BHU: Where a legacy is threatened | Opinion

Updated on Nov 26, 2019 08:30 AM IST
Students opposing Firoze Khan’s appointment are acting against the Constitution, BHU’s values
Students of the Benaras Hindu University perform Rudrabhishek as they stage a dharna outside the residence of Vice-Chancellor against the appointment of Professor Firoze Khan, Varanasi, November 20, 2019(ANI)
Students of the Benaras Hindu University perform Rudrabhishek as they stage a dharna outside the residence of Vice-Chancellor against the appointment of Professor Firoze Khan, Varanasi, November 20, 2019(ANI)
ByShashi Shekhar

The great patriot, Madan Mohan Malviya, once said: “India is not a country of the Hindus only. It is a country of the Muslims, the Christians and the Parsees 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 prayer 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.”

Have the people who belong to the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) forgotten these lines of their university’s founder, who was also called Mahamana? If they had indeed remembered it, Firoze Khan would not have faced such opprobrium in the first two weeks following his appointment in the department of Sanskrit in the Vidya Dharm Vigyan faculty.

The efforts to stir up controversy began on November 7, when he entered the university to take up his new assignment. A group of students sat in front of the entry gate of the department protesting against his appointment. Classes in the Vidya Dharm Vigyan Faculty have been disrupted since then, and a few dozen students have been creating a ruckus. Why? What was their grouse? One young protestor told a television channel that he could not fathom how a non-Aryan could teach them religion.

Perhaps, they were unaware that Khan had been appointed in the department of Sanskrit literature. He was assigned to teach literature, not religion. The faculty has eight departments, and the departments, other than religion, comprise Jain and Buddhist philosophies as well.

I don’t know if the angry students have heard about German scholars Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Max Mueller. We owe a great deal to these “non-Aryan” Sanskrit and culture lovers. They not only translated classic Sanskrit texts but also promoted them in Europe, which was then ignorant of the depth of Indian history, languages and classics. General Alexander Cunningham was an engineer in the British Army, but he did seminal work in Indian archaeology. The Sanskrit language is indebted to a long list of foreign scholars.

The people who are opposing Khan perhaps don’t know that the Mughal prince Dara Shikoh had come to Kashi to study the Vedas. The scholars and Brahmins of that time did not object, while imparting knowledge to him. Was it because he was a prince or because we were rather more liberal at that time?

This clash of language, culture and religion does not have to be unidimensional. At the same institution, BHU, there have been many Hindu professors like Mahesh Prasad who have contributed significantly in strengthening the department of Urdu. As a student of BHU, I was taught numismatics by Nisar Ahmad. The lecture he gave on the religious symbols on the coins of Gupta period still echoes in my memory. He was also chief proctor in the university. His knowledge and work earned him great respect among his students.

Firoze Khan is from a small village called Bagru, near Jaipur in Rajasthan. He completed his master’s degree from the Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan in Jaipur and then went on to do his doctorate in that subject. His father, Ramzan Khan, is also a scholar of Sanskrit. The senior Khan goes regularly to a gaushala to take care of cows, and sings Krishna bhajans in temples. He inherited all this from his father, Gafoor Khan, who himself was a great musician and also had great concern for cows. These people are well-versed in Sanskrit, not Arabic as those claiming to represent Hindutva would like us to believe.

Can a person with such a history be denied his duties on the basis of religion? Doing so would be in direct conflict with our Constitution, the University Grants Commission guidelines, and our traditions.

BHU’s students should know that in several institutions of higher education all over the world, Christians and Jews, besides Muslim scholars, teach Islam. A teacher is known by the knowledge he imparts, not by his religion, his appearance or his attire.

The BHU situation goes against everything that we believe to be authentic in academia. This has gravely damaged the image of the university. The vision and sentiments of Madan Mohan Malviya have been damaged.

Mahamana, forgive them, they know not what they do.

Shashi Shekhar is the editor-in-chief, Hindustan
The views expressed are personal
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