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Sanskrit as a link language for imparting scientific knowledge

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Photo: @PratyashaNithin

By Nithin Sridhar

A language is the backbone of a nation, its identity, heritage, and culture. This is so because, a language acts as a medium to sustain, express, and transmit the knowledge and wisdom of the particular society. Thus, languages are not only tools for communication, but are also abodes of knowledge systems developed by a society. They act as carriers that keep the knowledge systems alive and transmit them to future generation.

India has been made rich in its culture and heritage by numerous languages that have taken birth in this land. But, among all the Indian languages, there is one language- Sanskrit that has historically played a unique role of being a mother, a link between various regional language speakers, and an abode of scientific knowledge.

The role of Sanskrit as a mother is well recognized. She has been a nourishing mother who has always assisted various regional languages in evolving themselves. The role of Sanskrit in the past as a link language is also well recognized. But, it is often ignored that Sanskrit was not only the repository to religious and philosophical knowledge, but also to Math, Science, Astronomy, and other secular subjects.

In a 2009 lecture delivered at Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, Markandey Katju says: “There is a misconception about the Sanskrit language that it is only a language for chanting mantras in temples or religious ceremonies. However, that is less than 5% of the Sanskrit literature. More than 95% of the Sanskrit literature have nothing to do with religion, and instead it deals with philosophy, law, science, literature, grammar, phonetics, interpretation, etc. In fact, Sanskrit was the language of free thinkers, who questioned everything, and expressed the widest spectrum of thoughts on various subjects. In particular, Sanskrit was the language of our scientists in ancient India

The astronomical and mathematical achievements of Aryabhata, Bhaskaracharya, etc., the medical discoveries of Charaka, Sushruta, etc., the philosophical world-views of Darshanas, were all expressed and transmitted through Sanskrit. Despite having diverse regional languages, India of the past was well connected in terms of communication and there was a free flow of knowledge- religious, secular, and scientific, thanks to Sanskrit.

With the advent of the British, Sanskrit was slowly, but in a planned manner, rooted out of Indian education and academia and was replaced by English. The traditional gurukulas which were repositories of Indian knowledge systems were replaced by English schools and hence, through thorough planning and meticulous implementation, the Indian education system was completely colonized and westernized.

This colonization of education has today resulted in generations after generations of Indians who are not only disconnected to indigenous heritage, culture, and philosophy but are also largely unaware of Indian scientific traditions and knowledge systems.

The present education system and academia entertain a study, research, and imparting of scientific knowledge only in English. This has helped Indians to connect with the global scientific community and build upon western scientific research, but at the same time Indians have become alien to their own indigenous scientific knowledge.

There have been many calls for imparting education in schools in vernacular languages. There is a great merit in this as children who are largely taught in English, are imbibing values that are alien to India. The English education has further impressed upon youths that everything Indian is superstition and regressive and everything western is liberal and modern.

The result has been disastrous politically, socially, ecologically, spiritually, and even scientifically. Thus, in order to reclaim the Indian identity and create Indian narrative, many spiritualists, scholars, and nationalists have time and again given a call for imparting primary and secondary education in mother tongues.

There is a great merit in imparting education in native languages. But, using native languages to impart primary education in math and science is accompanied by various issues and complications for the students.

First, the education at graduate and post-graduate levels are imparted in English alone. Hence, a person who has studied in the regional language medium will find it very difficult to study during graduation. Thus, students who studied in regional language mediums will be at a great disadvantage.

Second, if regional languages are introduced as a medium to teach in graduation and post-graduation level, that will again give rise to a few complications. The regional languages are largely devoid of means for imparting higher scientific subjects, be it math, physics, medicine, or engineering subjects. Further, if people in different states study and do research in different languages, then there will no free flow of scientific knowledge within India. That will be a huge obstacle to scientific advancement.

Thus, imparting primary and secondary education in mother tongues has serious practical issues and may curtail scientific research and advancement. These practical issues can be easily overcome by introducing a link language that is not only suitable for scientific purposes, but also has a harmonious relationship with the regional languages. And among all Indian languages, only Sanskrit fits the requirement.

Sanskrit had successfully nourished various regional languages, preserved Indian world-views, and had ensured a free flow of scientific knowledge in the past. And Sanskrit alone is equipped to accomplish it again in the present.

Thus, the Sanskrit Commission set up by the Government of India in 1956 observes: “in course of time, the prospective All-India Language — Bharati Bhasa — at least in its written norm, which would be acceptable to all regions of India, especially in the higher reaches of education and literary activity, will be a form of simple and modernized Sanskrit.”

More stories on Sanskrit:

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If you look carefully at English you will see Sanskrit hidden everywhere: Jeffrey Armstrong

Let’s revive Sanskrit in correct manner

All hail Sanskrit – the most perfect language ever

Why Sanskrit Channel is a good idea for the language as well as for the country

  • govikannan

    //The traditional gurukulas which were repositories of Indian knowledge systems were replaced by English schools //
    only male higher cast people studied in those gurukulas, what about woman, poor lower cast and dalits ? is there any school for them before Christian machineries ?

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  • govikannan

    //The traditional gurukulas which were repositories of Indian knowledge systems were replaced by English schools //
    only male higher cast people studied in those gurukulas, what about woman, poor lower cast and dalits ? is there any school for them before Christian machineries ?

Next Story

Biotechnology Can Meet The Growing Energy Needs Of Rural India

The Indian economy also has a distinct advantage with respect to its demography that can ensure sustained growth for the sector.

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biotechnology
Indian biotechnology industry has flourished over the years. As of 2016, India had over a thousand biotechnology start-ups. Pixabay

Over the last two-to-three decades, the major success story of the Indian economy has been the stellar growth of its IT industry. But as the dividends from the sector reach the eventual inflection point, India needs to build similar competencies in other industries to ensure sustained growth and prosperity.

It is not acknowledged as often but the biotechnology industry seemed poised to take over the mantle. In the span of a decade beginning in 2007, the industry has grown exponentially in size from about $2 billion to over $11 billion in terms of revenue. By 2025, it is targeted to touch $100 billion.

The biotechnology industry, however, has been impacting Indian lives long before it grew so much in size. Back in the mid-1960s, advancements in biotechnology drove the Green Revolution, which enhanced farm yields and made the country self-sufficient in food production.

A similar contribution from the sector was witnessed in the White Revolution when India became a milk-surplus nation and improved the nutrition level of its citizens.

biotechnology
However, a few challenges need to be addressed if India is to fuel the growth of its biotechnology industry and achieve its target of making it a $100 billion industry by 2025. Pixabay

More recently, the meteoric growth of the Indian pharmaceutical industry is a result of process innovation that has given the country a cost advantage in the manufacture of drugs.

Further, the growing energy needs of India’s rural areas have been increasingly met by biomass fuel.

These outcomes have been the result of years of concerted efforts by the Indian government to enable the growth of the industry. As early as 1986, Rajiv Gandhi, recognising the potential of biotechnology in the country’s development, set up the Department of Biotechnology, making India one of the first countries in the world to have a government department solely dedicated to biotechnology.

Over the years, the Department of Biotechnology has set up 17 Centres of Excellence at higher education institutions across the country and has supported the establishment of eight biotechnology parks across different cities. The biggest contribution of the department has been in setting up of the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) in 2012, which has successfully supported 316 start-ups in its six years of existence.

Due to these efforts, the Indian biotechnology industry has flourished over the years. As of 2016, India had over a thousand biotechnology start-ups. To put matters in perspective, Australia has a total of 470 biotechnology companies. More than half of these start-ups are involved in healthcare – drugs, medical devices and diagnostics – while about 14 per cent are in agricultural biotechnology and about 18 per cent in biotechnology services.

The Indian economy also has a distinct advantage with respect to its demography that can ensure sustained growth for the sector. More than half the Indian population is below the age of 25. On a global scale, the median age in India (26.5 years) is much below that of China (35.9 years) and the US (37.1 years). An effective utilisation of this demographic advantage will provide India a competitive edge over all other emerging economies in the advancement of biotechnological research and development.

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he industry argues that India’s stricter standards for patents discourages innovation and dampens foreign investment. Pixabay

However, a few challenges need to be addressed if India is to fuel the growth of its biotechnology industry and achieve its target of making it a $100 billion industry by 2025. First, India’s research and development expenditure is quite low at 0.67 per cent of GDP, not only compared to mature biotechnology economies such as Japan and the US (which stands at around 3 per cent) but also in comparison to emerging economies like China (which is at around 2 percent).

Second, and more specific to the biotech pharmaceutical sector, there are a few India-specific challenges with the country’s IP regime. There are two main areas of contention for the industry in India’s approach to intellectual property. The first issue lies in Section 3(d) of the Patents (Amendment) Act, 2005, which sets a higher standard for patentability than mandated by TRIPS. The industry argues that India’s stricter standards for patents discourages innovation and dampens foreign investment. The second issue is that of compulsory licensing, which gives the government power to suspend a patent in times of health emergencies. Although India has used this option only once, the industry feels that such regulations keep investors clear of Indian markets.

A third challenge lies in the risk involved in the Valley of Death, that is, the risk of failure in the transition of innovative products and services from discovery to marketisation. Most of the early research funding, often provided by universities or the government, runs out before the marketisation phase, the funding for which is mostly provided by venture capitalists. It becomes difficult to attract further capital between these two stages because a developing technology may seem promising, but it is often too early to validate its commercial potential. This gap has a huge impact in commercialisation of innovative ideas.

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Thus, the Indian government needs to act on these challenges facing the biotechnology sector. An increase in investment towards research and development and building human capital is the most crucial point of action. These initiatives have shifted growth trajectories of countries like China away from India. As for the challenging IP regime, the government needs to come together with the biopharma industry and chalk out a middle ground that recognises the value of innovation and does not hurt its investment attractiveness. Finally, for the Valley of Death concerns, the government can build a mechanism where funding can be provided for select innovative ideas based on their national importance. Only such action-oriented steps can make biotechnology the next success story of the Indian economy. (IANS)