The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) of India recently removed the ancient Pali language from the list of prescribed optional languages of the main entrance examination of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), also commonly known as the Indian Civil Service. This came as a shocking move to many, as Pali is considered as the second popular language amongst IAS candidates. However during the turbulence which occurred following this incident, professors and teachers specialising in the Pali language in India learnt that Pali which is indigenous to the Indian subcontinent and the language in which Buddha disclosed the Dhamma (which is also the language of the Buddhist Canon) Pali has not been recognised as an Indian classical and national language. This prompted many Buddhists living around the world to sadly accuse the Indian Government of giving step-motherly treatment to the Buddha’s language in his own country.
Professor and Head of the Department of Pali and Buddhist Studies in Banares Siddharth Singh addressing a media briefing on this matter in Colombo last week said this action discriminated Buddhists in India on both religious and ethnic grounds.
" Removal of Pali is a great damage to Buddhist studies and the understanding of Buddhism in Buddha’s motherland. Pali is the foundation to understanding Buddhism. So this move of the Indian government should be opposed "
“The sentiments of the Buddhists in India have been hurt through this act. We wrote to the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, to the leader of the opposition and to the members of the Rajya and Lok Sabha about this great injustice. But so far they have not given any reason or a justification for the removal of Pali from the Indian civil service examination. Removal of Pali is a great damage to Buddhist studies and the understanding of Buddhism in Buddha’s motherland. Pali is the foundation to understanding Buddhism. So this move of the Indian government should be opposed,” Singh said.
" I believe this act is an effort to take vengeance from the Scheduled Caste people and stop the spreading of Buddhism in India. Today India is talking about the human rights violations of Sri Lanka. But how can they criticise Sri Lanka, when they themselves are violating the human rights of the Buddhist community living in India? "
He further explained that this move of the Indian government could result in India losing international relations with the Buddhist nations around the world and that during his stay in Sri Lanka he planned to hand a memorandum to the Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka about this matter who he expects would communicate the message to the Indian government.
" We wrote to the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, to the leader of the opposition and to the members of the Rajya and Lok Sabha about this great injustice. But so far they have not given any reason or a justification for the removal of Pali from the Indian civil service examination "
Commenting on the consequences of removing Pali from the Indian civil service examination Singh said the de-listing of Pali may prevent candidates conversant in Pali (who are Buddhists in India) from sitting for the exam and joining the Indian civil service. He said this would also cause the Indian administration including its foreign service to be manned by officers ignorant of Pali, while Buddhists living in India would lose the state patronage they have had and the preservation of its few shrines and monuments would come to an end.
“By the removal of Pali from the list of ‘approved subjects’, the UPSC has openly violated the provisions of the Constitution of India (which they had sworn to uphold); removal of Pali constitutes violation of fundamental rights of minorities (Buddhists less than 0.79% in India) and the less privileged ‘scheduled castes and scheduled tribes’ protected by the constitution of India. The UPSC has violated Indian citizens’ fundamental rights on the ‘right to equality’ that constitute ‘discrimination on grounds of religion’ violating Article-16, ‘equality of opportunity in matters of public employment’ under the Indian Constitution. De-listing of Pali has infringed the Indian Constitution under ‘directive principles of state policy (article 46) which states that ‘promotion of educational and economic interests of scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other weaker sections in the society would be protected from social injustice and all forms of exploitation. Article-335 claims of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes to services posts. There is also provision for making claims against the UPSC to the “National Commission for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes” under the special provisions relating to certain classes,” Singh said.
Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) Parliamentarian Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera who was also present at this press conference said that this move of the Indian government was a violation of human rights against the Scheduled Caste people living in India.
“I believe this act is an effort to take vengeance from the Scheduled Caste people and stop the spreading of Buddhism in India. Today India is talking about the human rights violations of Sri Lanka. But how can they criticise Sri Lanka, when they themselves are violating the human rights of the Buddhist community living in India? This is a Brahmic Caste act based on the regressive Brahmic ideology of India,” Rathana Thera said.
Meanwhile when the Daily Mirror contacted the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry about this issue, sources said they were yet to receive comprehensive information on this matter. It is sad that many people today consider Pali a ‘dead language’ when the earliest extant Buddhist scriptures are written in Pali. It was the language the Buddha used to disseminate the Dhamma on which the whole of the Buddhist civilization is founded. Our country today remains a nation where several millions of Buddhists reside.
Today Buddhism is not only a religion, but it has turned into a way of life. Today the Buddha’s Dhamma (which is in Pali) is not only chanted in a ritual context by Buddhists all over the world, but it is also practiced and lived in their day-to-day lives. So if Pali is a ‘dead language’ and ‘outdated’ in today’s society as many consider it to be, then how come so many people around the world today live by this language?
Pix by Waruna Wanniarachchi