What India Needs Today Is Linguistic Equality, Not Another Link Language

A news report published recently in The Hindustan Times, reports that the Samskrita Bharati, a non-profit organization associated with the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh, will launch an outreach drive to propagate the use of Sanskrit throughout India.

Does a nation require a common link language?

The report states that the organization’s one-day campaign called 'Graham Graham Samskritam' (Sanskrit in every home) is aimed at establishing Sanskrit as the 'rajbhasha', a pan-India medium of spoken and written language. While the idea of having a single common language as a means of communication still has many takers in India it is so old-school that many advanced nations have abandoned such policies in favour of providing equal rights and privileges to all linguistic communities. So, how long are we going to continue to fool ourselves that the Indian Union needs a 'link language' that will serve as some kind of a unifying factor?

It seems natural that nations, which are linguistically diverse should promote a link language to help facilitate communication across all its regions and also to serve as a national unifying factor. But as we have learnt from history, in the instances of Bangladesh, USSR etc., such attempts have mostly been counter-productive leading to frictions between linguistic groups and ethnicities, and have often resulted in disintegration of nations. On the other hand promoting different languages can enhance mutual trust between language groups and help achieve unity that national governments strive for. This can be seen in several countries in Europe like Belgium and Finland, where all languages are treated on par and the rights of its speakers are protected as a state policy. The European Union actively encourages fostering of linguistic and cultural diversities, as a way to promote integration between its member states.

How pragmatic is the promotion of Sanskrit in this age?

Questions of pragmatism and practical sense also arise. Sanskrit may have been used as a liturgical language by the learned few for more than two millennia in India but as linguists and historians attest, it (proto Sanskrit) evolved into various Prakrits more than two thousand years ago. These Prakrits evolved into the various languages and dialects spoken across the northern part of India today. What is the point in bringing back to speech (to whatever possible extent) a language that has already evolved into various languages and dialects? As we know it, speech is constantly under flux. So, even if one succeeded in bringing Sanskrit back to speech in a few groups and regions, it will inevitably change and evolve into different dialects in decades and centuries to come. Should one take up the Sanskrit campaign again then? This is not only so unnecessary and inefficient but also counter-productive. 

Instead, it makes a lot more sense to promote various languages spoken across the country in education, administration and in all other possible spheres of life. It will not only help literacy and education, but also help people obtain citizen services and official government communication in the language they are most comfortable with. Often, some people argue that promotion of Sanskrit will enrich the other Indian languages too, but linguistically speaking this is a false argument. Also, why is Sanskrit being taken to every home? Don’t these homes already speak their mother tongues? What is the need to oblige them to speak Sanskrit in place of their respective mother tongues?

How good is Sanskrit as the medium of instruction?

The organization has also submitted a proposal to the Union government, says the report, to continue to use the mother tongue as the medium of instruction between class 1 and 8 and move to the Sanskrit medium from class 9 onwards. It is scientifically proven that for a child there is no better medium of instruction than his/ her mother tongue. In this respect the organization's proposal to use the mother tongue in the primary education is right. But its suggestion to switch to Sanskrit medium from class 9 is not justified. The decision to use a particular language or languages of instruction in schools should, at the most, be left to respective linguistic communities. Linguistic communities may work with their respective state governments towards an acceptable resolution on the medium of instruction if needed. Recommending Sanskrit medium to the children of several hundreds of different linguistic communities across a vast landmass of a billion plus population, without the consultation of the communities themselves is not correct.

In Karnatique, we have always supported the mother tongue as the medium of instruction, for scientific reasons. Not just primary education, even offering higher education in the mother tongue will benefit the respective linguistic communities. For their own benefit, linguistic communities should work towards that goal. But trying to promote a different language, be it English, Hindi or even Sanskrit as medium of instruction will be counter-productive. It should be noted that no country has ever progressed by using a language other than people’s language in education.

Such proposals to the Union Government too are inappropriate as the Union represents all linguistic communities and not just one or two. Private organizations are free to promote any language but they should not go to the extent of violating linguistic rights of other linguistic communities. Encouraging people to learn Sanskrit and teaching the language through private institutes and classes are all fine, but promoting it with the intent of making it a pan-India language, especially by using one’s influence in the Union Government, in order to serve as a language of official use throughout the country or introducing it as a medium of instruction in education on various other unsuspecting linguistic groups is a mistake.


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