Row over BHU’s Sanskrit professor fails to die down

People opposing Dr Firoze Khan perhaps aren’t aware that Mughal prince Dara Shikoh had come to Kashi to study the Vedas, reports Mudit Mathur

The appointment of a Muslim scholar Dr Firoze Khan as assistant professor in Sanskrit Vidya Dharma Vigyan (SVDV) of the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) has led to pro and anti-protests from the students over his religious identity. The right wing supported students claimed that his appointment violates the sanctity of their rich religious sacraments, traditions and values. These events invoked sharp reactions at national level raising questions relating to equality and discrimination on the ground of religious beliefs.

Even the founder of the University Bharat Ratna Mahamana Pundit Madan Mohan Malaviya never thought of discrimination in academics on religious considerations as his philosophy depicts, “India is not a country of the Hindus only. It is a country of the Muslims, the Christians and the Parsis too. The country can gain strength and develop itself only when the people of the different communities in India live in mutual goodwill and harmony. It is my earnest hope and prayers that this centre of life and light which is coming into existence, will produce students who will not only be intellectually equal to the best of their fellow students in other parts of the world, but will also live a noble life, love their country and be loyal to the Supreme ruler.”

This philosophy highlighted on the home page of BHU website that puts this university on the global map as a center of learning open to all faiths.But shockingly a Sanskrit scholar, Dr Firoze Khan had traumatic experience and intolerant behaviour when he enthusiastically went to join BHU on November 7, 2019, after his selection on the post of Assistant Professorto teach “Vedas” in the faculty of Sanskrit Vidya Dharma Vigyan. The faculty dominated by a particular caste started resisting his appointment being a Muslim. Protesters greeted him with slogan shouting and aggression so that he could not join there.

Dr Firoze Khan comes from the background of an humble family who has traditional relationship with Sanskrit language. His grandfather Gafoor Khan use to perform Bhajans of various gods and goddesses in the various temples of Rajasthan. His father Ramzan Khan is also a graduate in Sanskrit and sings Bhajans of Lord Krishna. He taught Sanskrit to both his sons and Firoze is eldest.

Vice Chancellor (VC) of BHU Rakesh Bhatnagar maintains that selection of Dr Firoze Khan had been done after due compliance of all rules and regulations.“It was on the basis of performance Dr Firoze Khan was found to be the fittest candidate for the post. The selection committee comprised the visitor’s nominee, subject experts, Dean of the Faculty of Sanskrit Vidya Dharma Vigyan, Head of the department of Sahitya,” the VC added.

However, the VC appealed the agitating students to call off protest but students opposing appointment have been continuing their stir for almost a fortnight now. Despite his clarification a section of BHU students supported by Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) are up in arms and staging a dharna outside the VC’s lodge to protest the appointment of a non-Hindu as an assistant professor in the faculty of Sanskrit Vidya Dharm Vigyan. The students claim that they are fighting for the protection of Sanatan Dharma, values of Madan Mohan Malaviya and his ideals. Protesters chant Hanuman Chalisa and perform Havan in front of the residence of vice chancellor, vitiating academic atmosphere and disrupting normal study routine.

“There is no question of ending the dharna until our demand is accepted by the BHU administration. We only want Dr Firoze to be shifted to some other faculty,” said Shubham Tiwari, a research scholar at the faculty of SVDV who is taking part in the protest. Adhokshaj Pandey, convener of ABVP’s BHU wing, said, “Their demand is genuine. The students want transfer of Dr Firoze since they want only Hindus as teachers in the faculty of SVDV that imparts education of ‘Sanatan Dharma.’

Meanwhile, the dean faculty of SVDV Prof VP Mishra also wrote to the agitating students, urging them to end their stir. In view of obvious security threats, scared Professor Firoze left Varanasi and went back to his native place Jaipur until the issue gets resolved. His mobile numbers remained switched off.

The stand of SVDV students failed to muster the support of majority community studying in BHU. It resulted in polarized reactions emerged to support of vice chancellor’s firm stand upholding Firoze Khan’s appointment. The Joint Action Committee of BHU students took out procession from Lanka gate to Ravidas gate to support Dr Firoze Khan on 20th, November and later held gate meeting opposing biased attitude of Sanskrit students on this issue who are bent upon to continue the monopoly of a particular caste.

“We resolved that we will fight to protect plurality and inclusive character of our societyand will not accept discrimination in the university on the basis of caste, creed,sex or religion. The teachings of Mahamana Madan Mohan Malviya also taught us the same that the India does not belong to only Hindus but Muslims, Sikhs, Jains and Christians.” “We have resolved to welcome Professor Firoze Khan on the land of Kabirdas,” vowed Dhananjay Tripathi, Vikas Singh, Dr Lenin Raghuvanshi, Priyesh Pandey, Dipak Rajguru, Raj Abhishek, Tabassum, Tausif Qureshi and many others in the meeting.

The Joint Action Committee urged the administration to allow Firoze Khan to teach Vedas and Sanskrit literature in SVDV faculty. BHU administration must assure him adequate protection and ensure his security.The city of Banaras is identified with composite culture of communal harmony where Dara Shikoh taught Sanskrit and translated Vedas into Persian language. Shanai maestro Bismillah Khan played shahnai at the doors of the Kashi Vishwanath temple and felt lucky and proud of it.

Reminding the traditions and cultural heritage of Kashi a delegation led by congress leader Ajay Rai met the vice chancellor Rakesh Bhatnagar and handed over a memorandum supporting appointment of Firoze Khan and the stand of the university. The delegation appealed the VC to uphold the constitutional values and resist the pressure from communal elements determined to destroy our values andsocial amity. Ajay Rai is well known face of Varanasi who contested and lost parliamentary election against prime minister Narendra Modi.

The conduct of agitating Sanskrit students on the support of ABVP has actually embarrassed top BJP leadership over this controversy particularly at a time when efforts to win the confidence of Muslim community is gaining momentum. The Deputy Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Dr. Dinesh Sharma ultimately broke his silence at last on the controversy and said, “Those protesting against the appointment of a Muslim teacher in Sanskrit faculty of BHU were not doing right thing. Students can always question the appointment process whether the norms of merit were followed or not. However, they cannot raise questions about the religion of a selected teacher.” “Subject teachers did not have any religion,” he remarked.

Shocked over the BHU protests BJP MP Paresh Rawal tweeted, “Stunned by the protest against professor Firoze Khan! what language has to do with religion? Irony is professor Firoze has done his masters and PhD in Sanskrit!!! For Heavens sake stop this god damn idiocy!” “By same logic great singer late Shri Mohammad Rafi ji should not have sung any BHAJANS and Naushad Saab should not have composed it!!!!” the 64-year-old actor added.

Rafi and Naushad, the singer-composer duo, recorded many devotional immortal songs such as Man Tarpat Hari Darshan Ko Aaj from Baiju Bawra (1952) and Madhuban mein Radhika nache re from Kohinoor (1960).”

Surprisingly Banaras being a center for cultivation of secular values has shown changing signs of intolerance. The nation recognised services of Muslims for enriching Sanskrit language by awarding Padamshri to Dr Mohd Haneef Khan Shastri of Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthanand Nahid Abidi of Kashi Vidya Peeth. The new phenomena puzzles the society at large.