NEP, Multilingualism and Sanskrit

Gopa Nayak

Gopa is currently the director of English Language Centre at the OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat. As an educationist and a researcher, she earned her DPhil from the Unive

The emphasis on multilingualism in the New Education Policy 2020, is evident in the use of the term more than 200 times in the whole 66-page document. Against this backdrop of multilingualism Sanskrit language as the bearer of culture and identity appears to have failed to mark its presence. Some may argue that learning Sanskrit is perhaps not relevant in 21st century India, as she marches towards reaching new heights in fields of science and technology.

Sanskrit may not be the language of science and technology, but it cannot be discounted as a language unworthy of learning. The grammar of Sanskrit gives a very structured and logical view of the world and if taught properly, could help in the cognitive development of young learners. Moreover, one of the benefits of learning Sanskrit early is getting used to different sound patterns. Sanskrit language exposes learners to the grapheme–phoneme or sound-symbol combination in a very logical manner and as such enables the pronunciation of all different kinds of sounds. Thus, learning Sanskrit early in life gives the training needed to speak any language be it English or German, with the correct pronunciation. Sanskrit is the mother of all Indian languages and as such the exposure to Sanskrit could give the much-needed impetus to learn any other language be it Indian or foreign.

One major argument for Indians to learn Sanskrit could be to get access to the vast knowledge stored in the ancient texts written in Sanskrit. Right from Rg Veda to the now famous texts on Yoga to Chanakyaniti are all written in Sanskrit. The irony is that these ancient texts have been originally translated by Western scholars. Although the value of these translations cannot be undermined because they have been instrumental in uncovering the gems hidden in these texts. However, the fact remains that an ‘emic’ approach to interpret and disseminate the texts would certainly add more value to the knowledge stored in the texts. Not to mention that there are still many ancient Sanskrit texts crying out for translation to reach a wider audience.

NEP 2020 has highlighted this need for translation and has mooted the idea of an Institution for Translation. This will require people with different mother tongues and especially Indians with expertise in English to take up the task of translating Sanskrit texts to English as well as other Indian languages. However, the haunting question is how Indians can be motivated to learn Sanskrit. While the NEP 2020 has retained the tri-lingual principle of the earlier policies, there has been no special attention given to the learning of Sanskrit. Given that English will always enjoy the privileged status because of the economic and social benefits that is attached to learning it, and learning the mother tongue should not be replaced, the status of Sanskrit as the language of Indian culture and identity is at best the third choice and in some contexts may not draw any attention at all.

Needless to say, Sanskrit will be accorded recognition only to satisfy affective needs such as to use it as a vehicle for religious pursuits. However, the impetus for learning Sanskrit can be effectively be driven by catering to the instrumental needs of both learners and teachers. These incentives can come in the form of scholarships for students opting for Sanskrit at the primary and secondary level. The educational institutions could provide incentives to Sanskrit teachers through inclusive policies such as co-teaching with other subject experts. This will encourage the need for translation of Sanskrit texts and both students and teachers could undertake translation for productive rather than pleasurable pursuits.
Under the trilingual policy of NEP 2020, States are left to take up the cudgels of offering Sanskrit as a language through primary and secondary education. However, the Indian identity which is perhaps congruent with learning Sanskrit is more aligned to the prerogative of the Central rather than the State governments. While the NEP 2020 has rightfully pinned a lot of optimism on multilingualism one can only wish that Sanskrit survives amidst the cacophony of languages striving to prove their worthy place in the education system. Otherwise, it will be akin to forgetting the mother amidst the crowd of admirers.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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