A MOVE to make Sanskrit compulsory in Indian schools has provoked widespread anger among teachers and academics.
The strength of the reaction has prompted the government, led by the Hindu nationalist movement, BJP, to call off a meeting of education ministers scheduled for this parliament.
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee signalled the controversial plan with a speech at the World Sanskrit Conference in New Delhi in April, supporting a resolution to make the language compulsory until the final year of school.
Teachers, who criticised the move as "retrograde" and "fundamentalist", said it was a government attempt to make the curriculum more Hindu. Sanskrit is now taught in most schools as a third language and is optional, along with French and German. It is taught only from class VII (age 13). No longer spoken, Sanskrit is the Asian equivalent of Latin, though it is also considered the root of west European languages.
Muri Manohar Joshi, the minister for human resource development, known for his right-wing views on Indian values, announced that the setting up of a special cell to develop a common script for all Indian languages. Scientists have been asked to develop appropriate software and Sanskrit is to be made the base for the script.
Calling this "ridiculous", academics have pointed out that, although Sanskrit is an important classical language, it hardly has any place in the modern context, and would hinder attempts to keep up with developments in science and technology.
Rajainder Sacchar, a former Delhi high court chief justice, told the government: "The works of Plato, Roman law and tales from the Arabian Nights are enjoyed by many of us, even when we are ignorant of Greek, Roman or Arabic. These have been read and cherished in India only due to translations, Supporting the compulsory teachings of Sanskrit will only encourage fundamentalism."