ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Dalits and Sanskrit

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This refers to the Aditya Nigam’s article (November 25) and the response of Shanmuganathan (December 30). Two related news reports attracted my attention recently. A dalit leader from Maharashtra called upon his followers to learn Sanskrit and vedas. Another from Tamil Nadu asks, however, for the killing of Sanskrit.

Sanskrit is an ancient Indian language. It is not the property of the brahmins or of Hindus alone. We have allowed it to stagnate while the whole world appreciates its importance. It was thoughtful of the government to have observed last year as the year of Sanskrit. I am one of the generations which lost the opportunity to learn Sanskrit because the denominational school in which I was admitted chose to leave out Sanskrit. Even those brahmins and other castes who have no knowledge of Sanskrit must begin to learn this language. Sanskrit needs to be learnt by all irrespective of their castes. It is from this point of view that I appreciate the Maharashtra dalit leader’s positive and bold approach. Be that as it may, the exhortation to dalits to read Sanskrit and vedas is not to be viewed merely as a panacea for the evils of the caste system. Let us not imagine that his woes would end by reading Sanskrit alone. The windows of learning have to be fully open, access to primary, secondary and higher and technical education and more importantly access to jobs including those involving knowledge-based skills. The basic objective in what the Maharashtra dalit leader preaches is that the windows for the dalits should be opened fully without let or hindrance. It indicates a positive attitude.

Integration fully is not achieved in a generation or by political diktats. It is achieved over centuries by positive and well-meaning steps by the communities concerned. Let us in the new millennium begin taking effective steps to accelerate the integration of the dalits into the other castes. This will be our small but effective contribution to our society. Perhaps in some distant future there will be a casteless Hindu society where all are equal. I do appreciate Shanmuganathan’s anguish. Tamil films like ‘Thevar Magan’, ‘Chinna Kounder’ exalt feudalism of the upper castes. Equally disturbing is the attitude of nadars, a hardworking and successful trading community who chose to fight a legally valid takeover of Tamil Nadu Mercantile Bank raising the casteist bogey.

Brahmins and other castes have the moral duty to ensure that the dalits are integrated with them. It is a long-term process. But let us in this generation take positive steps towards this by educating the dalits, opening the window for education and jobs. Such positive steps will be more useful and beneficial for the dalit community than the esoteric academic literature dealing with the subject. Essentially, it is for the dalit to choose the appropriate path for his progress and not be misled by those who talk of killing Sanskrit and incite inter-caste hatred. Tamil Nadu has throughout been a progressive state. It is a matter of concern that casteist outfits are raising their ugly head for short-term political gains. There are forces outside that are determined to exploit our weaknesses to create schisms within us. We have to guard against being exploited. The earlier the mainstream political parties and social scientists realise this, the better it is for building a stronger India.

S Subramanyan

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