Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Smriti Irani, IIT, Sanskrit, more...


Disclaimer: I am not a BJP supporter. I am not against BJP. 

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Smriti Irani has outdone herself by asking IITs to teach Sanskrit. Obviously, Twitter found its new trend (quite rightly so); I had joined the bandwagon, and had tweeted, ridiculing her; and shared the news on Facebook. Having fulfilled my moral obligation, I felt like that man from the Raymond commercial.

Not very long back, I had a discussion with a friend — a soul way more rational than I am. A curious character, this woman: I mean, who spends time reading when you can act like complete morons on social media?

This is why I am often sceptic when talking to her. She ruins my shares, my tweets, by throwing irrefutable data at me. For example, in this case, she pointed out to me two facts:

1. There has been no order. It was just a request.
2. She has asked to offer Sanskrit as an elective subject, not compulsory.

Did we actually try to cross-check exactly what she had said? This is from The Hindu: “IITs have been requested to offer Sanskrit as an elective subject or as a language course for students who wish to study the language.”

The Hindu was not the only news organisation that covered this. This was a PTI copy, filed by Zee News, India Today, The Times of India, Business Standard, etc.

Hang on, the quote sounds just about fine. There is nothing wrong in requesting an institute to offer an elective course.

But my inner jingoist was not willing to accept all this nonsense. Why IITs? Why do IITs need this?

It is nothing new, I was told: IIT Bombay has a Sanskrit department for some time now...

So I did some research. IIT Kanpur had been at Project Valmiki Ramayana for over a decade now. Back in 2012 they had also offered “Learn to speak Sanskrit in 10 days” classes.

There was a proposal to offer Sanskrit as an optional course in IIT Delhi as early as in 2000.

Here is an excerpt from the URL: “IIT has decided to concentrate on the scientific areas. One text which will be taught will be the Astadhyayi, the grammar of Sanskrit which is responsible for the modern linguistic sciences and is supposed to be the forerunner of artificial intelligence. The programme will also conduct research into the use of Sanskrit as a ‘programming language’. Sanskrit is almost like a computer language. The traditional scholar is a species which is dying out. Something had to be done. We want to give our students an opportunity with Sanskrit studies.

Note: You may want to read more on Sanskrit computational languages. This is not too boring.

Hang on, that does not sound too bad!

Was Ms Irani’s suggestion was based on the same ground? I have no clue.

Was Ms Irani’s suggestion (intentional or otherwise) a poor one? Hell, no! Nobody is being forced here. If someone wants to take up an optional course, who will be harmed?

If a champion scientist wants to master a classical language in addition to his IIT workload, what is the harm?

But wait, that voice, now small but not quite silenced, why do Indians have to go through all this for the sake of an ancient language?

What do the other Universities, technological ones, do? MIT, for example, offers Latin; Caltech does the same; ETH Zurich offers Latin as well as Ancient Greek.

Additionally, Caltech offers ‘informal classes’ in Sanskrit; and there is actually an MIT group that goes by the name MIT Sanskritam.

So, what is the issue? Why did we actually go all-out against Ms Irani when she proposed the inclusion of Sanskrit as an elective in IITs?

I, seriously, have no clue. Maybe some others can throw some light.

Maybe nothing good will transpire out of this. Maybe the entire effort will be a futile one.

But what if some scholars, willing to pursue Sanskrit to the next level, benefit out of this? What if their classmates are inspired to write more, write better?

I wonder what made Ms Irani strive for a better understanding of classics, of literature among IIT students. Do you, my dear readers, have an idea?

30 comments:

  1. There may not be anything wrong with this one per se but the problem is that ms. Irani and her government is that they are silently cutting funds for research and privatizing the
    education sector. All these are being done with decoys in the forefront like this. And then again, you cannot unconnect the dots and ignore that this is a part of the scheme of aryanization process which is being forced down everyone's throat. Learning a language is fine as long as it is NOT a part of propaganda. And this is the problem with 'data'. They are not good enough to prove a point. They cannot be taken at face value

    ReplyDelete
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    1. >> There may not be anything wrong with this one per se
      We agree
      >> And this is the problem with 'data'. They are not good enough to prove a point. They cannot be taken at face value
      We disagree. Data is never biased. Data is neither right- nor left-wing. Human beings are. Data always proves. Whether we are willing to accept that proof is another thing.

      Delete
    2. Data , as a whole is unbiased.
      However, when segregated from other relevant data, it means little, and is often biased.

      Over the last two budgets, Gov't funding for research has been gradually reduced,proving the Gov't may not be that intent on Indigenous research work per se.
      Also, the premise that Sanskrit is bereft of ambiguity, and hence,more suited to programming than any other language is faulty.
      Almost any language now can be used for programming, neither is Sanskrit unambiguous.
      Also, anybody who has studied in the IITs will know, an elective is not an elective, as it is often allocated on CGPA.

      Delete
    3. >> When segregated from other relevant data, it means little, and is often biased.
      Did I actually do that?
      >> Also, the premise that Sanskrit is bereft of ambiguity, and hence,more suited to programming than any other language is faulty.
      Why?

      Delete
    4. Abhijit Bhattacharya has nicely summed up my point. Yes you did segregate the data. That was my whole point. I sadly find this an apologist take.

      Delete
    5. What was your whole point? :O
      >> I sadly find this an apologist take.
      Again, to each his (her, in case you spot sexism) own. :)

      Delete
  2. I share the same disclaimer as you but it seems to hold no value these days. :(
    Regarding your question, I find that nowadays anything told by anyone remotely connected to the Government is met with hitherto unprecedented levels of bloodthirstiness. I am not a BJP fan, but I am willing to give this Govt a chance. I can’t say the same about the general population on social media. Also, sane voices like yours are few and far between.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. >> I am not a BJP fan, but I am willing to give this Govt a chance.
      Phew. I, too, am willing to give this Govt a chance, but then, my patience is running out as well.
      Yes, a chunk of the social media population — irrespective of their political stance — is rabid. Thankfully, the Unfollow button is there on both Facebook and Twitter.

      Delete
  3. Except sex education,everyhing they teach is utter garbage.
    And if sanskrit were introduced,suicide rate among iitians would surely shoot up. We are living in wonderland.

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  4. Sanskrit is the mother of all languages.
    We must respect mother.
    Hence.

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  5. The problem is actually much bigger. In the article in "The Hindu" it says that the IITs have been asked to study science and technology as reflected in sanskrit literature. This is a joke. It is a joke even if you replace sanskrit by english. There is a place to study history of science. And an undergraduate course is not for that. Are you familiar with the event recently where baimanik shastra was presented in Indian science congress? There is an essay by Meghnad Saha named "sob i bad-e ache" . Have you read that? Also look up PC Roy's book on ancient hindu chemistry. The history of science as studied from sanskrit texts has been done and is being done. What this govt wants in the name of teaching sanskrit is to pollute young minds with nonsense from idiotd like Ramdev. Do you know he has lectured in IIT Delhi?

    Disclaimer: I am a BJP hater. Our prime minister is as much a murderer as Surawardi was.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is an elective course. What is wrong with that?

      Delete
    2. It does not matter whether it is an elective or not. Sanskrit as a language is totally neglected in universities, which is a shame. The govt. do not care about that. My worry is that in the name of sanskrit this course will teach distorted history of science. Think about a course in ISI that teaches that the clue to proving the Goldbach conjecture lies in atharba-vedas and Ramanujam was a great mathematician because he was a vegetarian. How would you like that?

      Delete
    3. >> My worry is that in the name of sanskrit this course will teach distorted history of science.

      And IITians would buy that? :O

      Delete
    4. You do not 'buy' a course you just sit through it. Also why not ? What does most IITans know about history of science ? IITs are just moderately good engineering schools. The goal of the govt is two-fold. First, this would influence certain impressionable students who would then parrot the stuff that were taught in this course as truth. The second is to give credibility to the pseudo-scientists who would teach such courses. I have dealt with a lot of IIT students. They generally have reasonably good skills in elementary mathematics and physics. But (as I also mentioned in my other response) they are a just kids. I know quite a lot of scientists working in various institutes in India including IITs and IISc. Some of them are quite superstitious, some of the believe in astrology, some of them believes non-veg food is impure. Have you not met such people in your daily life ? The strange thing about scientists is that in their daily life most of them are just normal people with their own insecurities. The 'science' is a job description not a philosophy to them. I would not be surprised is the suggestions for such a course originally came even from some member of faculty. A fraction (although small) of teachers in IITs are people who believe in such things, including astrology. Even then, at present a large number of scientists in India are quite worried about the approach our govt. is taking. But most of them are relatively quiet because they have to support a family through a govt. job in this environment.

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    5. >> What does most IITians know about history of science ?
      I really cannot comment on this, but I think making assumptions based on small datasets may be harsh.

      >> First, this would influence certain impressionable students who would then parrot the stuff that were taught in this course as truth. The second is to give credibility to the pseudo-scientists who would teach such courses.
      They are IIT students. They are not schoolboys. Why will they parrot?

      >> Some of them are quite superstitious, some of the believe in astrology, some of them believes non-veg food is impure. Have you not met such people in your daily life?
      I live in (Navi) Mumbai. I have had my lifetime's quota of these people, thank you. :)

      But these are mostly counterpoints. I believe IITians will not take up the elective.

      Delete
  6. How many IITians have been seen to protest the inclusion of Sanskrit? Have you seen any protests in IIT, IIM, AIIMS? These are the students who want to study, and are doing a bloody good job at that.
    It is extremely fashionable these days to criticize the current government. Same level of fashion as kurtas from Fabindia and sarees from Satya Paul. Especially by people who embark on an endless pursuit of PhD, and their supporters.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. >> How many IITians have been seen to protest the inclusion of Sanskrit? Have you seen any protests in IIT, IIM, AIIMS?

      Explain that to the world. :)

      Delete
    2. It is because most IITan s are not politically conscious. Quite a lot of ex iitans do protest it.

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    3. But... are the IITians not the ones who will be impacted the most? Should the biggest voice of protest come from them, if they sense anything wrong?

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    4. What would you have done when you were a student ? Myself, I would have just stopped taking that elective. Or have taken that because it would be an easy one but have just slept through it. Protesting something like that is too much of a bother. Also I do not think encouraging student to decide on what they are going to be taught is not a good idea. The protest should come from the academics, who teach at the IITs at the moment. Or any other science teacher, like me. Do you remember that the last time the BJP government was in power they gave instructions to teach Astrology ?

      You seem to have a great respect for the maturity of IIT students, they are just 19 year old kids not very different from any other university students.

      Delete
    5. >> You seem to have a great respect for the maturity of IIT students, they are just 19 year old kids not very different from any other university students.
      I do not have great respect for the maturity of IIT students. I simply believe in smart 19-year olds. It will probably be erroneous for me, (exactly) double that age, to underestimate them. I may not be equipped enough. Age may not necessarily have made me matured enough.

      >> What would you have done when you were a student ? Myself, I would have just stopped taking that elective. Or have taken that because it would be an easy one but have just slept through it.
      Precisely. I believe most IITians will do the same. They will mostly sleep through it and not bother. Let the elective happen. As long as nobody takes it seriously, why bother?

      >> Do you remember that the last time the BJP government was in power they gave instructions to teach Astrology?
      Yes. You can see how effective that has been. :)

      Delete
  7. I think the situation is a little more complicated than what you describe, and my personal reaction on just reading your post was also in between getting totally outraged and thinking this is fine.

    Let us look at this from the direct perspective of a student: Does having this as an option as an elective make his or her life any better or any worse? While the first is possible (though unless things have changed, I think this would be a miniscule population) if the student wants
    to learn Sanskrit, it cannot make one's life worse, assuming that other options are available as electives.
    Thus, having this as an elective is directly harmless at worst to an individual. I notice that you ask whether current IIT students protest, because they will be impacted. I think this is not even technically true. For this to come into fruition will take time and many of the current students will not be seeing this at all.

    However, such things require resources (not just money), and we all know that resources everywhere are finite and limited, and therefore prioritization of things one wants is imperative. So, the important question is not whether this move is harmless but whether it makes sense in terms of priorities, whether it falls into a well-thought of plan which makes sense.
    And this is what makes people uneasy. Is this a simple step which is part of a good plan, a simple step which does not fit into any plan or vision (could this be a high priority then?) or is this part of some sinister plan (and I am afraid this possibility cannot be done away with).

    Personally, I am quite open to having premiere college/university educational institutions provide better opportunities for all-round education, rather than being very restricted to science/math/engineering, and would love to see some IITs turn into that (I know many people feel that IITs should stay as they are, and since it is a little irrelevant here, I don't want to argue on that. ). Of course, such a university would have people studying languages, and Sanskrit would be a great language that will obviously be on the curriculum, and students in other departments could potentially choose an elective in this department. So, if this is a move towards having more humanities options in IITs, perhaps that is good. But was not announced as such. In fact following up one of the comments on this post, I read the Hindu article carefully and find this sentence that the commenter alluded to: "committee headed by former CEC N Gopalaswami, had suggested that IITs may facilitate study of science and technology as reflected in Sanskrit literature, along with inter-disciplinary study of Sanskrit and modern subjects."

    I cannot find the details of the recommendations, but the one sentence summary reeks of garbage. People should study and learn Sanskrit if they enjoy it (whether it is curiosity to learn a new language, to enjoy and appreciate the language literature and culture of an era, or even for something one might call hollow: oneupmanship among their peers), and there is no reason why the above set of people should not include science/engineering/(whatever) students, but not to study 'science and technology in the Sanskrit era'. I think this is worthy of the highest form of condemnation and outrage, and seriously hope that you reconsider your position by basing it not just on the move itself, but factors such as what was behind it, and how this fits into a broader vision.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your last paragraph, RGB, is more insightful than anything I have come across in the past week or so.

      I will get back. I need to think more.

      Delete
    2. Thank you for being open to rethinking! And I would be interested in knowing what your views will be.

      Delete

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