For tribal students, Sanskrit offers employment but at what cost?

While only 7.5 per cent seats in the Shiksha Shastri course are reserved for STs, they account for nearly 30 per cent of all students in the course across the country

According to a recent report by The Print, there has been a significant increase in the last six years in the number of Scheduled Tribe students applying for Shiksha Shastri, a BEd-equivalent course in Sanskrit.

 The data of All India Survey on Higher Education further reveals that in the case of Shiksha Shastri, the ratio of ST students to the total number enrolled has increased from 14.14 per cent in 2011-12 to 27.13 per cent in 2017-18, which is apparently much more than the number of seats reserved for STs, that is, 7.5 per cent. Interestingly, in the year 2017-18, students from SC, ST and OBC categories formed 72.27 per cent of all students, while only 49.5 per cent of the total seats had been reserved for them. Traditionally, Brahmins have held exclusive rights to Sanskrit.

Sanskrit is said to be one of the oldest languages of the world (Photo courtesy: India Today)

According to sociologists and education experts, the governmental push for Sanskrit has been responsible for an increase in student from the backward categories opting to study the language.

Dr Devanand Shukla, deputy director of academics at New Delhi’s Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan, cites another reason for the rising demand of the course – the government’s decision to make the degree compulsory for Sanskrit schoolteachers. Besides, there are a higher number of seats because of growing localization of institutions – for instance, the Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan’s Puri campus is chock-a-block with students from the tribal areas of Odisha and Jharkhand.

One should also view the trend of high number of students of backward categories enrolling for Sanskrit course as an indicator of general-category students applying for other popular and preferred courses, points out Janaki Rajan, professor at the Department of Teacher Training and Non-Formal Education at Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia. “If around 30 per cent of students are coming from the ST category, this could also mean that the percentage of general category students enrolling for this course might be little, because most general-category students opt for and get absorbed in courses like science, maths and the social sciences,” says Rajan.

Contrary to popular belief, a script does not make a language. Even English uses the Roman script. Yet, languages without scripts find no place in the education system. Consequently, tribal groups are given short shrift and often take up other languages to not lag behind in education and employment.

Scheduled languages inscribed on a Rs 2000 note (Photo courtesy: Hindustan Times)

The fact is there are around 800 living languages in India, of which only 22 are scheduled in the Constitution.  From census report of 1961 to that of 1971, 1652 mother tongues were whittled down to 108 (each spoken by at least 10,000 speakers)! The linguistic traditions of many tribes in India predate the provenance of even Sanskrit and the excessive emphasis on Sanskrit may further hinder the conservation efforts to restore and revive such traditions. Every language offers a new outlook and perspective to see the world. It carries a history of knowledge, a heritage of culture and traditions, which are forever lost if not preserved and promoted. In India, with inequitable patronage to one ancient language we may accelerate the extinction of many others.

                                                                                                       Copy-editing: Zeeshan Ali

 

 

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