Now that the Bharatiya Janata Party is in power, India seems set to rediscover Sanskrit as a language and culture — seen through the tunnel of Hindutva. The second week of August is to be celebrated as Sanskrit Week by the Central Board of Secondary Education in its affiliated schools across the country in the “hope” that this will “[revitalize] the use of simple Sanskrit among the youth”. A noble aim, no doubt, had it not given rise to questions about other Indian classical languages, which need as much attention and respect as Sanskrit does. This was pointed out by the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, J. Jayalalithaa, who said, “Tamil Nadu has a rich cultural heritage based on the ancient Tamil language. There has also been a strong social justice and language movement in the state. Hence, any official celebration of Sanskrit Week in Tamil Nadu is highly inappropriate.” While Ms Jayalalithaa must be having her own reasons — not all of them lofty — for resenting the celebration of Sanskrit, the fact remains that the Central directive for Sanskrit Week is entirely in accord with the impunity with which certain forms of nationalistic revivalism are being implemented. In such arbitrariness, diversity is ignored. If the Centre favours Hindi and its parent language, Sanskrit, the whole nation must fall in line.
A few months before the new government came to power, copies of Wendy Doniger’s book, The Hindus: An Alternative History, were pulped on the face of protests against its allegedly objectionable depiction of the Hindu religion. Ms Doniger, pointedly, is a Sanskrit scholar whose book is based on extensive study of Sanskrit texts and whose interpretation of them, if slippery, only attests to the amazing flexibility that a rich classical language like Sanskrit allows. Dinanath Batra, an activist of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh who had led the protest against Ms Doniger’s book, had written to the new prime minister a few days after his anointment, asking for a complete overhaul of the country’s education system so that it reflects “a new moral universe” of Indian values and “inculcates a feeling of patriotism among children”. It seems that in the new India, students must limit themselves to the study of not just the preferred language(s) of the current dispensation, but also to those “moral” parts in the given texts that give credence to the preferred ideology.