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The sanitising power of spoken Sanskrit March 7, 2014

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, McCartney, Patrick , comments closed

Patrick McCartney

Revived interest in Sanskrit study in India reveals patriotism and a problematic nationalism.

This extract is from the article in Himāl Southasian magazine, 27 February 2014. Read the full article

Out in north-east Delhi, nestled amidst the industrial, agricultural, and residential suburb of Mandoli, is a small compound where a committed group of Sanskrit enthusiasts live, study, teach, and speak only Sanskrit. Camps are held there year round, run by Samskrita Bharati, an organisation devoted entirely to propagating spoken Sanskrit “in every home and in every village” (grhe grhe graame graame). This motivating ideological force extends to “every city in every nation” as well (nagare nagare deshe deshe).

Samskrita Bharati is a part of the Sangh Parivar, a collection of nationalist, political, social, paramilitary, religious, and cultural organisations devoted to the furthering of its particular version of ‘patriotic’ Hinduism. The Sangh is determined to create an ideal utopian Hindu nation and world with the lingua franca being, of course, Sanskrit. Samskrita Bharati’s role in this movement is linguistic and cultural; however, it is enmeshed in the political, religious, and para-military preoccupations of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), respectively. Sanskrit is a symbolic vehicle for the ideology and practices of the Sangh Parivar. Samskrita Bharati’s mandate is to undertake the “Revival of Samskrit as a mass communication language (jaanabhaashaa) and facilitation of common man’s access to its vast knowledge treasure.”

Patrick McCartney is a PhD student at the Australian National University, Canberra. His research focuses on the manufacturing of legitimacy within a conservative Hindu organisation and their relationship to the nationalist project. 

Learning Sanskrit (Flickr/ Avanish Tiwary)

Nurturing India’s linguistic diversity October 11, 2013

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Kumar, Vikas , comments closed

Vikas Kumar

While we still do not have a definitive estimate of India’s linguistic diversity, the Summer Institute of Linguistics’ Ethnologue (17th edition) reports 461 languages from India, compared to the 122 languages with more than 10,000 speakers reported in the 2001 Census and nearly 800 languages counted by the recently concluded People’s Linguistic Survey of India. But a simple headcount could be misleading because, on the one hand, about 17% of the languages listed in the Ethnologue are extinct or endangered and, on the other, 22 languages listed in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution and their “dialects” together account for more than 95% of India’s population. Furthermore, only 10% of the languages listed in the Ethnologue are used in educational institutions, whereas less than 5% languages account for most of the publications. The rest of the languages are unable to thrive even in fields like entertainment. For instance, in recent years, the Central Board of Film Certification has received submissions in about 5% of the languages. But three languages accounted for 45% of the films produced and more than 90% of the dubbed films.


The great Hindi debate May 23, 2013

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India , comments closed

Alexandra Hansen

A public call for submissions into the Government’s Australia in the Asian Century country strategies turned into a debate on whether a focus on Asian languages was necessary for improving relations between Australia and our five priority Asian partners. Constituents from the Higher Education sector called for a focus on key Asian languages; Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Indonesian, and Korean, saying it’s impossible to do business with Asia or understand their culture if we don’t speak the same language.


Australia’s view of modern India ‘outdated’ April 23, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India , comments closed

Richard Iles, Griffith University

Indian life becomes a sluggish stream, living in the past, moving slowly through the accumulation of dead centuries—Pandit Nehru, The discovery of India (1946).

Australia needs to better understand Indian business thinking. Outdated and narrow images of India abound. However, in the world of economic thought and business practice India is dynamic, hard-edged and likely to be the source of renewed economic thought.

However, Australian business and social views of India are sluggish, not having deepened for several decades. This neglect represents decay in real terms. India has developed rapidly over the past two decades, with many other developed countries strongly investing in their relationship with India during this time.

Department of Business Management, University of Calcutta

Australian research activity focused on India, as surveyed by the Australia–India Institute (University of Melbourne), has declined steadily over several decades. The knowledge base from which the Australian business community, students and the wider community can draw to assist their investment in India has withered.


Australia–India relations and the economy of ideas March 14, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Maclean, Kama , comments closed

Kama Maclean

This article appeared in the most recent edition of the East Asia Forum Quarterly, ‘Ideas from Indiaand on East Asia Forum 9 March 2012.

At the Sydney Cricket Ground on 5 January 2012, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard spoke confidently about the upswing in Australia–India relations – which had been strained since the violent attacks on Indian students in 2009 – citing cricket as the ‘common language’ of the relationship.

In the closing days of 2011, Gillard had also helped to remove an important irritant in the bilateral relationship as she championed and pushed through a change to Australian Labor Party policy, which had precluded the sale of uranium to India.

Despite these developments, there is an urgent need to reimagine the Australia–India relationship, emphasising mutual exchange and collaboration as the means of engagement. The economy of ideas – of education, and of research and development – hold enormous potential here.


The growth of private English-medium schools in Almora February 28, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : India , comments closed

Mark Jones

The Kumaon is the little patch of the Himalaya tucked up where India, Tibet and Nepal all meet in a tangle of green hills, plunging valleys and icy peaks a few hundred kilometres Northeast of Delhi. The geographic and cultural heart of the region is the old hill town of Almora that straggles along a spur at about 1500 meters that runs off from a higher forest clad massif. The icy peaks of the great Himalaya can be seen from many places around town.

Almora is centred on a flagstone paved pedestrian market lined with many medieval buildings featuring elaborately carved wooden facades. Off the market runs a maze of alleys and galleries that bustle with life. Forest and farmland fringe the town. Almora is far from a pristine museum piece, but for those of you who have visited the Himalaya, think of it a miniature blend of old Kathmandu and old Shimla.

I have been lucky enough to be a frequent visitor to Almora over the years and regard it as in some ways my second home. I have seen it grow and change, watched the arrival of cars, satellite television, mobile phones, the internet and felt it move from isolation to integration with the global world. One of the biggest institutional changes I have noticed, particularly over the past decade, is the mushrooming of private English-medium schools. They seem to have sprouted up just about everywhere.


The South Asian Qurans September 21, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Kumar, Vikas, South Asia - General , comments closed

Vikas Kumar

The Quran has been translated from Arabic into about 100 languages, roughly 1 per cent of the known living languages of the world, whereas Islam is the religion of more than 20 per cent people in the world (and Arabic is the mother tongue of less than one-fifth of the Muslims). In contrast, partial or complete translations of the Bible are available in more than a third of the known languages. Furthermore, most of the translations of the Quran are relatively recent whereas the Bible was the first printed text in a number of languages. In fact, a great majority of the extant translations of the Quran into South Asian languages appeared after the formal disestablishment of Islam in 1858 CE, roughly a thousand years after the arrival of Islam in South Asia. The few translations that pre-date 1858 CE appeared before the establishment of Islamic power in South Asia or only after the British emerged as the de facto rulers in North and East India in the late 18th century. A similar trend can be seen in other parts of the world. In the Ottoman Europe, the Quran was translated into the Balkan languages in the 19th and 20th centuries, that is, at the very end of the centuries-long Turkish rule.

One wonders why the Mughals, Akbar and Dara, who promoted large-scale translations from Sanskrit to Persian, and the Pathan rulers of Bengal and the Bahamani rulers of Deccan, who promoted local languages, overlooked the need for South Asian language Qurans. (A Deccani translation seems to have been carried out in the 16th century, which is now unavailable.) Explanations that invoke the intrinsic untranslatability of the Quran or the theological undesirability of translation will satisfy only those committed to theo-linguistic exclusivism. In fact, there are numerous Quranic verses, which can be cited in support of the need for translation (e.g., Abraham 14.4, Marium 19.97, Ha Mim 41.44, The Smoke 44.58, and Yusuf 12.2).


Telangana redux July 15, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Stoddart, Brian , comments closed

Brian Stoddart

It is now approaching two years since Home Minister P. Chidambaram, clumsily, at least seemed to offer up the idea that the Union Government would sanction formal recognition of Telangana and carve it out of Andhra Pradesh, India’s first specifically linguistic-based state. All round uproar surrounded the announcement: Telangana supporters wanted immediate action, the Rayalaseema region inside Andhra Pradesh reprised its case; the all-Andhra groups protested. From the Manmohan Singh government’s viewpoint there was immediate political fallout because Andhra Pradesh provided a key electoral base for its very existence, and now several of those members were compromised by this development.

The immediate response was to hive the issue off to the inevitable inquiry, this one headed by Justice B. N. Srikrishna who had earlier led investigations into the Mumbai riots and the Madras High Court riots. While his committee worked away, on the ground demonstrations, strikes, boycotts and the full range of oppositional political activities developed.


Whither goest thou, Saleem Shahzad’s Pakistan June 3, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Kumar, Vikas, Pakistan , comments closed

Vikas Kumar

In January, when Ahmed Rashid commented on “Pakistan’s very unhappy new year” little did we know that Osama bin Laden would be found “hiding in plain sight” in a safe house in a garrison town close to Islamabad. Osama’s death, the subsequent “revenge” attacks, and the ongoing trial of Tahawwur Rana in the United States have put Pakistan under the spotlight like never before. But public debate has focussed entirely on the international implications of terrorist camps in Pakistan and what the international community can do to save a failing nuclear power from itself. There is hardly any discussion on whether Pakistan can save itself. And if we ignore apologists for extremists, who believe that the world rather than Pakistan has to change, then even domestic debate within Pakistan has only highlighted the impossibility of change or at least change from within. Honestly speaking, one cannot be blamed for being pessimistic about Pakistan, particularly after the gruesome murder of Syed Saleem Shahzad, an investigative journalist who was probing the relationship between the state and extremists.

The prospect of Deobandi-Wahhabi extremists taking over the Pakistani state is now giving sleepless nights to policy-makers across the world. But is it indeed time to conclude that domestic resistance to international terrorism and Islamic extremism breeding within Pakistan is impossible and the feared takeover is inevitable? Not yet, because the demographic mosaic of Pakistan rules out the possibility of countrywide dominance of extremists. Let us begin with religion. The Shias account for about a fifth of Pakistan’s population and a bewildering variety of small, heterodox Islamic communities dots the south-western, western, and northern borders of Pakistan. But even among Sunnis, the Deobandis and related Wahhabi extremists have a smaller following than their arch rivals, the Barelvis, and other traditionalist Sunni communities that are at home with Sufism.