An Open Letter to Ananya Vajpeyi on Sanskrit

Please do not link Sanskrit to a fictitious ‘cultural battle field’. Let us work towards building a genuine scholarship which benefits India.

Dear Ananya,

On a first look, I could have safely ignored your article published in World Policy Journal as just another leftist rant, but since you mentioned JNU and its Sanskrit center, I had to jot down some quick remarks as a response.

First impression – your article appears to be an anti-BJP and pro-Pollock pamphlet and not a scholarly piece at all. A typical Hinduphobic pro-left rhetoric that’s all one can say about your article!

Your comment on the building of the Sanskrit center in JNU.  Our building is ‘swastika’ shaped in the good sense that it is known in the whole of India. Swastika does not become a stigma for India just because some German fanatic misrepresents it. Most other buildings in JNU follow some western architecture. In your opinion should that be preferable to using any native design for architecture on Indian campuses?

Later in your article, you have faintly suggested Sanskrit center to be castiest, communal, etc. But you do not know that we have helped in developing the first English-Urdu Machine Translation for Microsoft Bing Translator in the Sanskrit center of JNU. Please check it out .  We are leading Indian government’s corpora development initiative for Indian languages on a server based platform. We have developed several predictive mobile keyboards for fringe languages of India. Our Sanskrit-Hindi Machine Translation System is called SaHiT and is going to be available for public soon.  Please visit our server called “Sanskrit” for details.  This in my view is the meaning and power of Indian swastika and Sanskrit – taking along everyone. Sadly, the brand of scholarship you represent does not want to understand this. Focusing on imagined battlefields does nothing to help India. Instead, it attempts to break India by dividing it into pieces.

Sanskrit studies in India have nothing to do with the elitism of any kind whatsoever. You are most welcome to visit our center in JNU to witness it. I would in fact suggest you do a field work in the Indian universities/ashramas and then describe the data so collected.

Your claim that Sanskrit has re-entered the popular imagination in the last 3 years or so is a fiction and smacks of a certain kind of argument that scholars like you take against any well-meaning government. Do you have any data to support this argument? In fact, Sanskrit has survived all these years due to an active community. It is this community, which has fought for its survival during the Arabs, Mughals and British. It is this community, which continued the hard work even after independence with or without government support.

Sanskrit does not represent high caste or culture at all. Please collect data from the 17 universities, 150 departments of Sanskrit and numerous schools and ashramas. You may then have to revise your article accordingly.

Sanskrit has done a great job in uniting India. It is often a common reference point for all. Just look carefully at the Hindi or Punjabi you speak. Can you speak without Sanskrit words?  Open a grammar book of any Indian language, you will invariably find Panini in it. Similarly, literary traditions of modern Indian languages will have an imprint of the Sanskrit literary theories. The themes and genres in Indian literature would unmistakably be from the great epics and other texts of Sanskrit. The art and aesthetics would have an imprint of Bharata. Look into the aspects of Indian history, sociology and other disciplines, you will have their source in some fundamental text in Sanskrit. Volumes can be written on the impact of Sanskrit on western knowledge.  You may also like to do some research on the impact of Sanskrit on South East Asian countries. Sanskrit in many ways represents India, but you have portrayed a completely distorted image of it for reasons best known to you. In this connection, you may want to read the arguments given by our national leaders, who supported Sanskrit in place of Hindi as the national official language.

Sanskrit does not have ‘Brahmin domination’. Dr Ambedkar was a strong votary of Sanskrit and not someone as you have projected him.

Though, I admire scholars like Prof Pollock for their work on Sanskrit based Indology, I seriously doubt the capacity of such scholars to read and interpret serious culture texts of Sanskrit. However, you have devoted at least three paragraphs in his honor. I wonder, if this was one of the objectives of your article.

By ‘naturalizing’ Sanskrit words in English, these words do not ‘become’ English words. They maintain their identity, as we maintain our identity in a foreign land. However, if in saying so your objective is to misappropriate them, then you may be simply daydreaming.

And again, the rest of the article is simply anti-BJP masala and nothing else. If any government wants to promote Indian symbols and things (every other country in the world does it), then you have a problem. I am sure concepts like ‘guru’,  ‘yoga’, ‘ayurveda’ or  ‘kaali-puja’ will be promoted even by the leftists if they ever come to power in India.

Please do not link Sanskrit to a fictitious ‘cultural battle field’. Let us say no to paid-scholarship and work towards building a genuine and rational scholarship which benefits India and the rest of the world.

Regards,

Dr. Girish Nath Jha,

Professor of Computational Linguistics & Chairperson of Special Centre for Sanskrit Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. IndiaFacts does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.
gnj@gmail.com'

The author teaches Computational Linguistics at the Special Center for Sanskrit Studies , Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). His research interests include Indian languages corpora and standards, Sanskrit and Hindi linguistics, Science & Technology in Sanskrit, Lexicography, Machine Translation, e-learning, web based technologies, RDBMS, software design and localization. Details on his work can be obtained from http://sanskrit.jnu.ac.in. Prof Jha has done collaborative research with the Center for Indic Studies, U. Mass, Dartmouth, USA as “Mukesh and Priti Chatter Distinguished Professor of History of Science” during 2009-12. He was awarded DAAD fellowship in 2014 to teach in the Digital Humanities department at University of Würzburg, Germany and has been a visiting Professor at the University of Florence in the summer of 2016.

  • This so-called ‘scholar’ ‘vajpeyi’ only rants about the politics of modern India, and has little to say about Sanskrit itself. You can look at the Indology mailing list archives, for example, latest in:

    http://list.indology.info/pipermail/indology_list.indology.info/2016-September/thread.html

    how even in a thread of her own initiation, there is not a single Sanskrit utterance, even as other scholars attempt to bring Sanskrit into it. In fact, all of her postings to that list are only to cry about Hindutva, and never a contribution or discussion about Sanskrit linguistics, texts, history, or anything actually demonstrating some expertise in Sanskrit.

    All of this shows that this charlatan is a complete fraud who probably knows no Sanskrit at all, and has been foisted upon India by a leftist cabal whose only intention is the subversion and destruction of Hinduism. It would be interesting to see this woman’s alleged PhD thesis. Probably full of howlers that a real Sanskrit scholar can tear apart.

    The Sanskrit speakers of India should create their own system of rigorous examinations that certify titles to actual Sanskrit scholars, complete with oral examinations, commentaries, writings and so forth. They should create a brand and title that will render the western Phd in the subject useless and of 0 value.

  • Vaidehi Singh

    Something similar that was written by an acquaintance. Do give a read if possible.
    http://www.dailyo.in/voices/sanskrit-dr-ananya-vajpeyi-independence-bjp-hindutva-prof-sheldon-pollock/story/1/12990.html

  • Nidhi

    This is my feedback to the Duke University Press on this article. Please submit your feedback here: http://wpj.dukejournals.org/feedback

    If this is a scholarly publication, or claims to be, the least it can do is verify the veracity of its publications. This is an article that does not deserve to be in a tabloid, much less in a “scholarly” publication. “About us” of your publications mentions ” Fresh Ideas” – I am guessing that fact does not have to be absolutely discounted in presenting these fresh ideas.

    If you are a publication in the pursuit of propaganda, please let me know and I will correct my feedback immediately. But it appears to me that that is not the case.

    I cannot even start to point out the sheer factual inaccuracies in this article. The very first paragraph had me laughing. So I will share my first chuckle with you:

    “For at least the past two and half millennia, Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists have considered the sign auspicious. But in the 1920s, the National Socialist Party in Germany adopted it, rotating it to give it a diagonal orientation. Ever since, outside of Asian ritual settings, the association with Nazis has stigmatized the symbol.”
    – Outside Asian ritual settings? Are you insane? A symbol that is auspicious and good for 2500 years will be sullied for all 7 bn people of the world because one party in one country adopted it ? And you decide what the perception of the population is? I am sorry.. where did you get that information? I don’t recall. I don’t think it was quoted in the article. How the Swastika is viewed in the Western world does not determine how, and in what context, it is viewed in the Eastern, Southern and Northern world. (and you cannot presume the West’s perception either. Unless you run a poll and ask people what they associate the symbol with. That’s data. And you don’t have it)

    “And so, until recently, Sanskrit had settled into a kind of quiescence (seemingly even an obsolescence)”.
    – As FIJ goes, presumed non action by the state, that too on one data point, goes into the realm of judgement (that means: An opinion expressed completely unsubstantiated by data). I will readily provide data that indicates the no. of students that actively learnt Sanskrit – both as part of the mandatory (state driven) school curriculum and voluntarily, but that would be doing the homework of the editorial team for you. And I am not getting paid for that. You are. So tell me, what was the verification you did before allowing an article to use a word like “Obsolescence?”

    “Only in the past two to three years, with the rise of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has Sanskrit re-entered the public imagination as part of the “culture wars” between the Hindu right and secular left.”
    – Please substantiate this statement. How have you decided that there is a cultural war in place here? Allow me to explain. The left, by its own admission, has no subscription to any culture. Therefore, its war can be ideological. Not cultural. IF such a “war” exists (and your editorial team should have a way to explain this war, because even in the capital of the country, I don’t see it), you have to also specify how Sanskrit was “a part of” – was it a weapon? Was it an ideological debate? Is an ideological debate of the inclusion or lack thereof, of a language, by itself a bad thing? Is debate a negative word in the definition of the author and the editorial board?

    “The ghosts of the caste system and of Sanskrit have now returned to haunt the Indian polity. ”
    – And just like that, in one sentence, she equates the caste system with Sanskrit. And your editors were doing …what?

    “The point is to prove that Hinduism pre-dates not only all of the Semitic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) but also all other Indic religions (Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism). ”
    – Please check your history on this sentence. It is too ridiculous for me to even make a comment. Read a few books on ancient Indian history. Check a few manuscripts with our excellent museums. Or ask your authors to do that and send evidence to you. It is one thing to interpret history in one way and arrive at a different conclusion based on the same facts. Quite another to discount facts entirely and arrive at a guess of what the government or some imagined “enemy” is trying to do.

    Pushing back against this insistence on the centrality of Sanskrit are Indian secularists (for whom the language’s overwhelmingly Hindu baggage weighs it down), liberals (who are uncomfortable with its non-modern provenance), leftists (who object to the ideologies of social inequality embedded in Sanskrit texts), feminists (who deem it a repository of patriarchal values), and Dalits (formerly known as Untouchables, who see Sanskrit as inseparable from the caste system, the language of Brahmin domination over the rest of Hindu society).
    – Source of this data please. These are opinions expressed on behalf of a group of people. I am not sure if this kind of unsolicited representation of the opinion of vast groups of people is allowed. I would not do it. In at least 3 cases, the author is equating content of texts with the language – I am not sure if I can hold English responsible for the actions of the British Empire. Are you? Is English responsible for the content available in that language? Is English responsible for what was written in it 2500 years ago? I don’t think so. Neither is Sanskrit. The language is not the content. Basic logical fallacy.

    Even many of those who know and appreciate the Sanskrit corpus for the wealth of its knowledge systems, the aesthetics of its literary genres, the beauty of its poetry, the brilliance of its thought, the regularity of its grammar, and the profundity of its insights have a hard time defending it against the charges leveled by its many detractors.
    – Who wants to defend? And why?

    Guru Utsav”—literally “Festival of the Guru” ” a name with strong Hindu connotations.
    – So what exactly is the word “Guru” doing in the Oxford English Dictionary? Did we Hindu-ise the Oxford Dictionary in the last 3 years? I don’t think so.. the word was an English word long before then. The word has Indian origins and we cannot deny the word its origin. Nor can we fault the word for where it came from. Can we say that calling it Teacher’s Day smacks of an effort to make India a British colony?

    “By encouraging Sanskrit studies at the IITs, Modi’s party wants to drive home the “modern,” “rational,” and “scientific” capacities of Sanskrit, thereby dislodging it from its received status as an artifact of the ancient world, and instead project it as the most appropriate and empowering idiom for 21st century India. ”
    – Once again, dear Editorial Team, do some homework. “received status” – received from whom? The author? How can a language have a received status? What is the received status of Tamil? Hebrew? English?

    “Today Sanskrit has come out of the ivory tower and descended onto the cultural battlefield. It’s time that scholars and academics did the same.”
    – Thank you, dear author and the editorial team, for the unnecessary invitation. There was no ivory tower for Sanskrit except in your own head. There is no cultural battlefield except in your article. And if I asked you to even define both these terms and the context in which they have been used in this article, my guess is that words and data would both fail you.

    Therefore, dear editors – please correct my understanding. Are you a scholarly journal, or are you a political agenda tabloid? Because as the Indian book on public administration says – politics is not the same as policy. But this article – falls neither under good politics, nor input to policy. This is propaganda. And I have invested 30 precious minutes to give you this feedback, assuming that you are a publication that cares about feedback. If this helps you improve your editorial practices and get back to authors with improved guidelines, it will help everyone – most of all, the readers who might come to this journal looking for thought leadership, not slander.

    • Prasad

      Brilliant ! I bow to you !

      Regards

    • Prasad

      Hi Nidhi – I posted the below feedback to the Duke University press on the link that you sendt.

      Dear Sirs,

      I read the article by Mrs.Vajpeyi and found it to be high on obnoxiuos contempt for the Sanskrit language, but that’s not a problem as she is entitled to her opinions. Though her personal life is not my concern, I couldn’t help but notice a a “slip up” of the facade of a left leaning intellectual that she is trying to portray herself as.

      She by virtue of being a (former) Hindu who is married to a Muslim finds it probably necessary to somehow find ways of finding fault with Hindu religion by any means at her disposal and the language of Sanskrit has come in handy for her. I found the below statement by her a bit strange even after considering her ideaological (communist) leanings and religious loyalty (islam) by way of her marriage.

      “Add to this the BJP’s insistence that Sanskrit symbolizes the greatness of Hindu civilization exclusively thereby marginalizing the equally significant Islamic aspects of Indian history and culture”

      Considering that the article written is about a language (Sanskrit) Can she explain what is the “significant contribution” that Islam and Islamic language has done for Indian history and culture after applying her rigorous yardstick on the negative fall out of such religion / language in exactly the same way that she has done for Sanskrit ? Can a contribution of a foreign religion /language be considered in complete isolation from the invasion, occupation, subjugation, slaughter, pillage, plunder, mayhem, wilful desecration of places of worship, destruction, arson, subjugation, torture, slavery and rape of women committed on the native population ?

      I can understand her anxiousness to be in the good books of the monothiestic religion to which she owes her allegiance to due to her marriage but when she writes an article she should as a minimum make a fair attempt to apply the same yardstick when comparing between her former and current religions.

      I feel sorry for her I would like to wish her all the best.

      I would also like to thank people like her and fervently hope she continues in the same vein, it will help a lot in the cause of Hindu revival which is really the need of the hour in India.

      Jai Hind.

      • slc

        excellent !!

    • dhimminomore

      Nidhi , Thank you for taking the time to write a fitting critique to the article & to their editorial board on their badly done job of publishing such slanderous write-up as a ‘scholarly’ article. I am curious to know if you got any feedback to your critique. I also noticed that there are no provisions for comments!

      • Nidhi

        No.. I didn’t hear from them at all! I also noticed that there is no proviso to add comments to the article. Possibly because they don’t want general public comments on a scholarly article. Hence the use of the feedback form.

      • upvote just for your name

        • dhimminomore

          😀 and an upvote for the upvote!

    • Megh

      Thank you Nidhi, for your efforts!

    • VIVEK N SHARMA Sharma

      Brilliant rebuttal to a hinduphobic moron…

  • Arun

    It is painful to see you having to almost plead and beg with Ananya Bajpeyi to to let you/ us/ sanskrit be.

  • Ananth Sethuraman

    Thank you for this article.

  • Parantap

    Good response, Although the quality is likes of the quick response, rather than thorough analysis, and rebuttal.

    Few things Dr. Jha has caught spot on is the level of ‘ Pollock worship’ these Hinduphobic and rabid anti-brahmanical intellectual show. Major part of their argument is borrowed from Sheldon Pollock ‘Dead of Sanskrit’ and critical philology (with force fitting everything into Marxist lense).

    The nit picking on Hindu symbolism, Parampara and digesting it is thus part of this global Hinduphobic nexus. In particular, between the Lutyen Leftist Intellectuals and their Marxist material and motivation provider seated in US, masking as Western ‘neutral’ Indologist.

  • Santosh Gairola

    Irony is, a “Bajpai” is crying Brahmin dominance over Sanskrit.

    • Suresh

      Not really. A whole host of “Brahmins” not “brahmanas” traded power and pelf for their vedic identity during British rule. This is how the British managed to impose the Macaulayan education system and their government which continues till date. Notice how “most” leftists have a “Brahmin” surname including this Bajpeyi?

      • Denny crane

        this brahmarakshasi is a convert to Mohammedanism. She is married to a kashmiri muslim

    • Mahesh

      You forget she did her studies at JNU & Married to a ROP follower, her name is just a digression.