Should Sanskrit be taught in Indian schools

India : Hindu nationalist government slows down "German in 1000 schools"

It is Germany's most ambitious future project in India: one million Indian schoolchildren are to learn German by 2022. But now the pilot project “German in 1000 schools”, which was started three years ago, could suddenly end. India's new government under the Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi has so far hesitated to extend the project. The reason is a lawsuit by the Sanskrit teachers who oppose the language competition.

Almost 80,000 children are already learning German

For the Germans who would like to expand their relations with India, an up-and-coming economy, that would be a major setback. Since 2011, pupils from the state school chain Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan (KVS), which primarily addresses the children of state employees and has 1,000 branches across India, have been able to choose German as a third language. So far, the offer has been a success, the rush is great. Almost 80,000 children are now learning German at around 500 schools. More are to follow. The Goethe-Institut has already trained 700 German teachers in quick courses. The Federal Foreign Office is funding the project - not unselfishly, of course. The language courses are not only intended to bring the two nations, which are thousands of kilometers away, closer to each other. Berlin also hopes that well-trained Indians will one day alleviate the expected shortage of skilled workers in Germany.

The background is a complaint by the Sanskrit teachers

But now India surprisingly slowed the German offensive. The lessons continue for the time being. But the Ministry of Education is currently refusing to extend the Memorandum of Understanding (MoE) for a further three years, even though this was actually supposed to happen on the occasion of Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier's visit in September.

The background to this is a lawsuit by the Sanskrit teachers who protest against the German lessons. The project was a thorn in their side from the start. Because while the German classes fill up, the Sanskrit lessons empty. An offer from the KV schools to the Sanskrit teachers to train them as German teachers was rejected. Instead, their association “Sanskrit Shikshan Sangh” took them to court last year. The allegation of the educators: The schools had illegally replaced Sanskrit with German. This not only violates the curriculum, but also against India's constitution.

Does the German program violate the constitution?

In fact, the curriculum provides for the so-called “three-language formula”. Then the students should learn Hindi, English and another Indian language. Until now this was mostly the time-honored Sanskrit. Although only 14,000 of the 1.2 billion Indians speak Sanskrit, no other language is so deeply interwoven with Indian culture and identity. To this day, Sanskrit is considered the "holy language" of the Hindus. Ancient religious scriptures such as the Vedas are written in Sanskrit; services, weddings and funeral rituals are held in Sanskrit.

"Foreign languages ​​such as German, French, Russian and Chinese are promoted at the expense of Sanskrit," the Sanskrit advocates complained in court. This would "cause irreparable damage to Sanskrit and Indian culture". As a result, the next generation would no longer “acquire knowledge of Sanskrit and the rich ancient culture of India”. The KVS leadership defended the German program. She says it will advance students' future careers. German also seems to be more attractive for many parents and students. They hope for better job opportunities in a globalized economy.

The government wants to revive India's culture

India's Ministry of Education has now swung into the line of Sanskrit teachers - especially since the Hindu nationalist government has made it its mission to revive and preserve India's culture. Still, there is hope that the project will continue. According to the Indian media, the Indian Ministry of Education is now looking for a compromise that takes into account the concerns of the Sanskrit teachers, but at the same time saves the German program. The Foreign Office also remains “confident” that the program will continue, as Deutsche Welle quoted a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry.

Now new: We give you 4 weeks of Tagesspiegel Plus! To home page