Row over funds to Sanskrit University near Bengaluru: Kannada activists demand rollback

The Karnataka government has reportedly allotted 100 acres of land and Rs 359 crore for the construction of the Sanskrit University building.
Row over funds to Sanskrit University near Bengaluru: Kannada activists demand rollback
Row over funds to Sanskrit University near Bengaluru: Kannada activists demand rollback
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Karnataka government’s decision to grant Rs 359 cr for a Sanskrit University near Bengaluru has angered Kannada activists in the state. For the last few days, those opposing the move have accused the BJP-led government of ignoring the state language and its development while promoting Sanskrit. 

The Sanskrit University is proposed to be built in Thippasandra village in Magadi, in the outskirts of Bengaluru. The government has reportedly allotted 100 acres of land and Rs 359 crore for the construction of the University building. While plans for the university were first proposed when BJP was in power in 2011, the funds were allotted in early January 2022. A total of 14 Sanskrit colleges in Karnataka are affiliated with the University and currently, with no building of its own, the University is opening out of Sri Chamarajendra Sanskrit College. 

Meanwhile, the Kannada University in Hampi is struggling financially. According to news reports, the university has not admitted any new students in the last three years. The university’s Vice-Chancellor SC Ramesh has said that the cash crunch is so severe that they have not been able to pay the guest lecturers for the last six months; since it has no colleges affiliated to it, it has no other income source. He has reportedly written to the state government seeking Rs 24 crore funds. 

The Centre of Excellence for Studies in Classical Kannada (CESCK), too, has been functioning in a debilitated state. The centre that was set up in 2011 is yet to be allotted a building to function out of. With no permanent building in place, the centre was moved into the Mysore University campus and is functioning with limited staff. 

In protest, Kannada activists started a Twitter campaign with the hashtag #SayNoToSanskrit. “There is a context to our protest,” says Ganesh Chetan of Banavasi Balaga, an organisation working for promotion of Kannada. “An affiliate of the RSS called the Samskrita Bharati petitioned the High Court asking for removal of mandatory Kannada for graduation students. When there is such a blatant anti-Kannada move, we wanted to campaign against the language they want to impose,” he says.  

On August 7, 2021, the state government made Kannada subject compulsory for students in graduation courses, though learning of Kannada is not compulsory under the latest National Education Policy. A petition was filed by Samskrita Bharati challenging this, arguing that this is against Articles 14, 19, 21, 29 and 30 of the Constitution.

Ganesh and other Kannada activists allege that all attempts are being made to close down the Kannada University. “They are not giving any funds. They would not have done this without the approval of RSS. The BJP government’s promotion of Kannada is just event management,” Ganesh Chetan adds.  

Prathap Kanagal, the social media head of Janata Dal (Secular) too has been vocal against granting funds for the Sanskrit University. “We are opposing the new Sanskrit University campus and not the university which already exists in Chamarajpet of Bengaluru; we are not opposing the Sanskrit language. Our opposition is to the new campus for which 300+ crores and over 100 acres of forest and fertile agricultural land have been allotted, at a time when the state government has failed to allocate funds to the lone Kannada University in Hampi. The government has also failed to pay monthly a Rs 4000 per month honorarium to Tulu teachers at the Karnataka Tulu Sahitya Academy,” Prathap says. 

Echoing the anger Ganesh and other Kannada activists have expressed against the petition filed by Samskruta Bharati, Prathap says, “One of the main reasons we all are angry and disappointed is the fact that, the organization directly linked to Sanskrit University had approached the court against making Kannada compulsory in degree courses. Our question is, why should the Karnataka government fund so much money to those who are backstabbing Kannada?”

“If the state government doesn't stop this project, we will stage statewide agitations after this pandemic situation gets slightly better,” says Prathap.

Not just Kannada activists, even the Kannada Development Authority (KDA) Chairman, TS Nagabharana has said that this move shows the Karnataka government’s priorities. While saying that KDA is not opposed to Sanskrit, he has said that the government seems to be sidelining Kannada, be it through neglecting the Kannada University or by lack of implementation of Kannada in the administration. KDA is a state government run body for the promotion of Kannada. 

Despite the furore, the state government has shown no indication of withdrawing the plans to develop the Sanskrit University. Minister for Higher Education Ashwath Narayan has said that the state will go ahead with the plan, even as he denied the allegations that the state government has been neglecting Kannada. 

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