A seasoned Kiwi journalist’s charge against Sanskrit – a classical language emanating from India, exposes the long-held ignorance and bigotry - often reserved only for the people of colour in this intensely globalised world.

Veteran journalist Michael Field  –with decades of media experience behind him - has launched an unprovoked attack on Sanskrit language and a fellow Kiwi MP Dr Gaurav Sharma after the news emerged about the latter taking his oath in parliament in the ancient classical language on Wednesday, November 25.

Mr Field launched his attack on the classical language in a menacing manner on his Twitter handle by accusing the language of being a language of “religious oppression & caste superiority.”

“How is that new Labour MP sworn in at New Zealand Parliament using a language of religion oppression & caste superiority? Sanskrit is mark of Hindutva- mark of fundamentalism. What of Labour working-class values or is @gmsharmznz a token?” Mr Field said on Twitter.

 

A screengrab of Michael Field's tweet this morning

Mr Field was responding to a seemingly innocuous event of the swearing-in ceremony of Labour Party MP from Hamilton West, Dr Sharma, earlier today in parliament.

For uninitiated, Dr Sharma has taken his oath in parliament today, first in Te Reo Maori and followed by Sanskrit – a language often considered as the sacred language of Hinduism, with most of its ancient philosophical text having been written in that classical language.

It is not clear if Mr Field was responding to this ordinary event or the reporting blitz by the Indian Weekender on the internet and social media about the importance and the history of the event, obviously with a seemingly non-offending celebratory zeal  - to reflect the sentiments of many in the Indian-New Zealander community.

Dr Gaurav Sharma takes the oath in the New Zealand Parliament (Video via Parliament TV)

However, it seems that Mr Field had not taken the event or the reporting by this publication about the event in good spirit and unleashed an unsubstantiated accusation on the language as a language of oppression and caste inequality.

It is also not clear if Mr Field was more incensed with Dr Sharma’s choice of Sanskrit language over the English language - that precipitated a vehement attack on him as well – and disapproving him as a mere “token” of the so-called “Labour’s working-class values.”

Or it was just his "pure love" reserved for Sanskrit – a classical language with more than four thousand years of rich history in deeply rooted in sacred texts of three great religions that emanated in the broader South Asian region – Hinduism, Buddhism & Jainism.

While attacks and blatant contempt of Indian culture, or elements often attributed as the symbol of India’s glorious culture and civilisation is not altogether new, this latest charge coming from a seasoned journalist from the remotely based South Pacific region is both – astounding and alarming.

It represents a skin-deep colonial-contempt reserved explicitly for people of colour – especially those who are breaking the ceilings and getting into spaces and positions earlier considered reserved exclusively for only white men.

For newly minted Kiwi-Indian MP Dr Sharma – this unprovoked attack at his supposedly lowliest guarded moment might act as a rite of passage – marking his official entry into the life in parliament and politics.

Dr Gaurav Sharma in conversation with the Indian Weekender, LIVE from the parliament after the Oath taking ceremony

However, Field’s assertion about Indian culture is something that does need a quick fact check and a polite rebuttal.

A quick Wikipedia search on the Sanskrit language could have enlightened Mr Field.

Mr Field would have been served well if he had done a preliminary google search on the Sanskrit language before wading into debates and controversies around India’s culture, history and the currently undergoing transformations.

Clearly, he appears dismayed about both – India’s past and present – as he accuses Sanskrit with “religious oppression” caste inequality” and “Hindutva.”

With due respect to Mr Field’s sensitivity about India’s seemingly current transformations and un-appreciation of India’s glorious past, it is evident that both are not based on accurate facts and information.

It will not be an exaggeration to say that his disparaging comment is more a result of an amalgamation of unsubstantiated facts – largely served generously on a modern-day social media.

To start with, a quick google search on the Sanskrit language would have educated Mr Field about both – the language’s glorious past and present apathy – as the language has largely vanished from the status of spoken language to remaining largely a ceremonial language.

It would have also educated Mr Field – though sparingly – about the presence of any large-scale research papers alleging Sanskrit as a symbol of “religious-oppression” or just “language suppression.”

Scholars of language suppression often describe it as the ‘enforcement of language loss by physical, mental, social and spiritual coercion.’ There is another aspect of linguicism - language erasure – where languages of those facing asymmetrical dominance have either become extinct or literally erased from their land of origin.

Probably, in New Zealand’s context, Te Reo Maori have experienced that painful and ignominious “language erasure,” in its own land of origin, and needless to emphasise at the behest of our cherished English language.

In that regard, the English language would have far more blood on its fold, than what Mr Field have so naively attributed on the Sanskrit language.

Similarly, India’s “caste-inequality” is a much-cherished object for castigation and contempt by the global intelligentsia, often propped-up conveniently, to showcase Indian culture in poor light than any genuine desire of debating or offering an intellectual assessment of social processes of the past and present.

Make no mistake; there is not an iota of defensiveness about India’s caste system and the inequality perpetuated through this system.

However, what most members of the global intelligentsia, including Mr Field, fails to appreciate and comment upon, is the immense impact of three hundred years of British colonial rule, which had not only destroyed but also irreversibly damaged India’s pre-modern social systems, including the caste system – by plunging India into deep poverty of resources.

Fixing the destruction left behind by three centuries of colonial oppression is a work in progress in post-independence modern India – regardless of the political regime in power – and continues unabatedly. There is no reason for being apologetic of such selective intellectual innuendo from global commentators.

Anyway, regardless, ascribing the allegation of oppression on the Sanskrit language is neither an accurate representation of the history of Indian culture nor in good taste.

To make it worse, Mr field’s attribution of Sanskrit language with so-called “Hindutva” that he visibly despises, instead of Hinduism – religion, philosophy and a way of life would lose a lot of new readers and followers that he might be secretly wishing to win over from the broader South Asian region. 

In the end, the fact that an Indian-New Zealander MP Dr Gaurav Sharma has been ambushed right at the first day of the start of his political career in parliament – once again exposes the bigotry and prejudice that is reserved only for people of colour in this country – or shall we say -in the white man’s worldview.

Related Links: Kiwi-Indian MP Dr Gaurav Sharma takes oath in Sanskrit language