PIL seeks minority status for Sanskrit

A public interest writ petition came in for hearing before Punjab and Haryana High Court on the issue of according “minority” status to the language of Sanskrit.

The writ was filed by social activist Hemant Goswami. While disposing of the petition filed by Hemant Goswami, Punjab and Haryana High Court directed the Governments (Union, Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh) to consider and decide on the representations, to be made by the petitioner, to give Sanskrit minority status within two months.

Goswami mentioned that, “the fundamental rights enshrined in the Indian Constitution under Article 29 and 30 recognise minorities not only on the basis of religion but also on the basis of language. But the union and state governments since independence have ignored the fundamental rights of linguistic minorities. Government of India has defined only 'religious minorities', the languages and cultures in neglect and in near state of extinction are still not being given any protection and still not considered, granted, declared as 'minority' by the Government of India. Sanskrit, mother of South-Asian and South-East Asian languages, which, currently, is spoken by less than 15,000 people across the country has not been considered till date by the government for according minority status and therefore continues to be discriminated against, directly and indirectly. The petitioner mentioned that Sanskrit is a scheduled language and one of the 22 languages in the “Eighth Schedule” of the Constitution of India. According to the “Census Report” of 2001, the total number of speakers of Sanskrit are now reduced to 14,135 only out of over 102 crore Population of India. Despite the fact that Sanskrit is the mother language of all regional languages spoken in India as well as South-East Asia, it has been reduced to minority status by continuous neglect, wrong policies and by a well-thought out design of the foreign transgressors in India, which has knowingly or unknowingly continued post Independence too. The Supreme Court too had earlier while deciding a case(CWP299 of 1989) had held that “so far as 'We, the people of India' are concerned, they have always held in high esteem the cultural heritage of this ancient land. And to foretell our views, learning of Sanskrit is undoubtedly necessary for protection of this heritage.” Demanding special protection for Sanskrit within the spirit of the Article 29 and 30 of the Indian Constitution, the petition insisted that, “the union and state governments must treat, consider and declare Sanskrit as 'minority' within the meaning suggested in Article 29 and 30 of the Constitution of India, so as to be considered as 'minority', and thereby, to benefit from all the schemes and protection as are applicable to other minorities, whether religious or otherwise.” The petitioner also pointed out that the Supreme Court had observed that considering minorities on the basis of language was a better thing than on the basis of religion. Pointing out the Supreme Court decision in Bal Patil and Anr. vs. UoI case, the petitioner highlighted that "differential treatments to linguistic minorities based on language within the state is understandable but if the same concept for minorities on the basis of religion is encouraged, the whole country, which is already under class and social conflicts due to various divisive forces, will further face division on the basis of religious diversities." For the purpose of protecting the minorities, the Government of India has constituted a “National Commission For Minorities,” under the “National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992”. The Section 2(iii) of the legislation, National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992, defines minorities as - “Minority, for the purposes of this Act, means a community notified as such by the central government”. The petitioner sought the high court to issue directions to the government to consider and notify language “Sanskrit” as “minority” under Section 2(iii) of the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992. u He also sought directions to be issued to the government so as not to discriminate, disadvantage or discourage learning and/or institutions of Sanskrit learning, and education related to Sanskrit must not be discontinued or disadvantaged in any state or state supported and sponsored institution of learning for any reason what-so-ever. The petitioner highlighted, states of Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh are also disadvantaging, discouraging and discriminating education in Sanskrit at school, college and university level. Sanskrit learning has been stopped in many schools by not providing teachers and funds. In college and universities, courses are being closed down and students are being discouraged; indirect discouragement and strategic discouragement is caused by limiting financial resources. Though Sanskrit is a subject for appearing in civil services, the state and universities are providing no facilities to students for preparing for civil services in Sanskrit, whereas other subjects are being patronised by the state.

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