“We had no problems then,” said Khan. That’s until he reached Banaras Hindu University (BHU) as a professor to teach Sanskrit. Students from the department erupted in revolt. “A Muslim can’t teach us Sanskrit,” they said and sat in protest on November 7. “This isn’t what Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya would have wanted,” others raged as Khan was appointed assistant professor in the literature department of Sanskrit Vidya Dharm Vigyan.
The agitation has continued. The students have remained adamant on their demand to move Khan to a different department despite a meeting with vice- chancellor Rakesh Bhatnagar on the futility of it a day earlier on Thursday. They haven’t budged even after the administration made it clear that the selection committee had unanimously recommended the selection of Khan “on the basis of prescribed UGC guidelines and BHU Act”.
Firoz Khan was appointed as assistant professor in Sanskrit literature department of Benaras Hindu University
The VC has, however, told students that legal opinion may be sought on the doubts that they have with respect to the BHU Act. The university has so far backed Khan, with their stand being that BHU is committed to equal educational and teaching opportunities, irrespective of religion, caste, community, gender. There were reports in local dailies that for the post of Sanskrit professor, 10 candidates had been shortlisted. Others scored between 0-2, Khan 10 out of 10. “Since my childhood, till completion of my studies at Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan, I never faced any discrimination because of my religion,” Khan told TOI on Friday. “But this is so disheartening. A group of students don’t want me to teach them Sanskrit because I am not a Hindu.” Ironically, the controversy has convulsed a city that has given at least two Muslim Sanskrit scholars who were honoured with the Padma awards recently. One of them, Dr Mohammad Hanif Khan Shastri, got the recognition this year. He retired as professor at Varanasi’s Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan. The topic of his doctorate was ‘Comparative analysis of Gayatri mantra and Surah Fatiah’.
Those ranged against him are not convinced. Students have said Khan’s appointment is a “conspiracy” and goes against the “sentiments” of Malviya, who helped set up BHU.
Rajasthan awarded Firoz Khan with the Sanskrit Yuva Samman in August this year
Sriram Puranik, one of the students leading the tirade against Khan, said, “This appointment has been made as part of a conspiracy. The whole process, including the interview, was rigged … Secondly, the stone inscription installed in BHU states very clearly that no non-Hindu can either study or teach in our department. Then why was a Muslim professor appointed?” BHU maintains there is no such stone inscription on the campus .
Other pupils, like PhD student Shubham Tiwari, have said that “a Muslim can’t teach us our dharma”. He told TOI that “this institution is for cultural, religious, historical debates and discussion on Sanatan Hindus and their direct or indirect branches like Arya Samaj, Bauddh, Jain, Sikh (sic) only.
There are signs that BHU may now just be dithering even though it has continued to lend support to Khan. “But I still say he was the best among all candidates for the post,” university spokesman Rajesh Singh said.