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The Public Ignoramus - Why should IITs teach Sanskrit? Or any other Language? Or Literature? Or History?

The Public Ignoramus

All too predictable — we seem to have gone through this countless times in recent years. No sooner had the ministry of human resource development (MHRD) issued a circular to Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) encouraging them to initiate teaching activities centred on Sanskrit and in particular on texts of science and technology, than some of our politicians and “public intellectuals”, valorous albeit Quixotic saviours of the country’s intellectual landscape, rose as one man to brand it another obscurantist attempt to saffronise education. “I don’t think an IIT engineer will need Sanskrit in his profession. It is not right to force something like this,” opined a leading light of the Congress party.

Doubtless, IIT engineers will have no use for Sanskrit “in their profession”. But why stop there? They will have no use for history either and, therefore, it was wrong to “force” it upon them at school. (Let us recall how, a few years ago, an education minister in Tamil Nadu argued that history should be scrapped at school level, as it serves no purpose.) Wrong also to have our future engineers study literature or any art form. Who needs any of that and how would it help you get a fat paycheck, which arguably is the sole objective of human existence?

A few days ago, I concluded a semester course at IIT Gandhinagar with a talk entitled “What can we learn today from Indian Knowledge Systems?” (the said IKS were the theme of the course, jointly offered by nine scholars). I think I surprised the students when I showed them a photograph of the cylinder of Gujarat’s most famous stepwell and asked them, “What’s the use of a Rani ki vav?” The only possible answer (from the standpoint of our luminaries) is — no use whatsoever. A ridiculous waste of time and manpower, considering that architects and craftsmen had to bring blocks of sandstone from afar, painstakingly cut them into precisely circular sections, carve panels and sculpt hundreds of beautiful statues, lower those sections one by one into the well’s cylinder and fit them together to perfection, layer after layer, all the way to the top. Then create elaborate “steps” leading to multiple mandapas and lined with more magnificent sculpted panels, all of which must have taken decades of hard work. All this just for a well! How preposterous. Today, our technologies enable us to construct a well of pre-cast concrete rings of the same size in just a day or two. Case proved, right?

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