academic session need not switch to Sanskrit but from the next year German will be replaced by Sanskrit or any modern Indian language. Facilities will be provided in KV’s to students to optionally learn German or any other foreign language. The court accepted the govt. proposal and closed the case.

In the midst of this, a media report pointed out that intellectuals in Germany were not advocating teaching of India’s national language Hindi in any schooling system in Germany. Learning of Chinese is growing exponentially in Germany but hardly Hindi, even though India is one of the largest economies in the world and Germany happens to be her largest trading partner in Europe.

Notably it was a German scholar Max Mueller, who opened Western interest in Sanskrit and Indology in the 19th century. He said, “Sanskrit is to the science of language what mathematics is to astronomy.” Germany through her embassy runs cultural centres in Mueller’s name (Goethe Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan) at six metro cities in India but ironically joined forces to replace Sanskrit in KV’s.

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