Students, professors work for Hindi major

A survey conducted by Diya, the South Asian Students Association, shows a large number of students at the University would be interested in a Hindi major if it were offered.

The survey, which was given to Diya's nearly 150 members, showed that almost every member would like to see Hindi as a major. The language is currently offered as a minor within the Asian and African Languages and Literature department.

"The survey was pretty indicative of people pushing for a Hindi major," said Trinity junior Moulin Desai, Diya's political chair. "The demand for it is there.... Already students are utilizing Hindi classes to the max."

Satti Khanna, associate professor of the practice in Asian and African Languages and Literature, said the department is already in the process of applying to upgrade Hindi from a minor to a major.

"Since there is support for the upgrading within the department and we have in place the faculty to sustain the courses required for a major, I don't expect difficulty in administrative approval of the Hindi major," Khanna said.

A proposal to upgrade Hindi to a major would have to be submitted to the Arts and Sciences Council's Committee on Curriculum, said Associate Dean of Trinity College Ellen Wittig. Such proposals would also require approval of the dean of Trinity College, the Academic Affairs Committee of the Board of Trustees and the Arts and Sciences Council.

Administrators received the students' petition late last week, and they have not yet discussed it or read it thoroughly, Wittig said.

"The value [of the major] would be great because there is a large Indian population at Duke and it would be a popular second major for many people," said Dharmen Mehta, a Trinity senior.

Members of Diya and other University students are also trying to improve the University's South Asian programs in other areas. Trinity sophomore Shruti Haldea is currently trying to ensure that the University offers a semesterly class in Sanskrit, the ancient precursor to Hindi.

Sanskrit has been offered as an independent study open only to 15 students. More than 30 students signed up to take the class, but because of quota limitations, only about 22 were eventually able to do so. Haldea hopes to change that by petitioning administrators and proving to them that a Sanskirit course is important at the University.

Haldea also hopes to increase the teaching of Hinduism within the religion department. Visiting Professor of Religion Graham Schweig has taught Hinduism classes, but is retiring this year, leaving the future of Hinduism classes in question.

A petition with 150 signatures and a proposal for featuring more Sanskrit and Hinduism classes at the University was sent to various administrators and department chairs last week. A letter from Diya in support of the proposal was also enclosed.

"Without Sanskrit, a Hindi major really isn't relevant," said Desai. "It's troubling that a university like Duke wouldn't offer Hindi as a major.... Diya whole-heartedly supports the proposal and its efforts."

Wittig said that although students' input is appreciated, any formal proposals for more faculty or for a Sanskrit program would have to come through the AALL department.

Some other top universities have more extensive offerings in South Asian studies. Students at Harvard can major in Sanskrit language and literature or Indian studies. University of Pennsylvania students can major in South Asian Regional Studies.

Although Diya has no current plans for a next step in their efforts, Desai says that the organization will probably write administrators and begin to take a more active role soon, possibly sending out a proposal similar to the Sanskrit and Hinduism proposal, but for a Hindi major. "We have the resources," said Desai. "All that's really remaining is a recognition of the major."

Richard Rubin contributed to this story.


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