It Is Heartening To See The Support That Has Poured In For Dr Firoze Khan

Firoze Khan completed his Shastri (Bachelor degree), Shiksha Shastri (B.Ed), Acharya (post-graduate) and received his PhD in 2018 from Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan, a deemed university. He even cleared the NET and JRF. About two weeks ago, he joined as Assistant Professor at Banaras Hindu University’s Sanskrit Vidya Dharam Vigyan (SVDV). Dr Khan’s appointment was met with protests by a section of the students, and the University has since been in the headlines. The protestors are maintaining that the appointment of a Muslim is against the principles of the University that were set up by Mahamana Madan Mohan Malviya. The vice-chancellor has made clear that the appointment was made by a duly-appointed selection committee in agreement with applicable rules and regulations.

The controversy over Dr Khan, a recipient of the Sanskrit Yuva Pratibha Samman by Rajasthan government is completely uncalled for. For the great land of India, language has no correlation with religion. We are the land where Munshi Premchand, a Kayastha Hindu learned Urdu from a maulvi and went on to become the greatest writer of Hindustani and Muhammad Rafi sang bhajans composed by Naushad including the famous “Man Tarpat Hari Darshan Ko Aaj” from Baiju Bawra (1952) and “Madhuban mein Radhika nache re” from Kohinoor (1960).

We are a country that has a constitutional promise of equal opportunity in matters of employment to all—irrespective of religion, caste, gender, community.

In the earlier times, sacred texts were the preserve of Brahmins and while classical Sanskrit could be taught to upper-caste Hindus. The Skanda Purana says that any Brahmin who teaches Sanskrit to a Shudra would lose his caste. But this changed with the coming of the Europeans and their keen interest in the religious texts. Three Sanskrit colleges were started by the British at Benaras, Poona and Calcutta. In 1832, a former student of Sanskrit College Calcutta was appointed a professor. The Brahmin professors and students opposed the selection on the ground that he was a Shudrayaji Brahmin. The colonial administrator told them that could leave if they so wished. No one did, and over the years these colleges slowly began to open up.

Much before the British, it was Abd-al-Qadir Badauni who translated the Ramayana and Mahabharata, and the famous Al Beruni learnt Sanskrit in the 11th century and wrote the Kitab-ul-Hind. Later it was the Mughal prince Dara Shikoh who was taught Sanskrit, and he took a keen interest in the subject. Dara later translated the Upanisads into Persian.

Closer to our times, a man named Ashab Ali joined the department of Sanskrit in Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gorakhpur University as an assistant lecturer (on an ad hoc basis) to teach the Vedas, continued to work till 2010. The Professor of Vedas, says that except for one stray incident, he never faced any discrimination, “Such things never happened in our times. Despite being a Muslim, I continued to excel in Sanskrit and went on to become the head of a department that was full of Brahmins.” He fondly adds that over the years, his heads of department, for their part, made sure classes didn’t clash with his prayers and ensured that no controversy arose due to his religion.

At the centre of the controversy itself, Professor Rishi Sharma, who studied at a Madrasa has been teaching in the Urdu department for four years, and his religion has never been an issue.

However, it is heartening to see that support has poured in for Khan. Bihar’s deputy chief minister, Sushil Kumar Modi, tweeted, “It is sheer foolishness to oppose Dr Firoj Khan only becose he is a Muslim. If a Muslim or Christian studies our Veda, Upanishad & shows interest in Sanskrit shud we welcome or oppose? Univ shouldn’t succumb to such agitations.” Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot had asked his Uttar Pradesh counterpart to intervene and end the protests. “If someone from the Muslim community has become a Sanskrit scholar, then the RSS and the BJP must welcome this. This should have been a matter of pride for the Hindu community,” Gehlot had tweeted. The students of BHU, too, have rallied behind Khan holding placards that read ‘We are with you Dr Feroze Khan’

Firoze Khan
Image via Twitter

When all these protests were going on, RamKrishna Mission Vidyamandir Belur appointed a Muslim professor, Ramzan Khan and an adivasi, Ganesh Tudu as assistant professors of Sanskrit. Vidyamandir had earlier appointed Shamim Ahmed in the Department of Philosophy in 2000. Dr Ahmed is the current Head of Department. He did his PhD on Mahabharata and has been teaching Indian Philosophy for the past two decades. Along with Ahmed, Faridul Rahaman was also appointed in the department.

We should rise above discrimination as envisaged in the BHU Act and Article 15 of the Indian Constitution—both of which unequivocally say no citizen shall be discriminated on the grounds of race, caste, sex, and religion. Additionally, Section 4 of the BHU Act says that discrimination based on religious grounds shall be unlawful. We should rather applaud men and women like Firoze Khan who seek to learn languages for the sheer love of it and not run behind job oriented courses.

Our country is pluralistic and inclusive in practice. We should all work towards removing narrow-mindedness and sectarian feelings. The controversy should act as a reminder of the Sanskrit lesson of Vasudhaiva Katumbakam and the Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb of the country.

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