BY ROBERT KATZ
The Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate unanimously passed a resolution calling for the integration of Hindi-Urdu into the undergraduate foreign language curriculum, a recent initiative of the South Asian Political Action Committee (SAPAC), during its meeting last Sunday. The resolution, co-authored by TCU Senators Rati Srinivasan and Benya Kraus and SAPAC Executive Board Member Hershel Tamboli, follows the introduction of a now-inactive Senate survey gauging student interest in the language and the publication of a SAPAC blog post on the topic written by Tamboli.
In order to further the initiative, Tamboli explained that a SAPAC event will be hosted in late April, where students and faculty from both Tufts and other schools that teach Hindi-Urdu can discuss the language’s value on campus, as well as the challenges of bringing it to Tufts.
“We want to concentrate that demand in one place, and make it palpable,” Tamboli, a sophomore, said.
According to Tamboli, offering classes in the language would be critical to a comprehensive education on South Asia, as Hindi, combined with its sister language Urdu, is the fourth most spoken language internationally.
“It’s kind of a glaring hole in the academic environment here,” Tamboli said. “We have this Middle East and South Asia concentration in the [International Relations] major, so it’s kind of bizarre that they’re lumped together because they’re simply not one region. But also, more importantly, anyone pursuing that concentration right now could only take Arabic, so that would be irrelevant to anyone focusing on South Asia, and we do have substantial South Asia coursework now.”
Tamboli explained that the lack of a Hindi-Urdu component currently is a result of a lack of progression in the Middle East and South Asia curriculum.
“When the curriculum was designed…there was little to no coursework about South Asia,” Tamboli said. “Obviously the political climate has changed so much in the world since then, and South Asia is becoming a far more relevant part of the world. I think that has precipitated the rise in South Asian coursework.”
SAPAC Chair Vidya Srinivasan added that there has been a “threefold convergence” of increased coursework on South Asia within the university, an increased global relevance of South Asia and higher rates of recruitment and matriculation of Asian and Asian-American students, which contributes to the necessity of a Hindi-Urdu program at Tufts.
First-year Akshat Rajan, an international student from Mumbai, India, expresses his full support for the program, and said he believes many Indian students on campus could more easily complete their language requirements if Hindi-Urdu courses were offered.
Sophomore Somya Banwari, a student of Indian ethnicity from California, said she was in support of bringing the language to campus for several reasons.
“South Asia is an incredibly important region that is more or less overlooked at Tufts politically,” Banwari said. “Language is a form of representation, and the lack of it is really quite upsetting, particularly when Tufts does offer classes with much lower international representation such as Swahili.”
Tamboli said that the Department of German, Russian and Asian Languages and Literatures (GRALL) has only offered “soft support” for this initiative due to financial concerns about adding a new language curriculum. Through an informal conversation with department members, Tamboli said that the department would probably not commit any sources to the initiative at this point in time.
“We don’t have the conviction yet from them that this is something they want or can have,” he said.
GRALL Department Chair Gregory Carleton agreed that Hindu-Urdu has educational and international significance, but that financial difficulties are a large obstacle in implementing a program for the language, since comprehensive language programs are often accompanied by relevant culture classes.
“Are you just going to teach the language or are you going to embed that language with the faculty? That’s quite a commitment on the university’s part,” Carleton said.
He also expressed concerns that given financial constraints, for the time being, Hindi-Urdu could only be implemented by sacrificing existing courses in the department.
“Question is, can we integrate something that doesn’t take away something else?” he asked.
Carleton explained that the difficulty of adding new languages to current course offerings is evidenced by the fact that the last new language to be added at Tufts was Portuguese, which began in 2008, according to an April 6, 2007, Daily article.
However, Tamboli said he believes funds could be found to support Hindi-Urdu.
“We understand that GRALL is in a tricky position, but we disagree that Tufts as a whole has no money anywhere for this program,” Tamboli said. “It’s high time that money start flowing to the right places, let alone to overdue academic opportunities like Hindi-Urdu. If the money can be found and allocated appropriately, GRALL will not have to shed faculty.”
Tamboli, who has been in contact with Carleton, said that SAPAC is not pushing for the immediate implementation of a full-fledged language program.
“One of the points that [Carleton] made was that trying to make this program is going to be very expensive,” Tamboli said. “I don’t think he really understands we’re not asking for them to do a full-blown program starting next fall. We’re asking for a Hindi 1, a Hindi 2, then grow it out accordingly. We can look at the numbers and student support and go from there.”
Carleton also noted that there has been no official department discussion so far about adding Hindi-Urdu, nor a formal discussion with the deans, who he said will be crucial in the decision making process.
As to why no formal discussions have yet been begun with GRALL, Tamboli explained that the campaign is not ready.
“We have yet to begin any substantive discussions with GRALL because we have spent the last semester conducting research, designing a survey and talking to TCU Senate, faculty and administration,” Tamboli said. “This project has many moving parts and we want to the build the strongest case possible before running to the third floor of Olin and asking for new courses.”
Tamboli said he believes the unanimous vote on this week’s TCU Senate resolution sends a “strong, unified message to the administration.”
“It doesn’t just simply call for courses to be created, but also lays out our thoughtful arguments,” he said. “I think it’s a powerful document based on real research. My hope is that this resolution will serve as solid proof of student demand for the program and assure the university that they can fill Hindi-Urdu classrooms.”
This article originally appeared in the Tufts Daily on March 17, 2016.