Truth behind Sanskrit vs German controversy: Has Smriti Irani become a scapegoat?

New Delhi, Dec 5: Union Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister Smriti Irani was accused of saffronising education in India by replacing German with Sanskrit as the third language in some 500 Centrally-run Kendriya Vidyalayas.

Though she overruled all allegations, her critics did not let the controversy die so soon. One of her critics said, "Sanskrit cannot be popularised by shoving it down people's throats for the simple reason that people choose languages partly for their utility in the job market, and Sanskrit currently does not have that utility."

Smriti Irani

Irani faced tremendous criticism over the controversy, but did anyone observe that it was not Irani but a petition in Delhi High Court which forced her to take the decision?

Background of the controversy:

Sanskrit Shikshak Sangh (SSS), which is a body of Sanskrit teachers and scholars, had moved the Delhi High Court challenging the decision of KVS to introduce foreign languages like German, French, Chinese and Spanish in place of Sanskrit as third language from the academic session 2011-12 in classes VI to VIII.

The group, in their petition in the court, said, "The action of the respondents (KVS and CBSE) would cause irreparable damage to Sanskrit language and Indian culture and as a result, the next generation would not learn Sanskrit and hardly have any knowledge of Sanskrit and the rich ancient Indian culture."

The petition also said that the notifications are against the fundamental rights of the citizens and Sanskrit teachers have been asked by KVS to take training in these foreign languages, so that they may teach these languages in due course in place of Sanskrit.

"Issue a writ in the nature of mandamus directing the respondents to take effective measures for promotion and education of Sanskrit as provided in National Curriculum Framework for School Education," it said.

Responding to the petition filed by the SSS, the Delhi High Court on July 9, 2014 asked KVS to file its response to the PIL which sought to quash its notifications to introduce foreign languages in place of Sanskrit as third language in classes VI to VIII from academic session 2011-12.

Sanskrit, not compulsory:

This order by Delhi High Court had forced Irani to take the decision. The Board of Governors (BoG) of the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan (KVS), headed by HRD Minister Smriti Irani, had in its meeting on Oct 27 decided that "teaching of German language as an option to Sanskrit will be discontinued herewith".

However, she refused to accept all demands which sought to make Sanskrit a compulsory language. The HRD minister said that the three language formula was very clear that any of the 23 Indian languages listed in Schedule 8 of the Constitution could be opted for.

But she reiterated that German will continue to be taught as a foreign language. Irani had earlier strongly defended the decision to replace German with Sanskrit as the third language, saying the existing arrangement was in violation of the Constitution.

Why was German introduced in curriculum?

German was introduced as a third language in Kendriya Vidyalayas following the signing of MoU between the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangthan and the Goethe Institute of Max Mueller Bhavan in 2011 for the training of the teachers for teaching German. The agreement, that was for three years, ended in 2014.

The Modi government, while introducing Sanskrit as third language, has taken a position that MoU between the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangthan and the Goethe Institute of Max Mueller Bhavan in 2011 was illegal and was in violation of constitutional provisions. Hence, the agreement was not renewed.

Parents of students moved Supreme Court:

The government decision affected 70,000 Kendriya Vidyalaya students who were studying German. Twenty-two aggrieved parents moved the apex court challenging the government decision to substitute German with Sanskrit as a third language in the middle of the session of the academic year.

The apex court on Nov 28 asked the government not to treat Sanskrit as a third language for the students of Kendriya Vidyalayas from class 6 to 8 and instead treat it as an additional language, while retaining German as a third language for the current academic year.

No Sanskrit examination in 2014:

The central government on Dec 5 told the Supreme Court that the switch over from German to Sanskrit as a third language in Kendriya Vidyalayas will be effected but there will be no Sanskrit exams in the current academic year.

Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi told a bench of Justice Anil R Dave and Justice Kurian Joseph that the government has taken the decision to dispense with the Sanskrit examination in the current academic year while addressing the concerns of the court and the stress the students would have undergone due to a mid-session switch.

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