PIL on Hindi and Sanskrit Prayers in Schools

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India has always been known as a land of diversities – be it cultures, languages, food, attires, religions, communities, castes, festivals and way of life. In recent times it may also be true to say that India is a land of needless controversies. It seems to have become a national pastime to generate controversies – mostly out of nothing. Controversies have become so entrenched in our daily life that at times one wonders if we will ever get up one morning and be able to say “ah there is no controversy today”. While diversities make a society rich in more ways than one, unfortunately needless controversies only hurt a society to no end. Frivolous controversies have a knack of destroying the very fabric of a society by preying on the richness imbibed in it by its diversities. This is what India is witnessing today on a daily basis. It will be pointless to blame a few or any particular part of the society. The problem is very deep rooted and affects the entire society.

The latest controversy to hit the nation is the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed in Supreme Court a few days ago where in a resident of Madhya Pradesh has submitted that singing of Hindi and Sanskrit prayers in government aided schools like Kendriya Vidyalyas (KV) violates constitutional rights of individuals since it amounts to encouraging a particular religion – read Hinduism. Interestingly the petition is filed by a Hindu by name of Veenayak Shah whose children completed their studies in a KV. It may be an entirely another matter that this gentleman would have run from pillar to post to secure admission for his wards in a KV a few years back. At the time of seeking admissions, he would have happily agreed if told that his wards would have to sing their daily prayers in Swahili language. But now that his children have completed their education he finds that singing daily prayers in Hindi or Sanskrit violate the constitutional rights of the children. That is Indian hypocrisy at its best.

The basic question here is should schools at all have a prayer in the morning? Considering Indian culture over the centuries and Indian way of life, the answer to this will have to be in the affirmative. Next question is given India’s diversity in terms of language and religions what would be the best way to go about having a prayer in a school in the morning. Should the school divide the students as per their language or religion and hold separate prayers? This would obviously not be a feasible solution given the variety of religions and languages that are spoken in India. This will also not be the right approach since the seeds of a divisive society will be sown in young minds that represent the future of India. There can be no two opinions that a common assembly for prayer is the only option for any school.

If that be so then which language would be most appropriate for prayers in schools? Will it be the one spoken by most students or the one that has the potential to be the national language of the nation? Will it not be in fitness of things to select a language that is not only spoken by most number of people in the country but also has the added advantage of being understood by those who do not speak it fluently? In fact if this figure was to be quantified today one can safely say that at least 98% (if not 100%) of Indian population understands Hindi while majority of them speak it too. If one goes by this logic then there can be no two opinions and in India this language has to be Hindi since English will come a distant second in this list. If along with Hindi, one were to add a dose of Sanskrit, which is the mother of most Indian regional languages, then the combination does appear to offer the best choice for the nation. Further if any language has the potential to unite the nation by becoming a common language (sceptics notwithstanding) in times to come then that has to be Hindi supported by English for specific needs. Regional and other languages will always have a limited scope and special efforts will be required to preserve them as part of local heritage.

It is important that children are taught to live together where not only they learn from each other but also understand and respect each other’s way of life including beliefs. Segregation, for whatever reasons it may be, from the school level will leave indelible marks on young minds that will be against the interests of a harmonious society where people can live together amicably. As it is Indian society is appearing more and more fragmented in recent times and if segregation becomes a norm at school then the nation can never hope to achieve the goal of a harmonious society in the future. Frankly this PIL is frivolous to say the least. If ever there was a need for a common language for prayers it is in schools like the Kendriya Vidyalyas which were designed to admit students from the floating population of the country whose job takes them from one end of the country to the other every few years. Surely it will not be in order for a government employee’s child to be forced to sing the Morning Prayer in a different language every time his parents relocate to a new place. Do we want that child to flop like a fish out of water and feel embarrassed every time he joins a new school?

Hindi and some bits and pieces of Sanskrit are part of Indian life in more ways than we can even imagine. Our government works on the principle of ‘Satyameva Jayate’ meaning truth alone triumphs, the Supreme Court’s motto is ‘Yato Dharmas Tato Jayah’ which means whence truth thence justice and National Council of Education and Training works on ‘Vidyay? Amrutamashnuté’ which means immortality through knowledge. Similarly Indian Army, Navy, Air Force and other important national organisations and institutions have mottos derived from Sanskrit and Hindi words. Does that imply that they are all promoting Hindu religion? Nothing could be more absurd. If not Hindi or Sanskrit then from which other language will India and its institutions borrow their guiding principles? One fails to understand why the honourable Supreme Court even takes cognisance of such frivolous petitions that waste national time, resources and attack the very ethos of the nation. It is time the courts deal with such petty minded petitioners in an exemplary manner whose sole aim is to undermine their own nation.

We Indians are not each other’s enemies. The real enemies are the people behind the curtains who pull the strings and try to divide us by religion, caste and language to further their selfish and myopic agendas at the cost of the nation. Of late India and Indian society is in turmoil with religion, community and caste based rivalries taking centre stage. Such PILs only add fuel to the already burning fires. If we want a prosperous nation where peace and tranquillity rule instead of strife, fear and mistrust then we must free ourselves from the confines of our communities, religions and castes and develop a national perspective in anything and everything that we think or do. Could there be a better place to make a beginning in this direction than the schools where future of India resides? A common prayer to the Almighty, in a language that nearly all Indians understand, will indeed be a very good start.

Saroj Chadha, an engineering professional, is a successful entrepreneur. Having retired from the Indian Army after having served for over 23 years, he has also been a consultant for leading Indian and Multinational electrical companies. He lives in New Delhi.

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