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.

Similar Posts

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below