The prestigious Banaras Hindu University is in the midst of an unsavoury controversy as a group of students from the varsity's faculty of Sanskrit Vidya Dharm Vigyan (SVDV) are up in arms against the appointment of a Muslim Sanskrit scholar as their teacher.
Firoze Khan, a 29-year-old postdoctoral scholar of the ancient Indian language, was among 10 candidates shortlisted to teach at SVDV in BHU. While others scored between 0 to 2 on a scale of 10, Firoze scored full marks due to his exceptional credentials, media reports said. But all that is beyond the point for a bunch of students who have been sitting on dharnas since 7 November to protest against the appointment of a Muslim in a 'Hindu' university.
Students insist that a stone inscription on the campus clearly states that no Muslim can study or teach in the department; varsity administration insists this is untrue, The Times of India reported. So far, the BHU administration has stood firmly behind Firoze with the varsity's vice-chancellor Rakesh Bhatnagar backing his appointment.
The BHU administration has clarified there will be no discrimination on appointments on the grounds of religion.
In a statement to the media, BHU spokesperson Rajesh Singh said, "There was an appointment meeting and some students created disruptions at the time. They were protesting against the appointment of a Muslim. The meeting took place on 5 November and the appointment was done on the basis of the potential of the candidate. The university does not stand for discrimination on the basis of religion, caste or gender. For the progress of the nation it believes in providing equal opportunities of education to all."
But Krishna Kumar, a research student at SVDV, who is leading the protest with three other fellow students, told The Indian Express, "If a person is not connected with our feelings and culture, how will he be able to understand us and our dharma."
Meanwhile, the classes are at a standstill since 7 November, when the protests broke out and local reports state that Firoze has left Varanasi and gone back to Jaipur as the protests continued. The administration says that the professor will be back once the situation normalises.
The varsity officials are now mulling disciplinary action against students who are obstructing classes.
The vice chancellor and other senior officials had last week held discussions with representatives of the protesters for over two hours. The vice-chancellor assured the students that the administration is committed to achieve the objectives of the university in providing equal educational and teaching opportunities to everyone irrespective of religion, caste, community or gender.
Bhatnagar had reiterated that the BHU Act was being followed in letter and spirit in the ongoing selection process in the university. He appealed to the students to call off their agitation and cooperate in smooth functioning of the faculty of SVDV and the university. During the meeting, it was agreed upon that constitutional or legal opinion might be sought on the doubts that these students have with respect to BHU Act.
An RSS functionary too, weighed in on the pointlessness of the protests and said, "It is absurd that the BHU students are protesting against a Muslim teaching Sanskrit in their university. I don’t know what are the fundamentals of BHU and on what grounds are the students protesting, but I know that Sanskrit is for all."
"Everyone can learn Sanskrit. There is no limitation of learning a language. Everyone can learn, speak and teach it. I think BHU students are on the wrong side of the issue," RSS Sanskrit Bharti, national spokesperson Dev Pujari, told News18. Several Sanskrit scholars and right-wing activists also have voiced their support for Firoze.
न धर्म वृद्धेषु वय: समीक्षते।
Today with my familiar #Sanskrit assistant professor at #BHU #FirozeKhan. वर्धापनानि 🙌🏻 @PadmajaJoshi @DrRakeshGoswami@TheSamirAbbas @SwetaSinghAT@ParveenKaswan @sanjeevrsingh@DrKumarVishwas @AudreyTruschke#StandWithFiroze pic.twitter.com/qrXwYNC8pt
— Kosalendradas कोसलेन्द्रदास: (@Kosalendradas) November 19, 2019
Condeming students of Kashi Vishwa Vidyalay is counter productive.
— Rahul Easwar (@RahulEaswar) November 19, 2019
Meanwhile, Firoze points out his stellar record and hopes the students will eventually come around. Born to Shastri Ramzan Khan in Bagru village of Jaipur, Firoze's family has had interest in Sanskrit language since past three generations. Khan's grandfather Gafoor Khan was also interested in Sanskrit and sung Hindu devotional songs as a means to livelihood, a tradition both Ramzan and Firoz continued out of their interest in the cultural aspects of the religion. Khan has recorded Krishna hymns for state-run Doordarshan channel as well. He is a regular on the Vartavali programme telecast on Doordarshan every Saturday evening, where he sings Hindi film songs translated into Sanskrit, Hindustan Times reported.
With protests by a section of students continuing for more than ten days, Firoze said, "At one point I can agree that if I have to teach Vedas, Dharam Shastra or Jyotish then its better I am a Hindu but teaching Sanskrit Sahitya has nothing to do with it. All I have to teach what is written over there," he told The Indian Express.
He says in an entire lifetime, and three generations dedicated to learning Sanskrit, he had never been othered by anyone because of his religion.
"I wanted to study Sanskrit so in Class 2, I got into the village Sanskrit school. My younger brother, Waris, also went to the same school," Firoze said, adding that the Sanskrit school in Bagru is next to the village mosque and has several Muslim students. "It did not matter in the village. In fact, it did not matter in the college also. I never faced any discrimination because of my religious identity, until now," he told Hindustan Times.
However, after the controversy, a distraught Ramzan says although he is grateful to BHU for recognising Firoze's talent, he sometimes feels it would have been better if he had opened a butcher shop for Firoze, which at least would not have hurt his dignity and given him a secure future.
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Updated Date: Nov 20, 2019 13:29:54 IST