[lg policy] India: Sanskrit teachers hoping for 'acche din' under Modi government

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Thu Jan 1 16:37:51 UTC 2015

Ritika Chopra, ET Bureau Dec 31, 2014, 04.33AM IST

   - <http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/photo/45697380.cms>

(Experts, however, are skeptical…)

NEW DELHI: Deepak Kumar quit his job with a private school near Baghpat in
Uttar Pradesh this year in search of greener pastures. "They paid me a
salary of just Rs 8,000 every month," said the 32-year-old Sanskrit
<http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/topic/Sanskrit> teacher
<http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/topic/teacher> who moved to Delhi
about three weeks ago, much against the wishes of his family, to prepare
for an entrance test for teaching posts in the capital's government schools.

"It's a big risk. If I qualify, I will be eligible for a monthly salary of
Rs 50,000," he said. But until that happens, his wife and daughter back
home will have to survive on his family's modest income from farming, which
also pays for his coaching and living expenses in Delhi. The uncertainty
has been nerve-wracking for the family as job opportunities for Sanskrit
teachers are few, he said.

Kumar, however, is not downhearted. "Mark my words. There are good days
ahead for us," he said.

His optimism may not be misplaced. Kumar is just one of many teachers
buoyed by the government's bid to replace German with Sanskrit as the third
language in the Kendriya Vidyalayas in classes 6 to 8 in the middle of the
academic year, sparking a controversy. They feel Sanskrit, after years of
perceived neglect under Congress
<http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/topic/Congress> governments, might
finally see some " acche din
<http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/topic/acche%20din>" (good days)
under Prime
Minister <http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/topic/Prime%20Minister>
Narendra Modi.

To some that means better career opportunities and to others, greater
respect for the language. Pankaj Mishra, professor at Delhi University's
Sanskrit department, is hoping the latter will be the case.

"For years now, there has been this discouraging mentality towards
Sanskrit. It has perpetuated the image that Sanskrit scholars are only fit
to become pundits. This attitude has been a huge blow for the language," he
said. "My own daughter refused to opt for this language because she felt
her friends would tease her for it. She is now studying French as the third
language in Class VI."

For the likes of Kumar expecting better job prospects, good news has
already started trickling it. This month, the Kendriya Vidyalayas, which
admit the children of central government employees, announced the
introduction of Sanskrit as an elective subject in classes 11 and 12 at the
government's behest. Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas--residential government
schools for bright children from rural areas--are also set to start
teaching the language from the next academic session. "We are determined to
include Sanskrit in our basket of third languages, provided the ministry
approves it," Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti (NVS) commissioner GS Bothyal told

Although these two decisions could at most create just another 1,500 new
jobs for Sanskrit teachers next year, they think this is a positive start
and could spur private schools to follow suit. Even though the government
has not issued any directions to this effect, human resource development
ministry officials said private schools have no option but to follow the
three-language formula, which prohibits the teaching of any foreign tongue
as the third language and has been upheld by the Supreme Court.

This could mean that many private schools will soon start teaching Sanskrit
along with several other Indian languages. "Look, if the government tells
us that teaching a foreign language as a third language subject is
unconstitutional, then I guess we can't do anything about it. But private
schools will always protest any decision to make changes halfway through
the session," said the principal of a private school in central Delhi who
did not want to be identified.

Experts, however, are skeptical of government-driven revivalist efforts,
noting that Sanskrit, even at its peak, was never a mass language, but
primarily used for scholarly discourse. With difficult grammar rules, verb
and noun construction, and more tenses than other tongues, learning the
language can be intimidating. From 49,736 Sanskrit speakers in 1991, the
number dwindled to 14,135 in 2001.

The government also needs to invest more in churning out quality Sanskrit
teachers. For instance, in the last five years, not more 10% of the
Sanskrit candidates appearing for the University Grant Commission's
National Eligibility Test (NET) have cleared it in any given year. This is
mandatory for teachers seeking jobs in universities.

Sushil Kumar, a research scholar in Delhi University, is sceptical about
the demand-and-supply argument.

"It's a little absurd that we're talking about supply of teachers when
there aren't any jobs for them. When you create job opportunities, the
supply will also increase. I am surprised that we are debating this in
India. If you can't find Sanskrit teachers here, then where will you find
them? In US or Canada?" he said.


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