Never faced bias before: Muslim Sanskrit professor in eye of row
Firoze said he wasn’t discriminated against when he was learning Sanskrit but rued that “when I want to propagate it through teaching, I have suddenly become a Muslim.”Updated: Nov 13, 2019 08:21 IST
Firoze, whose appointment as assistant professor in the Sanskrit faculty of Banaras Hindu University (BHU) last week created a controversy, was the only Muslim student in the Jaipur institute from where he completed his doctorate in 2018.
Firoze, who prefers not to use a surname, said he wasn’t discriminated against when he was learning Sanskrit but rued that “when I want to propagate it through teaching, I have suddenly become a Muslim.”
Last week, some students staged a sit-in near the residence of the vice chancellor of BHU, demanding cancellation of his appointment. The BHU administration has so far stuck to its guns, and said that it “unanimously” appointed the “most qualified candidates” through a “transparent” screening process headed by the vice chancellor.
“When I got admitted to Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan (Deemed University) in Jaipur for the Shastri (undergraduate) degree, I was the only Muslim on campus,” said Firoze. The 29-year-old teacher is from Bagru, a village famous for natural dyes and block printing located 32km southwest of Jaipur.
Rastriya Sanskrit Sansthan is an inter-disciplinary university for the teaching of ancient and modern languages and literature and has 13 campuses, including in Jaipur, across India.
Firoze was guest faculty at RSKS Jaipur for at least three years before he was selected as assistant professor in the faculty of Sanskrit Vidya Dharm Vigyan (SVDV) at BHU.
While at the college, he and a friend formed a theatre group called Yuva Tarang for staging Sanskrit plays. “We have performed in Jaipur, Nagaur, Jodhpur and Bharatpur,” Firoze said.
On August 14 this year, Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot awarded Firoze the ‘Sanskrit Yuva Pratibha Samman’ on the eve of Sanskrit Day. Several other Sanskrit scholars were awarded during the event but he was the only Muslim.
Firoze was drawn to Sanskrit from an early age. He went to the government Sanskrit school in Bagru. His father, Ramzan Khan, sings bhajans and is famous for singing ones that promotes the preservation and protection of cows.
“My father sang bhajans and my two elder brothers also got into music. 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. “Sanskrit led to my intellectual growth and I was drawn towards learning it more.”
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. I am thankful to my teachers for that, especially Professor Ram Kumar Sharma of RSKS and Harish Chandra Tiwari, who taught me in Acharya (postgraduate) and is now in Uttarakhand,” he said.
Like his father and two elder brothers, Firoze also loves to sing. He is a regular in the Vartavali programme telecast on Doordarshan every Saturday evening where he sings Hindi film songs translated into Sanskrit.