CHENNAI: The Centre’s new draft education policy has run into rough political weather in Tamil Nadu, underlining the need for an open-minded discussion between the Centre and the state to sort out the conflicts within a reasonable time frame, but without fixing an ultimatum. Points of conflicts have cropped up over fears of the Centre taking control of education, which is at present in the concurrent list, grading and separation of students and the lingering suspicions if Sanskrit will be optional or compulsory.
BJP national secretary H. Raja said “There is no question of compelling anyone to learn Sanskrit. If anyone wants to learn a language, how can Tamil Nadu government suppress his or her individual freedom and choice of learning”. He asserted that Tamil Nadu government had no locus standi to oppose the Centre’s policy in schools run by it. But, Dravidar Kazhagam which is in the forefront of agitations against the new education policy alleged it is the Centre which is suppressing individual rights by making Sanskrit compulsory.
DK vice president Kali Poongundran said the State government had every right to oppose a policy which takes away its powers. “It is elected by the people and represent their sentiments and aspirations”, he said. “Making a language compulsory is violation of individual freedom and opposing such imposition is a struggle to protect individual freedom”. The language debate has been triggered by the proposals in chapter ‘Language and culture in education’, in which six policy initiatives had been listed.
The fifth initiative says “Keeping in view special importance of Sanskrit in the growth and development of Indian languages and its unique contribution to the cultural unity of the country, facilities for teaching Sanskrit at the school and university stages will be offered at a liberal scale”. Hindu Munnani leader Ramagopalan said “It is the duty of Central and state governments to give opportunities to learn languages” and alleged that the Dravidian parties are imposing their ‘anti-national ideas’ in education.
But, educationists feel there should be clarity if Sanskrit is optional or compulsory. If Sanskrit is optional, then facilities need to be offered for schools based on the need, but providing such facilities in all schools raises suspicions of compulsory Sanskrit, they say. Educationist Prince Gajendrababu said “The draft says facilities will be offered for all schools and universities which raises fears that Sanskrit will be compulsory. Why offer such facilities in all schools if Sanskrit is optional?”
He also said the appointment of IES officials directly under the control of Union HRD ministry takes away the total control of states over education and practically move education to Central list from concurrent list. So, states have the locus standi and right to oppose the policy, he said.
Sanskrit began blending with Tamil in Pallavas’ time:
Sanskrit is not new to Tamil Nadu as it had been the language of the rulers in the past and it had seen many ups and lows in the last 15 centuries, while Tamil has held on to its place as the people’s language. There is no mention of Sanskrit in Tamil’s ancient grammar Tholkappiam composed in the third century BC. The Sangam Tamil literature is said to be made of chaste Tamil words, without the blend of any other language. After the end of the Sangam age in the second century AD, the language did not witness any notable additions to its literary treasure.
The emergence of Sanskrit in Tamil Nadu, comes along with the Pallava regime in the sixth century AD. From the Sangam age of kings named in pure Tamil, kings with Sanskrit titles Mahendra and Narasimha came to power and the capital of the Pallavas, Kanchi was considered to be a centre of learning for Sanskrit.
The kings patronised Sanskrit and Mahendra I himself had written a drama Mathavilasa Prahasana and the famous Mamallapuram carvings depict scenes from Mahabharatha and other mythologies. Tamil which was reduced to a common man’s language during Pallava period rose to prominence again with the emergence of later Chola empire in the ninth century AD.
According to historians, Sanskrit which had already entered the Tamil land had started blending with Tamil during the Pallava period. The bhakthi literature during the Chola period was characterised by Manipravalam style, the name given to Tamil-Sanskrit fusion.
The Nayak rulers patronised Sanskrit which became the sole worshipping language in temples, replacing Tamil which was primary in temples during the Chola and Pandya periods. Sanskrit was considered the mother of all the languages and learning the language was considered a honour during the Nayak regime from the 16th century. However, British researcher Robert Caldwell’s ‘Comparative grammar of Dravidian family of languages’ established Tamil as a distinct language with independent roots and mother of South Indian languages.
‘Sanskrit part of country’s heritage’:
Irish scholars, W. B. Yeats and Bertrand Russell were deeply influenced by the Upanishads. And so were several others like Somerset Maugham and T. S. Eliot. Maugham’s Razor’s Edge is a rendering of the expression Ksurasya dhara occurring in the Upanishad. The influence of Upanishads on Maugham is also evident from his Writer’s Notebook (1935). S.S. Cohen, (who lived up to the end of his life in Tiruvannamalai and whose tomb is in Korangu Thottam), a Dutch who took up Sanyasa after meeting Ramana Maharishi in Tiruvannamalai was also greatly influenced by Sanskrit. “In fact, he learnt Sanskrit and wrote Srimad Bhagavadam,” says S. Seshadri, scholar, writer and former hon. secretary of All India Sai Samaj. “He had said we should be grateful to Brahmins for preserving Sanskrit and the ancient texts,” he added.
Despite the opposition to Sanskrit, the language continues to gain patronage and is not confined to the precincts of temples. The language, according to experts sustains as it is part of our culture and heritage. This language is systematic, methodical and scientific in character and its beauty and charm has remained unaltered over the passage of time. “Only in Tamil Nadu Sanskrit is much opposed. It is the language of the Gods. There is a misconception that it is a Brahminical language. Many of our valuable texts apart from Vedas and Upanishads, the Ayurveda and science are in Sanskrit. It is such a rich language and has so much of spiritual literature, Seshadri says. “I think opposition to Sanskrit in TN is opposition to PM Narendra Modi and BJP,” claims Ramaravi Kumar, Hindu Makkal Katchi general secretary.
Why can’t we learn Hindi as additional language?
I wish I had learned Hindi when it was offered as second language when I was doing my B.Sc (Visual Communication) at Chennai’s Loyola College. Then I was a true-blue Tamil who swore not to learn or speak a word of the “foreign” language Hindi. Just a few years after that brave statement that I bragged about among my peers, I realised how stupid I was to have missed a “golden opportunity” to learn Hindi.
Having born in rural Tamil Nadu and one who was never exposed to Hindi, the language seemed more foreign to me than English. And thanks to the influence of Dravidian politics, I was ignorant about the fact that learning an additional language was no crime. Reality struck me sooner than later: I landed in a job at one of the country’s reputable news agencies in the national capital and for the first time in my life felt tongue-tied without knowing the local language. My hope that I could manage with English everywhere in the world was shattered since I had to engage with auto wallahs and shopkeepers only in Hindi.
I did not know even a word in Hindi; and most of my colleagues spoke in Hindi. Everyone assumed I would know at least a few words in Hindi and it took me great efforts to convince them that I was a toddler when it came to speak Hindi. I would look for people who would speak in English and a kind-hearted colleague who came from West Bengal gave me a glimmer of hope that I would one day speak Hindi.
“I also suffered like you when I came to Delhi six years ago and I am sure you will pick up the language in a few years,” she told me then. But, I was not hopeful. I would not step out of my tiny hostel accommodation on my weekly off days for fear of having to deal with shopkeepers. And once I had even decided to pack my bags and leave for Chennai. Something stopped me. Thankfully, I had good friends – obviously those hailing from the Hindi belt of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar – who vowed to teach me the language and began speaking with me in Hindi and simultaneously translating what they said in English.
I learned Hindi eventually but with great difficulty when the language could have been taught to me since my KG days. One may argue there are several options for people to learn Hindi and that may be true in cities like Chennai and Coimbatore. But people like me who get educated in rural areas have no option of learning additional languages other than those taught in schools.
Let Hindi be made optional in all schools and let children decide what is best for them.