One of the major stress areas of the National Education Policy 2020, NEP-2020, is the decompartmentalization of different streams of knowledge. The ideals of pedagogy that it envisages also leans heavily on an understanding of the science of brain development in the school and college learning as well as anticipation of the skills and knowledges modern life, and therefore market, would demand. This is quite contrary to expectations that its recommendations would be heavily inclined towards the saffron ideology of the ruling party in the country, popularly defined as Hindutva, or roughly “Hindu-ness”, glorifying its myths of origin and supposed past brilliance, worship of cows included. NEP-2020 does of course talk about ensuring students do not lose touch with the cultures and traditions of India, and does prominently mention the need to popularise the study of Sanskrit, undoubtedly a rich language, and the root of many Indian language, especially those of North India, but it does not say only Sanskrit. It acknowledges the cultural and linguistic diversity of India, and along with Sanskrit, it calls for enlivening the study of the roots of other languages in India too. It does not of course go to the extent of indicating there are many languages which have much longer antiquity on Indian soil than Sanskrit, a language now known to have been brought to India by pastoral nomadic Aryan migrants from the Steppes, whose genes match those of high class North Indian Hindus closely. Indeed, it is now known that the earliest users of Rig Vedic Sanskrit were the Mitanni clan in Northern Syria. The latest evidence of even the Harappan Civilisation, or Indus Valley Civilisation as it is also known as, indicate it originally belonged not to the Aryans but Dravidians, and this is yet again reinforced by the contentious genome research on an ancient skeleton found at Rakhigarhi excavation site in Haryana. But regardless of who was here first, there can be no denying Sanskrit is the root of a good majority of Indian languages, including importantly, languages of the Hindi belt.
But can Sanskrit gain colloquial status in India again? Very unlikely. The only place in the world where an archaic and disused language has been revived and given colloquial currency is in Israel, where Hebrew has been made the national language, but here too it is Modern Hebrew, not the Hebrew of the Biblical era. Even if successfully revived, Sanskrit’s importance probably will be restricted to the status of Latin in the context of European languages, therefore, as in the case of Latin, Sanskrit’s relevancy would probably remain epistemological, in that it will be an important tool in the search for the roots of meanings of words. It would also probably have a philosophical and ontological significance in the search for deeper understandings of cultures and traditions within the Sanskrit linguistic fold. But just as Latin would have little relevance in the study of Japanese or Swahili linguistic worlds, in India too there are many linguistic communities beyond the Sanskrit fold, and in the understanding of their own inner world, Sanskrit will remain alien. Wider knowledge of Sanskrit will be good to the extent that many modern Indian languages which descended from it, in particular Hindi which is the dominant language of the country. There can of course be no argument that the knowledge of Hindi is important for everybody in India. It must however be noted here too, that for many students in places like Manipur, acquiring proficiency in Hindi itself needs considerable effort and energy, so to think of them also learning Sanskrit to understand the nuances of Hindi seems a little too overstretched and superfluous, therefore quite unlikely to meet much success. Under the circumstance, the Manipur government’s declared intent to introduce Sanskrit in its school and college curricula, seems to be determined by a surrogate, servile and sycophant mindset to grovel when only asked to bow, than by any serious and reasoned consideration of what can constitute meaningful pursuit of knowledge for students here. It will do good for the government to remember that while the NEP-2020 does talk about the richness of Sanskrit and the desirability to encourage its study, it also says nothing about making it mandatory. Its emphasis is also not just on Sanskrit, but also the root languages of all other linguistic traditions in India. To reiterate the point, the foundation that NEP-2020 chooses for itself is science and not myths. If myths and mythology are important, this is so only when placed in context and understood and interpreted from a scientific vantage.
But in the Manipur Government’s enthusiasm to please their bosses in Delhi, it would be appropriate for it to recall there are so much more to the 60-page policy document talks of than Sanskrit. One major welcome departure the NEP-2020 makes is in the intent to discontinue the ageing outlook in Indian school and university curricula to rigidly segment different streams of knowledge pursuits. So far, school syllabuses have been designed so as to ensure that by the time students reach higher secondary level, they are prepared to either enter the science or the arts stream, and from then on to discourage any crossovers of one to the other. And by the time they are in college, the policy has been for further segmentation of both the science as well as arts streams into different and somewhat exclusive disciplines of higher studies. In the exact sciences, this is somewhat understandable, for indeed, the specialisation becomes so sharp that overlapping areas get progressively narrower as students go deeper into their disciplines. It is for anybody to imagine how different studies of astronomy would be from those of genetic science, or the study of gravity would be from those of the chemical properties of rare elements. Hence while it makes sense to design the pursuit of fundamental disciplines of the sciences to take separate routes, the same can hardly be said of the humanities and social sciences. Indeed, there are so much overlaps here, so much so that it is difficult to see how the study of history can be completely independent of the study of political science, or how the study of psychology can be complete without deep travels into literature. It cannot be a coincidence that some of the most interesting case studies in psychoanalysis are of literary characters, and one needs not go any further than the notion of Freudian “Oedipus Complex”, borrowed straight out of the Sophoclean Greek Tragedy of “Oedipus Rex”, to see this interrelatedness. Likewise, can philosophy be completely divested from what science establishes as verifiable objective reality? It is encouraging to see in the new NEP-2020, these tendencies for convergence of different disciplines of higher studies are acknowledged, rather believe they cannot but be on divergent paths as in the past.
Also welcome is the structuring of the NEP-2020, especially in preschool, nursery and primary school section in accordance to the scientific knowledge of the pattern of human brain development in the early years. It must however be said, this new outlook is nothing new in much of the developed world. Indeed, even in India, outside of the government’s own schools, this is a system (often also referred to as the Montessori approach) already in vogue in the private schools. But as they say, better late than never. The assumption in this new approach is, till about age six, a child’s brain is best suited for developing motor and cognitive skills. Hence, education at this stage is designed to be more about pattern and shape recognition as well as their relatedness. It is also about training in coordinated movements of body parts through physical play, and linguistic training through songs and rhymes. The NEP-2020 hence lays great stress on active incorporation of the Anganwadi Centres set up under the Integrated Child Development Scheme, ICDS, of the Central Government, in the preschool programme. At age five, after one year at preparatory school or nursery, primary school schools will take over at about age six, where education will begin to focus on acquisition of ability of reading, writing, counting, arithmetic and abstract mathematic thinking etc. Knowledge of culture, history, civic lessons, arts and sciences etc., will come in progressively at higher classes. Emphasis is also laid on incorporating vocational education suited to new age employment demands of the market in the higher classes. All in all, the approach to education at all level is largely based on current scientific knowledge of the development trajectory of the human brain, and how to optimally feed it with knowledge that would promote the progress of the society at large. And yet, instead of thinking how best to incorporate these features into the Manipur’s education system, the government is quick to announce its political servility by declaring Sanskrit adoption strategies in its schools and colleges, as if this is the most important feature of NEP-2020.
Editor, Imphal Review of Arts and Politics and author