While the country, as claimed by the incumbent government, has entered the digital age, the same establishment is decidedly going against its stated objective by offering courses at public universities that promote obscurantism and go against the very tenet of scientific temper. The same is evident from a recent proposal to introduce Vastu Shastra and similar other courses at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).
Universities are meant to advance the cause of science and not spread pseudo-sciences and superstitions in the name of preserving culture. However, that is exactly what is happening now.
Jawaharlal Nehru University’s (JNU) School of Sanskrit and Indic Studies is set to start a number of such courses. One such course is a Postgraduate Diploma in Kalpa Vedanga that will train pundits to go and perform rituals at temples. There will also be a course on Vastu Shastra. The courses are proposed to be introduced from the 2019-20 academic session. A similar attempt was made earlier when Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi was the Minister of Human Resource Development. However, the move was abandoned in the face of massive protests from students.
The Special Center for Sanskrit Studies at JNU has now been upgraded to the School of Sanskrit and Indic Studies. Prof. Girish Nath Jha, the new dean of the school, said, “The proposal was made in the first meeting of the School Coordination Committee of the School of Sanskrit and Indic Studies on February 23. The school has also proposed a Postgraduate Diploma course in Religious Tourism, aimed at promoting the rich tradition of Dhams (Hindu religious places) in the country. Similarly, a Postgraduate Diploma course in Vastu Shastra is expected to bring viable options for students to get jobs with the civil engineering companies looking for experts in Vastu Shastra.”
Such a move is contested by many on the ground that only those courses that belong to pure sciences or designated as social sciences should be taught at the universities. Ashutosh Kumar of the University of Delhi said, “It is possible that such courses are taught at the private institutions. However, when the government is not able to provide and support education in disciplines like political science or history and seats are lying vacant and seats are being cut, it has no business promoting such pseudo-sciences. Our investment in education is less than even the other developing countries, forget about the developed ones. So many commissions have recommended that it should be six percent of the GDP.”
He added, “You can’t introduce courses like these where no scientific study has been done. It’s possible that somebody can practice a particular method on his own. However, if not proved scientifically, an elected government can’t fund it. There can’t be and must not be any governmental funding of the courses, which are not recognized internationally. When you introduce these courses in institutions, you blur the line between science and anti-science. What is being attempted now is that you teach what you believe. As for example, when you say that Maharana Pratap won at Haldighati, then it’s not about studies but belief”.
The Rationale for Introducing the Courses
Prof. Jha said, “The MA course has been proposed in such a way that it would give our ancient heritage a push. A B.Sc. course in Ayurveda has also been proposed to meet the growing demand of Ayurveda practitioners. With the new courses, the school intends to break the image of Sanskrit, which is an ancient language and at the same time ultra-modern and suitable for computers”. From Yoga to Vastu Shastra to training pundits, is that what a university is supposed to teach? The question remains unanswered though.
The Opposing Voices
Prof. Ajith Kanna from the Centre for French and Francophone Studies at JNU said, “I was one of the first persons to object to the Yoga course proposed by Prof. Girish Nath Jha even before his Centre became a School. Now that I have learnt about courses such as Vastu Shastra, I am of the opinion that JNU is aiming at catering to ‘other’ needs of a particular section of the Indian population. This section seems to be popping out from the Sangh Parivar. JNU’s School of Sanskrit and Indic Studies is interested in developing courses that can feed Hindus but not its people. Therefore I strongly object to a regressive course called Vastu Shastra for two reasons – one that it is unscientific. As scientist Pramod Kumar says, ask the Vastu Shastra practitioners if they know civil engineering or architecture or the local government rules on construction or minimum standards of construction to guide people on buildings”. Second, it is gender-biased. According to Vastu Shastra, if a woman does cooking without having a bath, it will lead to poverty in the house”.
Arguably there is an opposition to such courses being introduced in the university. Is there an opposition to Sanskrit being taught at the university? The answer that one gets is no. Kavita Krishnan, an alumnus of JNU and now a leading political activist, said, “The JNU administration and its political masters are actually doing a great disservice to Sanskrit by reducing its study to training priests and promoting irrational and unscientific thought. The saffronised Sanghis make a mockery of the rich and diverse legacy of the Sanskrit language and literature, seeking to impose their own anti-intellectual nonsense in the name of Sanskrit.”
The move is being seen as a greater saffron agenda. It’s just not based on whims and fancies of a particular administrator. Such regressive ideas are intensely coming under attack from academicians.
Prof. Ajmer Singh Kajal at the Center of Indian Languages said, “Education must be secular, democratic and scientific. JNU has always met that standard. The proposal to set up the School of Indian languages was passed much earlier. Had Sanskrit been part of that school, it would have been better. I believe that education must spread reasoning in the society. Education must not be driven by the ideology of a particular government and its wishes. Education must reflect the wishes of the constitution. We should invest on things that are being researched and generated across the globe. Sadly though, we are not doing that. The education system should have place for new and modern ideas. Again, that is not happening. Sanskrit is not new to this country. But what is happening is that the government is trying to do something else in the name of Sanskrit. That is not good for any educational institution – be it JNU or any other college or university. Sanskrit is being used as a tool to spread a particular religion, obscurantism and saffron agenda. Tomorrow, will they start teaching Manusmriti in the name of Sanskrit? These are big questions.”
The administration also plans to introduce Sanskrit journalism course and a programme to train students in classical music. It has approved some new programmes and courses and now a sub-committee is drafting the additional courses. They are also adopting an “inter-disciplinary approach to study the Indian past by reading the Sanskrit text”. Once the draft is ready, it will go to the Board of Studies and presented in the next Academic Council (AC) meeting. If the AC approves the draft, the School of Sanskrit and Indic Studies intends to start the additional courses from the beginning of 2019.
There is a concerted effort to institutionalize a particular belief system without any scientific examination. There is also an effort to muffle questions. The courses being introduced have no connection with Sanskrit as a matter of fact. Indology is studied scientifically and that must be the route.
Reporting by Kumar Dhananjay Editorial Consultant, Delhi