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BHU row: Language has no religion, say scholars

BHU row: Language has no religion, say scholars

Varanasi: Even as the row over the appointment of a Muslim Professor in the Sanskrit department in Banaras Hindu University (BHU) continues there is no dearth of examples where religion has not become a hindrance for people to teach a language in which they have acquired expertise.

In the meanwhile, it is learnt that academics attached with Sanskrit faculty have written to the President of India against the appointment,

Muslim educators of Sanskrit

Amid the row, it has come to light that Ramakrishna Mission Vidyamandira at Belur Math has recently appointed Ramzan Ali as Sanskrit professor. Ali says he never faced any discrimination either from his community or others.

Professors of Sanskrit at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) have also expressed surprise over the reactions of BHU students, claiming that they have never faced any such prejudicial situation while teaching in the same department of the varsity.

Prof Mohammad Sharif who is the chairman of Sanskrit department in AMU, claimed to be the first Muslim who did D Litt in Sanskrit. Several Hindu students have completed their PhDs under him.

Salma Mahfooz, a former professor at AMU’s Sanskrit department, claimed that she was the first Muslim woman in the world in 1970 to earn a Ph D in Sanskrit and had never faced any kind of discrimination for being a Muslim.

Prof Khalid Bin Yusuf, a person of Arab origin, has been teaching in the department of Sanskrit at AMU for the past 30 years.

Ashab Ali who joined the department of Sanskrit in Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gorakhpur University as an assistant lecturer to teach the Vedas in 1977 has said he is surprised by the controversy over the appointment of Firoz Khan. Seventy-two years old Ali doesn’t remember any discrimination or misbehaviour by fellow teachers or students in a department dominated for years by Brahmins and Thakurs. He retired as head of the department (HoD) in 2010.

Allahabad University alumna Gazala Ansari also pursued PhD in Sanskrit and is currently working as an associate professor in Lucknow’s Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan. Ansari completed her PhD in 2008 under the supervision of Kishwar Jabin Nasreen who became the first woman HoD of AU’s Sanskrit department in 2014.

Non-Muslim educators of Arabic and Urdu

Interestingly the same Banaras Hindu University where the protesting students see Firoz’s love for Sanskrit with the narrow prism of religion, has a non-Muslim faculty in Urdu department, Mr. Rishi Kumar Sharma. He is an Assistant Professor of Urdu and teaches Contemporary Urdu Fiction. Rishi Sharma who comes from Madarsa (religious school) background, has been teaching for four years and that has never been an issue.

Gopalika Antharjanam, a retired Arabic teacher is Brahmin. She has been teaching Arabic in Kerala for nearly three decades. She believes that Dr Khan has every right to teach Sanskrit at BHU.  

Asst. Prof. Balram Shukla, who teaches Sanskrit in Delhi University, has command over Persian language. He has translated several Persian language books and also poetry into Sanskrit.

Communalisation of appointment

However, protesting Dr Khan’s appointment, Piyush Kumar Diwedi, a PhD scholar from BHU questions, “How can you expect me to be taught Vedas and Dharmashastras by a Muslim? If I learn the Quran, will I be allowed to teach at madrassas?” He also believes, “We have holidays for Hindu occasions. Now if Khan joins, he will want a holiday every Friday.” If this trend of appointing Muslims in the Departments of Sanskrit continues, a day would come when Muslims would want to conduct religious rituals like Satyanarayana puja, he added.

Protest has precedent

Claiming that the protest against Firoz Khan teaching Sanskrit has precedent, Congress leader and Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha) Jairam Ramesh, tweeted: “The protest against Dr. Khan teaching Sanskrit has precedent. A.H. Dani, first Muslim graduate (MA Sanskrit) at BHU in 1944, couldn’t teach there. He later became Pakistan’s leading authority on its pre-Islamic heritage. A renowned archaeologist, he reportedly spoke 35 languages!”

Rajasthan CM comes out in Khan’s support

Meanwhile, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot who presented the state of Rajasthan’s ‘Sanskrit Yuva Pratibha Samman’ award to Dr Firoz Khan earlier this year has urged his Uttar Pradesh counterpart to intervene in the row. He said it should have been be a matter of pride for Hindu society if someone from the Muslim community became a Sanskrit scholar and should have been welcomed by the BJP and RSS.

Firoz must get the job he deserves

In an editorial titled, ‘BHU must not give in to bigotry’ Hindustan Times said, “The protests by students are truly outrageous, and must be condemned in the strongest terms. The Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion. Indian institutions do not make hiring decisions based on the religion of the candidate.” It further noted “The episode also highlights a larger problem — of rising anti-Muslim prejudice in both society and the polity. It is incumbent on all political parties, particularly the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has made the promotion of Sanskrit a key goal, to speak up for Mr Khan.” Extending support to Firoz Khan, the editorial concludes, “He must get the job he deserves. India’s Constitution, secularism, and rule of law is on test in BHU.”

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