Sanskrit, a synonym for Communalism


In a column analyzing the BJP victory in Karnataka, Indian Express columnist Seema Chisthi wrote the following paragraph.

The much-Sanskritised chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, who had also campaigned in Karnataka, was calmly in conversation with the TV anchor, commenting on national issues. Very difficult to engage on matters outside Gujarat usually, he signalled his stepping onto a national stage on Sunday — a Sanskritisation (a phrase coined by a Kannadiga sociologist M.N. Srinivas, incidentally) in political terms, which could have violent consequences for not just his party, but also for how politics may take shape quickly, and feverishly, before 2009.[He who holds Bangalore

Usually you see the word saffronization associated with the Hindutva folks, not Sanskritization. This word, which was used as a pejorative during the anti-Brahmin movement, is not in vogue in public commentary these days, but the revival is with mischievous intent. Narendra Modi and Sanskritization, well you get the association. Now the name of a language has become a synonym for communal politics.

In fact this attempt to brand Sanskrit as a non-secular entity happened once before, believe it or not – by the Central Board of Secondary Education. It was an attempt to pull the rug off India’s cultural heritage and history by branding an entire language as not-secular.

At that time the Central Board of Secondary Education decided not to offer Sanskrit as an elective because

  1. If they offered Sanskrit, they would have to offer Arabic and Persian since they were also classical languages. If Sanskrit alone was offered ignoring Arabic and Persian, then it would not be secular education, so went the reasoning.

  2. If they offered Sanskrit, they would also have to offer other languages like French and German and even Lepcha.

The Supreme Court in a landmark verdict rejected the accusation that teaching Sanskrit was against secularism. To make that judgment, the Court first defined secularism as neither pro-God or anti-God, but the ability to treat devout, agnostic and atheist alike and to be neutral in religious matters. To be a secular person you don’t have to reject your religious beliefs; you could deeply religious as well as secular. To illustrate the case, the Court cited two Indians – Mahatma Gandhi and Swami Vivekananda – to “dispel the impression that if a person is devout Hindu or devout Muslim he ceases to be secular.”

Regarding the language, the Court wrote that Sanskrit was the language in which Indian minds expressed the noblest ideas. It was also the language in which our culture, which includes the Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, the teachings of Sankaracharya to Vallabhacharya and classics of Kalidasa to Banabhatta were expressed. Without understanding Sanskrit, the Court wrote, you cannot understand Indian philosophy on which our culture is based

There were two other reasons (a) Sanskrit is in the Eighth Schedule, while French, German, Arabic, Persian and Lepcha are not and (b) Article 351 of the Indian Constitution.

Now Seema Chisthi is taking us two decades back, once again to imply that Sanskrit = Communal, thus giving a language such a narrow definition that it would disconnect an ancient nation from its rich cultural heritage. Soon Sanskrit speakers, students of history, and Indian philosophy will be branded communal and the volunteers of Samskrita Bharati will be compared to Mohammed Afzal.

Lets watch to see if our eminent journalists, defenders of secularism and guardians of enlightenment pick this up.

Related Links: The Supreme Court Verdict

18 thoughts on “Sanskrit, a synonym for Communalism

  1. >>> If they offered Sanskrit, they would have to offer Arabic and Persian since they were also classical languages.
    Seriously, this is ridiculous dhimmitude.. Are they forgetting that this is India, not Iran or Iraq?? In India, we would obviously teach classical languages of India (that is Sanskrit), not classical languages of Middle East or Incan or Mayan languages!!

  2. I’ve been a regular reader of this blog. Often I find your views insightful and a pleasure to read. Keep up the good work!

  3. Lets watch to see if our eminent journalists, defenders of secularism and guardians of enlightenment pick this up

    Whatever you do, don’t hold your breath 🙂

  4. This is absolutely ridiculous. To think that eminent academics would come up with such shit.
    What we often do is confuse the study of a subject with agreeing with that subject. If I study Arabic or Persian I do not automatically become a Muslim. If I study Sanskrit I do not automatically become a Upper Caste Hindu. Why can’t this simple idea get into these idiotic heads?
    This is quite similar to the recent spate of changing city names. Raj Thakre wants Bombay to be called Mumbai everywhere. Just because I call Mumbai, Bombay does not mean that I’m a ruthless colonial power. Bombay has its different connotations for me.
    But yes, who listens to these things in India.

  5. The proposal to have a Sanskrit University was opposed by the Leftists saying that it will bring in casteism and brahminrule. Then when it cameup with the seed money given by H.H.Kanchi Shankaracharya, against all odds.When Marxist govt. came to power they appointed their slaves (panikker,Unithiri,poulose) in key position,recruites many marxist as staff and then started destroying the institution.
    Communism in India must be understood as anti-national attitude!

  6. No lowcaste Indian bothers about Sanskrit,
    Its only the 1-3% uppercase hindus or brahmins,who created Sanskrit are bothered by its death and want to revive it.
    Other than brahmins noone gives a damn about sanskrit.
    and ofcourse teaching sanskrit amounts to being communal.

  7. Punjabi,
    So you spoke to all lowercaste people in India and got their opinion or are you their spokesman?
    I personally know many lower caste Sanskrita Bharati volunteers who teach Sanskrit. Probably you should speak to them.
    and ofcourse teaching sanskrit amounts to being communal.
    You first need to learn to comprehend English. Which part of the Supreme Court verdict did you not understand?

  8. Hello,
    Isn’t your reasoning and the subsequent gamut of seemingly logical propositions you construct out of it flawed? To state “Now Seema Chisthi is taking us two decades back, once again to imply that Sanskrit = Communal” is to suggest your apparent misunderstanding of the term “sanskritization” itself. Your deduction here has two inherent errors. In the first place the term “sanskritization” is a cultural one and not a strictly linguistic one. True, it alludes to how the language itself was used as a means of keeping a group of people marginalized. But the relation ends there.
    In the second place, to say that the term is brought back after two decades is plain wrong. It is in vogue in cultural discourse.(Not just in Wiki.)
    Having said this I must admit that how Modi can be “sanskritized” because I don’t know to which caste/culture he belongs to. That is not my point anyway.
    Your protracted write up on sanskrit teaching and stuff does not proceed from the premiss you started with.

  9. Anonymous, I have not seen the word Sanskritization used in recent cultural discourses. It would be great if you could point me to some recent usages of it.

  10. Again, sadly, you fail to see the crux of the matter, and the author of the cited article for that matter. The current Britannica aticle on Hinduism has a portion named “The Process of sanskritization” which goes like:
    The development of Hinduism can be interpreted as a constant interaction between the religion of the upper social groups, represented by the Brahmans (priests and teachers), and the religion of other groups. This has developed from the desire of lower-class groups to rise on the social ladder by adopting the ways and beliefs of the higher castes. This process, sometimes called “Sanskritization,” began in Vedic times when non-Aryan chieftains accepted the ministrations of Brahmans and thus achieved social status for themselves and their subjects. Sanskritization still continues in the form of the conversion of tribal groups, and it is reflected by the persistent tendency of low-caste Hindus to try to raise their status by adopting high-caste customs, such as wearing the sacred cord and becoming vegetarians..[…]
    Now if you question the original author as to how Mr.Modi can actually be sanskritized, that would have been a tenable argument, logically and metaphorically. And it would have exposed the unsustainability of the original proposition and the author’s arriere-pensee. Well,reason is doomed to pander will. No qualms.
    As regards to the use of the term itself in cultural discourse, it follows from the simple reason that once a term of this nature is floated, exotic phrase hungry cutltural pundits and jargon mongers would never let it be devoured by oblivion. So the phrase is there all over. If you are very particular on getting some references from me, here you go:
    1. Sanskritization vs. Ethnicization in India – Asian Survey,(Sep. – Oct., 2000)
    2. ‘Thumri’: A Discussion of the Female Voice of Hindustani Music : Lalita Du Perron Source: Modern Asian Studies(Feb., 2002)
    That is only a sample.
    Regards, Good going.

  11. Narendra Modi has often promoted vegetarianism as a lifestyle essential for purity of thought and action and this apparently is one of the factors in Sanskritization. But this word was used, as Sandeep noted, to imply contempt of the Sanskrit theological ideas. I see this attitude behind the implication that teaching Sanskrit would not be secular. My post was against this contempt and attempts to imply that Sanskritization and learning Sanskrit are bad/communal.

  12. If one were to concede to the assumption that Mr.Modi is complicit in the Guajarat Riots – which amounts almost to genocide – there is a way in which the original author’s use of the term is cogently concievable. One would then reasonably expect Mr.Modi’s life to be one of banishment from public sphere and political life if not spending the rest of his life behind the bars. Quite surprisingly, what we are witnessing is a slow process of exoneration and insidious rise to the stature of a political consultant. So he is essentially getting absolved, whitewashed, and sanskritized. The process of sanskritization, I find, has a ‘positive sense’ in the usage by the original author and he is correct given you agree with the assumption I posed in the first sentence.
    End of the story.
    Regards, Good going.

  13. Anonymous,
    Great going indeed. So when the word as invented Sanskritization meant “bad”. After Gujarat Riots, it means “good”, so if Narendra Modi finds Unified Field Theory it will be bad again? So we have to check with you to see the present meaning of the word.

  14. Anonymous,
    There is no ambiguity in what Modi did. He should be held responsible for the death of people in Godhra and the 254 Hindus and 790 Muslims who were killed in those riots.
    When the word ‘Sanskritization’ was invented Godhra and Gujarat Riots had not happened. So you need to pick a meaning, Good or Bad for it. As Vinod said, we cannot be pinging you to see what is the present meaning of the word.

  15. It’s not surprising Anonymous would pick and choose based on his buying to the definition of Hinduism and Hindu way of life from Britannica – those “lower” Hindus wanting to be “higher” Hindus. Laughable. And of course the genocide that killed 800 people (Hindus deserved to be killed and don’t count). One wonders what the population of Muslim “race” is the country. He obviously has no clue what he’s talking about.

  16. Punjabi stop speaking for others you moron and speak for yourself.
    Anonymous go check a dictionary on what “genocide” means, 750 Muslims and 250 Hindus killed in a two sided riot started by the community which follows the religion of “peace” does not equal genocide or “holocaust” as u clowns claim, if there was any genocide in India it was against Kashmiri Pandits where an entire cultural community is being wiped out thanks to the younger generations losing the language while living in refugee camps.
    I think people like Punjabi and Anonymous suffer from mental retardation or something.

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