Analysis: Central Sanskrit Universities Bill, 2019

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Sanskrit is referred to as the mother of all languages. Many native and foreign languages find their genesis and evolution in Sanskrit.  It finds it reference in the oldest of the authoritative religious (and otherwise) texts.

It has been deemed to be the soul of India, which led to its massive scientific and cultural growth but presently, it is danger as the native speakers and scholars in the field are deteriorating fast due to inept Sanskrit promotional and educational infrastructure in the country.

To combat this problem, The Central Sanskrit Universities Bill, 2019 was moved by Human Resources Development Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal in the winter session of the Lok Sabha on December 11, 2019.

The bill seeks to convert three Sanskrit deemed universities – Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan and the Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeeth, New Delhi and the Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeeth, Tirupati into central universities (as opposed to state or deemed-to-be universities, a central university is established by an Act of Parliament and is under the direct purview of the Department of Higher Education (DHE) under Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD)

Background: Why was it introduced?

With the advent of English and the popularisation of it, the native languages in the country have seen a major decline in their written and spoken usage. They face the threat of possible extinction or ‘language death’

One of these endangered languages is Sanskrit. It is one of the twenty-two official languages of the Indian state mentioned in the constitution. The Sanskrit speaking native population of India has reduced to almost negligible. Currently, Sanskrit is spoken by less than one percent of Indian population.

As per the last census, out of 133.92 crores Indians, merely 24,821 people declared Sanskrit as their primary language. The Sanskrit speaking population is mostly confined to parts of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Karnataka with almost no speakers in the country’s north-east, Orissa, Jammu and Kashmir, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Gujarat.

Its usage is mostly restricted to religious and matrimonial ceremonies along with a place in the high school curriculums as an optional subject. However, here also, the students choose other ‘relevant’ languages like French, German etcetera as an optional subject.

Some of the most renowned Sanskrit educational institutes like Sampurnanand Sanskrit Vishwavidyalaya in Varanasi is in the dumps. It suffers from lack of financial resources, adequate infrastructure, teaching faculty. Other Sanskrit institutions across the nation share the same deplorable conditions.

Hence, to revive and sustain Sanskrit education (nationally and internationally) idea and motivate scholarship in the subject by Sanskrit scholars and academia, the central government has decided to take these three institutions under its aegis and care. 

Salient features of the bill:

First and foremost, the bill seeks to covert the three deemed-to-be universities into Central Universities. They shall be allotted adequate funds by the centre and quality and quantity of teaching faculty and academic infrastructure shall also be increased.

These universities will then serve as hubs to preserve and promote Sanskrit as a language. In order to motivate national and international students/academia to take up education and research in Sanskrit, special integrated courses in humanities, social sciences, and science will be launched, ensuring their overall development in written, spoken, textual Sanskrit and allied subjects. 

Their academic functions would include deciding and prescribing course material, conducting training programmes, launching distance education programmes, issuing degrees, diplomas, and certificates, conferring affiliation to other colleges and institutions under it and provide regular classes for education in Sanskrit and allied subjects.

A Vice-Chancellor for each of these universities would be appointed by the Centre, who shall be the chairperson of the executive council of the university, responsible for handling all administration affairs of the university

The universities so converted by the bill will be open to scholars of all sexes, castes, creed, race or class. The provision in the bill reads as: –

“The University shall be open to all persons of either sex and whatever caste, creed, race or class, and it shall not be lawful for the University to adopt or impose on any person, any test whatsoever of religious belief or profession in order to entitle him to be appointed as a teacher of the University or to hold any other office therein or be admitted as a student in the University or to graduate thereat or to enjoy or exercise any privilege thereof.”

Critical analysis:

Amidst the passing of the bill, there was concerns raised about the biased prioritisation of Sanskrit over other languages that face the same issues as Sanskrit. The opposition requested that all languages be allocated funds proportionately.

Further, it has been seen by the opposition as a Hindu language, which is a part of the alleged ‘Hindu Rashtra’ propaganda of the right-wing party Bhartiya Janta Party. Language and politics have always been intertwined and the introduction of the bill is seen as a measure to promote the language over other languages and ‘Sanskritization’ indoctrination of the religious and linguistic minorities.

Sanskritization has always been denoted by the urge of the castes or tribes placed lower in the caste hierarchy seek upward mobility by emulating the rituals and practices of the upper or dominant castes due to the inherent discrimination they face for being linguistically different from the Sanskrit speaking upper class majority.

The centre however claimed that this bill should not be seen as a ‘Sanskrit versus other languages’ bill. Rather, it was the first step in consolidation of all languages. All languages will be given equal priority and subsequently will be promoted just like it has been done for Sanskrit.

Another issues that might crop up in the future is weak implementation of non-discriminatory clause of the bill. The clause states that scholars will not be discriminated against on the basis of their sex, caste, creed or race. But certain examples of the past show that such clauses are rarely respected in the so established central universities. the esteemed BHU (Banaras Hindu University) during its constitution also adopted a clause of similar nature.

It promised inclusiveness and non-discrimination to all scholars who come to study, research or work in the university. However, these promises soon attracted flak when a Muslim scholar working in the Sanskrit department of the university was harassed and beaten by other fellow scholars and faculty members over his religion.

In another instance, a professor from a historically marginalized caste was also harassed similarly over his caste, overlooking all the impartial values of secularism and liberty, the institution stood for. Hence, with such glaring historical precedents, it is important that the government ensure that the inclusiveness so promised by the bill is properly implemented and respected.

Conclusion

Sanskrit is one of the most ancient languages of India, holding a vast repertoire of the ethos, ideas and culture of the past civilization of India.
The introduction of the bill to promote dying, endangered languages like Sanskrit by measures like establishing central universities is a very necessary and commendable and step.

The path is however laced with certain problems (as enumerated above). Certain schools of thought hypothesize the true intentions behind introducing the bill as purely political, which shall off course be unearthed in the near future. However, till that time, it is important that the government preserve and promote Sanskrit as promised without any latent political gratification.

Author: Oshin Malpani from Nalsar University of Law, Hyderabad.

Editor: Tamanna Gupta from RGNUL, Patiala.

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