Doordarshan’s decision to broadcast Sanskrit news programme every day across the country meets with resistance in Tamil Nadu

Published : December 01, 2020 15:56 IST

At a protest meeting against the imposition of Hindi, in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, in 2019. Photo: The Hindu Archives

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been showering praises on Tamil language and its rich classical heritage, quoting often from ancient Tamil literary works, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government which he leads at the Centre has been trying to “impose” languages such as Hindi on Tamil Nadu. The State has been studiously adhering to the two-language formula with Tamil and English so far and has been stonewalling such attempts.

This time, the Central government has given rise to another controversy by allotting a daily slot for a news programme in Sanskrit in Doordarshan (DD) across the country, including non-Hindi-speaking States such as Tamil Nadu. Ironically, as per the 2011 Census, Tamil Nadu has just 803 people who speak Sanskrit.

The Office of the Director General of Doordarshan, Prasar Bharati, sent a directive in the fourth week of November asking the Heads of Programme of all its Regional Satellite Services Channels/State Network Channels to “simulcast daily Sanskrit bulletin (telecast by DD News from 7.15 a.m. to 7.30 7.30 a.m. of 15 minutes duration) or provide a time slot of 15 minutes duration in next half an hour daily to respective RNU [regional news units] for telecast of it”. It further asks the regional channels to “simulcast Weekly Sanskrit News Magazine – Vaartavali” every Saturday at 6 p.m. on DD News.

The directive, predictably, has created a furore in the State. Many political parties have urged the Doordarshan management to telecast similar news bulletins in Tamil and other regional languages in all Hindi-speaking States for the benefit of non-Hindi speaking people in those States. M.K. Stalin, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) president, Thol Thirumavalavan, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) leader and MP, and Vaiko, Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) leader and Rajya Sabha MP, and other leaders and political parties including the Communist Party of India (M) condemned the move.

D. Ravikumar, VCK’s senior leader and a Member of Parliament representing Villupuram , told Frontline that it was an attempt to “Sankritise” the State and devalue the importance of regional languages such as Tamil and urged Doordharshan to withdraw the directive immediately. He said that it was against the objectives defined in Prasar Bharati Act. “The act upholds the unity and integrity of the country and the values enshrined in the Constitution,” he said.

Ravikumar said: “The 2011 Census says only 803 persons with Sanskrit as their mother tongue are living in Tamil Nadu. If the Centre wants to telecast a bulletin for them, why not a Tamil bulletin in all States, where Tamils number more than 10,000? If they say it is because Sanskrit is a classical language, then give the same priority to Tamil, which is also a classical language. It is time to demand the exclusion of Sanskrit from the Eighth Schedule and the inclusion of languages which are spoken by more than one crore people. Three Central Universities were established for Sanskrit last year. The Centre should set up a Central Tamil University in Tamil Nadu.”

Ever since the BJP assumed power at the Centre for the second consecutive term, it is trying to promote the principle of “One Nation, One Language”. A controversy erupted in mid-November after two MPs from Tamil Nadu, Su. Venkatesan (CPI-M) and P. Wilson (DMK), received official replies in Hindi from Union Ministries to their queries on certain issues. After they protested, the replies in Hindi were withdrawn. Venkatesan said that it was a clear violation of the Official Languages Rules, 1976. He has filed a public interest litigation (PIL) petition before the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court seeking its direction to the Central government to respond in English in all official matters concerned with Tamil Nadu government, MPs and its people.

When Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami’s mother passed away recently, media reports said that Home Minister Amit Shah had sent a condolence message to him in Hindi, while the Prime Minister had sent a condolence message in English. The Chief Minister thanked them both. But, surprisingly, a copy of Amit Shah’s message was circulated widely on social media.

A few months ago, K. Kanimozhi, DMK MP, faced a language-related issue at the Chennai airport. According to her, when she told a Central Industrial Security Force personnel on duty that she did not understand Hindi, he asked her whether she was an Indian. The incident received strong condemnation nationwide, forcing the officials concerned to say that they would henceforth post only those personnel who knew the local language at airports.

Meanwhile, All India Radio (AIR), too, seems to be getting Sanskritised. In fact, the first Sanskrit bulletin on AIR was broadcast in 1974. But many radio stations have begun broadcasting “news in Sanskrit and many other languages”. These news bulletins are available on digital platforms such as mobile apps too. The first ever Sanskrit news magazine programme in AIR, titled “Sanskrit Saptahiki” and lasting 20 minutes, was launched in July this year.

Sources in AIR, however, claimed that there was no Sanskrit news programme in AIR Chennai’s main broadcast. “So far the AIR at Chennai is limited to relays of Hindi news and programmes of national importance only from other stations such as Delhi. A few other programmes, if any, are being broadcast during late nights. Sanksrit is yet to take off here,” said a reliable source in AIR. AIR in Chennai had not received any directive on Sanskrit news so far from the Ministry concerned, the source added. However avid listeners of AIR’s FM channel say that they have heard Hindi “interruptions” even during the broadcast of Tamil programmes.