[INDOLOGY] Sanskrit in our times

Ananya Vajpeyi vajpeyi at csds.in
Sun Sep 18 17:04:17 UTC 2016

Try these links, Arlo:








On Sun, Sep 18, 2016 at 10:16 PM, Arlo Griffiths <arlogriffiths at hotmail.com>

> Dear Ananya,
> Thank you for all this background.
> I would hope that even those who have challenged you on previous occasions
> agree with a good part of what you write here, and if so that this
> agreement can become a basis for constructive action of the kind called
> 'bipartisan' in another political culture.
> My modest contribution as a European Indologist, I believe, must continue
> to come in the form of working hard on all the tasks you mention in your
> last paragraph, notably in collaboration with Indian scholars — and
> scholars of other countries in whose history Sanskrit culture has played an
> important role, and where I have had the privilege to live and work.
> Minor point: I was not aware of any report of commission on Sanskrit
> presided over by S.K. Chatterji. Is a pdf available and can it be shared? I
> had heard of a reported of an apparently similarly named commission
> presided over by V. Raghavan in nearly the same year (see
> http://www.drvraghavancentre.com/publications.html, no. 51) although I
> have never seen that either. Could it actually be the same report?
> Yours, with every good wish,
> Arlo Griffiths
> École française d'Extrême-Orient
> ------------------------------
> *From:* Ananya Vajpeyi <vajpeyi at csds.in>
> *Sent:* Sunday, September 18, 2016 8:23 AM
> *To:* Indology; Arlo Griffiths
> *Subject:* Sanskrit in our times
> Thanks Arlo for your notes, on and off the Indology list.
> If you don't mind too much, I'd say this business of the Emergency is a
> red herring and we agree to set it aside for purposes of this discussion.
> In preparation for the article you read in the World Policy Journal, and
> in connection with a larger work I am hoping to undertake, I began looking
> at the voluminous report of the first Sanskrit Commission under the
> leadership of Suniti Kumar Chatterji (1957), and looking for the report of
> the second Sanskrit Commission, prepared by a committee of experts set up
> under the UPA government and scrapped by the current Modi government over
> the past couple of years. In place of this second report, I came upon a
> "Vision Document" for the future of Sanskrit education over 10 years,
> available on the website of the Ministry of Human Resource Development at
> the time that my article had to go to press.
> Apart from the history of Sanskrit-related government policy, several
> other factors were also at play while I worked on this piece over many
> months. I taught a graduate class on "Religion, nation and democracy in
> modern India" at a summer school (just concluded) and one of the texts my
> students and I read carefully together was Savarkar's Hindutva, which lays
> out the cartography of the Hindu Rashtra, including his highly problematic
> theories about race, language, geography and religion.
> At the same time, more or less, the controversial minister for Human
> Resource Development, Smriti Irani, was replaced by Prakash Javadekar,
> bringing to an abrupt halt a series of policy changes and political
> decisions that she had been taking since the inauguration of the new
> government, that did much damage to universities and higher education more
> generally and threw Indian academia into a state of crisis (which still
> continues).
> I joined this list quite recently, but I am sure it has already seen an
> extensive discussion of all that happened at the Indian Science Congress
> and the World Sanskrit Conference, both of which took place in 2015 with a
> BJP government in place. Apart from former HRD minister Smriti Irani,
> External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, Minister for Culture Mahesh
> Sharma, Dina Nath Batra (of Wendy Doniger notoriety) and others inside and
> on the fringes of the Modi administration have repeatedly weighed in on the
> place of Sanskrit in not just textbooks, degree programs and teaching
> syllabi but also the larger cultural and political life of the nation.
> The dilemma for Sanskritists, philologists, classicists, historians,
> philosophers, scholars of whatever discipline who care about the quality
> and future continuation of Sanskrit studies in India, is that on the one
> hand both traditional and university-based Sanskrit programs of linguistic
> training, textual and archival study, and literary and philosophical
> inquiry have been in precipitous decline since Independence. For the most
> part, it is secular, centrist and left-leaning state and national
> governments in postcolonial India that have presided over this decline and
> fall of what were once thriving and multifarious knowledge traditions.
> On the other hand, when at last it seems like there might be some
> willingness on the part of the government in power to invest in Sanskrit,
> this promise of monetary support and institutional regeneration comes at a
> heavy ideological cost, antagonising and alienating not just secular-minded
> scholars, but also Muslims and Dalits, among others. Hindutva most directly
> and most negatively impacts the discipline of History (which was the theme
> of the fall issue of the WPJ), and Sanskrit is unfortunately exemplary in
> the kind of manipulation it can and has been subjected to in the course of
> what I and others have been calling India's "culture wars".
> So we are in this peculiar situation where we want desperately for
> Sanskrit to flourish, for it to have the strength and space to undertake
> fresh thinking, self-correction and auto-critique, produce new texts, and
> show all of the signs of vitality needed to keep any epistemological
> tradition in business, but instead all we get is the worst sort of
> "Hinduization" of the vast universe of Sanskrit textuality and the
> instrumental use of Sanskrit to further communalise Indian history and
> exclude minorities from all official narratives about our shared pasts. The
> damage is not just to the facts of history, but also to the templates of
> plurality, inclusion and coexistence that modern Indians have struggled
> hard to build and maintain in the world's largest and most diverse
> democracy.
> Most scholars I know -- and I include myself in this count -- would much
> rather be left alone to read and write their books, think their thoughts,
> teach their classes and engage with the ideas that most interest and excite
> them. I would rather spend years in the library and classroom, than even a
> moment in the vicious arena where ideas are now debated, populated as it is
> by charlatans who are ignorant of the facts, armed with social media's
> instruments of propaganda, misogyny and abuse, openly in service of
> political forces and thoroughly innocent of intellectual motivations.
> But this sort of sequestration is no longer possible. You can't retire
> with the ancients, no matter how well you know how to read them. In fact,
> it is precisely because you -- we -- people on this list -- know how to
> read, that we must take up the responsibility of really questioning and
> interpreting the texts to which we alone have access, and making their
> treasures available to our students and a potentially vast reading public,
> in order to deepen democracy and liberate our societies.
> I began my article with JNU's Sanskrit department because it helps to
> crystallise a number of intersecting concerns. That a heavily left-leaning
> university should have a Sanskrit department was a good thing, in theory.
> It should have balanced out JNU's own biases and made up for its
> shortcomings. But it got off to a controversial start with the very
> building in which it was housed, shaped, as I explain, like a Swastika (you
> can look it up on Google Earth, it's pretty startling).
> But then, things only got worse, in the sense that the intellectual
> culture of the department became beholden to the suffocating binarism of
> secular left versus Hindu right that is now writ large all across Indian
> academia. So an opportunity was lost, from a scholarly and pedagogical
> perspective, and this is happening in department after department at every
> Indian public university. Instead of producing great researchers and great
> teachers, Indian universities are producing half-baked ideologues.
> In Sanskrit and Indology, practically all of the real hard work of
> critical editing, translation, interpretation, teaching, publication is
> happening overseas and not in India. And how could it? Politics and
> communal politics especially has devastated our institutions. We have to
> deal with the consequences of this fact. Avoidance is not an option.
> Yours,
> Ananya.
> --
> *Ananya Vajpeyi *
> *Fellow*
> *Centre for the Study of Developing Societies*
> *29 Rajpur Road, Civil Lines*
> *New Delhi 110054*
> *e: vajpeyi at csds.in <vajpeyi at csds.in>*
> *ext: 229*


*Ananya Vajpeyi *
*Centre for the Study of Developing Societies*
*29 Rajpur Road, Civil Lines*
*New Delhi 110054*
*e: vajpeyi at csds.in <vajpeyi at csds.in>*
*ext: 229*

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