Indian-Origin MP in New Zealand Takes Oath in Sanskrit. Not Everyone is Pleased

Social Commentary

Indian-Origin MP in New Zealand Takes Oath in Sanskrit. Not Everyone is Pleased

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

As a country, we are often filled with pride when people of Indian-origin make it big overseas, especially on the political front. From US Vice-president-elect Kamala Harris to New Zealand Minister Priyanca Radhakrishnan, each of their wins have felt personal. However, Indian-origin New Zealand MP Gaurav Sharma taking his oath in Sanskrit seems to be where we stand divided.

The newly elected India-origin MP took his oath in Sanskrit on Wednesday. However, the 33-year-old’s choice of language has started yet another debate back home. Many questioned if the ancient language, often associated with the Hindu upper-caste and oppression, held any importance in today’s time. Michael Field, a journalist in New Zealand wrote on Twitter, “How is it that new Labour MP is sworn in at New Zealand Parliament using a language of religious oppression & caste superiority?” Field tweeted, further that Sanskrit is a “mark of Hindutva”, a “mark of fundamentalism”.

Greeting the journalist in Māori, Sharma went on to explain his stance. Saying that he spoke multi-Indian languages, he “wanted to choose a language that would represent wide range of current languages spoken in India.” In his tweet, accompanied by flowcharts of Indo-European languages overtime, he pointed out that as one of the oldest languages in the country, Sanskrit is “considered the mother language of many Indian languages that originated fr[o]m it”.

The Jacinda Ardern-led party’s MP, who hails from Himachal Pradesh’s Hamirpur, revealed that Sanskrit was a “compulsory part of education curriculum for every student” back at his small school in a rural area, and hence, he had grown up studying it.

However, the irony in Field’s questions did not miss him. Let’s talk about colonialism.

Even then, the persistent journalist pressed on and questioned why Sharma didn’t take oath in Hindi instead. “[It is] Hard to keep everyone happy,” the MP replied. “Sanskrit made sense as it pays homage to all the Indian languages (including the many I can’t speak),” he added.

The internet had mixed reactions to Sharma’s approach.

Some called it  “absolute bs” and questioned Sharma’s love for India while serving another country.

Few debated over Sanskrit and “true” Indian representation.

What many failed to realise is that Sharma in fact took oath in two languages – Te Reo Māori,  an indigenous language of New Zealand followed by Sanskrit. Sharing the video on his Facebook, Sharma wrote that in Te Reo Māori he wanted to acknowledge tangata whenua (Māori community) and with Sanskrit, his Indian heritage.

Sharma isn’t the first Indian-origin politician to use Sanskrit. In July, Suriname President Chandrikapersad Santokhi became the first Indian-origin leader to take the oath of office in Sanskrit.

While some sentiments were hurt, Indian netas were all in praise of Sharma.

However, few pointed out at the double-standards of the celebrations.

While New Zealand continues to celebrate diversity, where does it leave our country?