After the appointment of Firoz Khan as a professor of Sanskrit at Benaras Hindu University, a group of around twenty students, allegedly having past links to the ABVP and RSS, protested against the same by claiming that a Muslim professor couldn’t teach them Sanskrit because he wasn’t connected to their culture or religion.
Khan, who has a doctorate in Sanskrit as well as qualified the NET-JRF, went onto say that all his life, he has learned Sanskrit with zeal and nobody had ever made him feel out of place because of his religion. He added that while he was hurt by the protest, he will try to undo the feelings in the students by his teaching, if given a chance.
This recent peculiar outburst, while one of its kind in educational institutions, can’t be considered a sporadic one taking into account the over zealous emphasis on religion and protectionism of culture placed by the leaders in power. The trend of reconnecting to a glorious past, through the hazy dots of theological doctrines than through historical objectivity has led to the rise of fanaticism even amongst educated youth in elite universities as BHU.
While it goes without saying how irrelevant and absurd the nature of the protest is, the phenomena is sadly a reflection of the internalised feelings of young citizens of this country who now see every social event through the tined lenses of religion, rather than progressive mutualism and harmony.
In the midst of all the hue and cry that has ensued since the protest, a very relevant and important question has surfaced amongst the detractors of the mindless protest: “what has language to do with religion?”
In a multilingual mosaic of cultures and faith, that is India, trying to include religion in matters of public service and affairs strikes at the very root of the foundation of this country: secularism. An inviolable principle for which we parted ways with Pakistan in 1947. India boasts of writers who wrote heart-wrenching stories of partition, cutting across religious lines, showing how indoctrination of religion as an administrative or political principle is against humanity’s core values.
Munshi Premchand, while a practising Hindu, learnt Urdu and went on to become one of the finest writers of the twentieth century. To cite a more recent example, Javed Akhtar has written time and again, bhajans for Hindi movies that are Hindu devotional songs.
Saadat Hasan Manto skipped the naming characters in his stories at times because he felt that with names, people started viewing the person as a Hindu/Muslim, rather than a human being first. All of these instances are reflection of how language, art and culture cut across narrow barriers of religion, nation, ethnicity amidst others.
The Joint Action Committee, a collective of students at the BHU, lent their support to Firoz Khan and reiterated that language has nothing to do with religion. Paresh Rawal also expressed his solidarity with Khan and asked the protesting students to “stop with the goddamn idiocy.”
While we are hardly a couple of months away from entering the second decade of the twenty first century, the year that former President APJ Abdul Kalam envisioned India to be a superpower in, India continues to grapple with elementary problems of radicalism in religion and its spillage into public affairs, a dangerous trend that has been the reason for the downfall of towering countries. To arrest this trend and make a step towards a pluralistic future, Indian students need to step up to the call and apply the lessons of scientific objectivity and neutrality we learn in school in all spheres of life.
Equally important is a proactive action by the political establishment towards curbing this irreparable trend. It does nothing but damage the social fabric, for which Indian voters need to make informed choices that talk of development, not dogma.
To sum it up, BHU-appointed Firoz Khan should be extended all official and unofficial support to continue as the faculty in the department of Sanskrit, notwithstanding the reckless and nonsensical demands of a few students, whose only aim seems to be creating a ruckus.