Mind the Language   (05 Sep 2008)

Supreme Court Justice Markandey Katju passionately lamented the criminal neglect of Urdu and Sanskrit languages. Coming from a senior authority of law, his observations deserve attention as Urdu has seen a steady decline from its days of glory that lasted until the last century. From being the lingua franca of large parts of India, Urdu is today subjected to indifference, suspicion or even hostility because of its antecedence to Persian. Justice Katju bluntly pointed out to the entirely misplaced notions of Urdu as a foreign language, or being a language of Muslims, as the primary reasons for its decline.

No such prejudices are linked to Sanskrit, and yet this ancient language is condemned to similar disregard and apathy. We are consciously walking a path where our future generations will be deprived of the two most sophisticated languages that India has ever known. Indeed, no other language lends itself as beautifully to poetry as does Urdu, while Sanskrit’s reputation as a powerful medium of communicating matters of science is known around the world. While students from abroad are making a beeline to universities in India to study Sanskrit as a window to Indian culture, both Urdu and Sanskrit are today treated as an optional subject in school-level studies in our country and most students know nothing better than to treat them as academic devil- easily gotten rid of as soon as they pass out of school.

A far greater threat to these languages is the attempt by fundamentalists to link these languages to two different communities. The only links Urdu and Sanskrit have are to Indian history and culture- there are still old-generation Hindus who speak no other language but Urdu, while a prominent Muslim like Shah Rukh Khan takes pride in teaching Sanskrit to his children since Shah Rukh Khan has studied Sanskrit upto tenth standard.

Justice Katju is a well-known Urdu and Sanskrit lover and I hope his sounding of the alarm bell will turn the spotlight on these two important symbols of our cultural heritage.

Rajeev Shukla