NEW DELHI (AFP) - India's right-wing Hindu nationalist government has ordered the country's civil service schools to replace the teaching of German with an Indian language such as Sanskrit in the "national interest", reports said Saturday.
The order has been given to the state-run Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan (Central School Organisation), which comprises 1,092 schools across India serving children of army officials and other government personnel, according to the Indian Express newspaper.
Currently, German is offered in these government-run schools as an optional foreign language.
It was not immediately clear whether only Sanskrit would be allowed in place of German or also other official Indian languages such as Tamil.
However, reviving Sanskrit has been a priority of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party which swept to power in May.
Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani said the decision was taken in "the national interest", according to the Indian Express. Pupils could continue to study German as a "hobby" (no credit) class, she said.
Sanskrit, an ancient classical language used in literature and by Hindu priests, is from the Indo-Aryan group and is the root of many but not all of India's nearly two-dozen official languages.
Just 14,000 people among India's 1.2-billion population call Sanskrit their primary language, census figures show.
A Sanskrit lobby group, the Sanskrit Sikshak Sangh (SSS), had launched court action in favour of the move and called teaching of foreign languages in schools "a western conspiracy" aimed at "ending civilisation".
"The fundamental aim of studying Sanskrit isn't earning money but the search for happiness," SSS president D.K. Jha told the newspaper.
"Whether it's Nasa's research on the 'God particle' or astronomy or mathematics, all of the knowledge is already there. Sanskrit is the key which will unlock it," he said.
Schools belonging to the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan have 1,148,340 students on their books, according to the group's website. The schools have a common syllabus, teaches children of government personnel who often are frequently transferred.
The decision affects 68,000 students between grades six to eight and comes months before they were due to sit exams.
Germany's leading diplomat said he believed the two countries could solve the issue.
"I talked to the government and on the basis of that I express my confidence we will find a workable solution," Germany's ambassador to New Delhi, Michael Steiner, told India's Firstpost news website.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel planned to make teaching German one of the top agenda items in her first bilateral meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the G-20 summit currently under way in Brisbane, The Times of India newspaper reported.
India's national education "three-language policy," which applies to the civil-service schools, allows the teaching of Sanskrit, Hindi and English.
In private schools which do not fall under the government order, students opt for a variety of foreign languages from French to German and Spanish as well as Mandarin.