The case for restoring Arabic and Persian in UPSC

By Dr. Qutubuddin

UPSC’s decision to drop Arabic and Persian, among a few other languages, has generated strong reactions from the academic circles which  are persistently demanding the languages be restored. The decision is out of sync with government’s other policies and schemes designed to uplift the minorities. It does not match with India’s aspirations to build soft power in its quest to emerge as a global power, and negates its thrust on promoting the economic component of the foreign policy in the globalised world.

Let’s examine the decision from the minority perspective. The government has several schemes in place to support the minority students to integrate into the mainstream. Arabic is taught at school, college and university levels in various parts of the country. It is also offered as a subject by National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS), Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) as well as by the National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language. These programmes are well-received by the Muslim community. Moreover, many states in the country have madrasa education boards to support madrasas which teach Arabic as the main subject. These and other privately-run madarasas enroll students mainly from rural families that either cannot afford the highly commercialised modern education, or are unwilling to send their wards to government schools given the poor state of affairs of these institutions. Eager to emerge from backwardness, madrasa graduates are increasingly heading to universities to pursue higher studies. Thus Arabic language provides a window for them to join the mainstream and contribute to the nation-building. Maintaining Arabic language in UPSC will only complement these efforts. It’s also seen that many Arabic graduates venture into other disciplines and do fairly well after graduating from universities. A good number of Arabic graduates are employed in MNCs and private sector companies that are doing business with the Arab world.

India rightly takes pride in its religious, linguistic and cultural diversity. Arabic and Persian languages which are mainly associated with the Muslim minority enhance this sense of pride, and boost India’s soft power.

Then the UPSC decides to discontinue something which enhances the idea of inclusion, has the potential to benefit the community and the country while causing no harms at all.

India has been trying to cultivate a unique image for itself globally using its soft power. Languages complement this endeavour. For India, which considers the Arab region as part of its extended neighbourhood, Arabic can be tapped to better project its image. The government already publishes a journal, Thaqaafatul Hind, which functions as a cultural bridge with the Arab world.

The Indian government has taken certain initiatives to promote cultural ties with the Arab world. It has got several books written by noted authors of the country translated into Arabic including one by Mr. Shashi Tharoor, who strongly advocates the idea of projecting India’s soft power.

Excluding Arabic from UPSC is tantamount to negating the very idea that the government otherwise seeks to promote through its policies, schemes and programmes.

The UPSC decision dampens the morale of Arabic scholars who can play an important role in the cultural and intellectual interaction with the Arab world. On the other hand, in the changing global scenario, Arab countries are reaching out to the outer world and engaging in dialogues to underline the ideas of bilateral understanding, tolerance, cooperation, and co-existence.

India, being a civilisation and an important country in the world, cannot afford to turn a blind eye to these developments in the globalised context.

Globalisation has remarkably impacted the political, diplomatic and economic relationship among countries and has put its economic status  into focus. Languages are an important tool in the pursuit of diplomatic and economic interests. Western countries are attaching great significance to foreign languages and are trying to use them to their advantage to further diplomatic and economic relations with other countries.

The thrust on the economic aspect in the international relations has broadened the base of interactions with foreign countries. The knowledge of foreign languages can help government officials have a better worldview and do business with other countries more confidently.

The Arab world has been undergoing critical changes both at political and social levels. These changes are influencing other allied areas as well. In order to promote good relations with these countries, foreign governments and businesses need to reflect on the changes to tailor their policy responses and business strategies. And, this cannot be achieved without a proper understanding of these developments. Here lies the importance of good language expertise to gain insights and have sound, reliable knowledge which can be acquired only by reading the original sources.

Globalization has also offered avenues to promote ideas, research outcome, products and services. Promoters have to be mindful of the cultural sensitivities in the target markets. India and the Arab world enjoy cordial and friendly relations. Both share several common interests. With the Arab countries seeking to diversify their economies and increasingly looking eastward post-9/11, Indian businessmen and investors have a plethora of opportunities. The language plays very significant role in facilitating these relations. It is said: if you need to buy you can do so in any language, but if you need to sell, you need to do so in the language of the buyer.

In conclusion, one cannot imagine any negative impact of maintaining Arabic on the UPSC list, while the benefits are numerous. Restoring these two languages can complement government’s policies of inclusion, help the Muslim minority emerge from backwardness and integrate into the mainstream, boost India’s soft power, image and capacity to conduct diplomatic and economic relations confidently with the Arab countries. All this will eventually contribute to the nation-building. A language has never been a disadvantage. And, this is  more so in the 21st century.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 January 2014 on page no. 2

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