Understanding the BHU situation point by point

What’s the issue?

The students protests at Benaras Hindu University or BHU, has caught the attention of the media and the society. As per reports, the students of BHU are protesting against the appointment of a Muslim teacher Firoze Khan for Sanskrit language. Many have slammed the students of BHU for being religiously bigoted. On the other hand, the students argue that this is a matter of upholding the traditions of the institution.

What are the arguments of the protesters?

The protesters say that there are two departments in BHU in which Sanskrit language is taught. One is for Sanskrit the language, while the other is Sanskrit Vidya Dharm Vigyan (SVDV), a department specifically focused on studies related to Hindu theology and religion. Firoze Khan has been appointed to serve at the latter and this where the objections are at. According to the students, anybody can teach Sanskrit as a language at the concerned faculty, but to teach at the religious department of SVDV, one must be a Hindu. They argue that how can a non-Hindu teach them about science of Hinduism. They say that their demands are in accordance to the wishes of the institution’s founder, Madan Mohan Malviya.

What is the argument of Professor Firoze Khan?

Professor Firoze Khan on his defense argues that while he has been appointed to teach at the religious department of SVDV, his particular job concerns only the language part and has nothing to do with religion. He says that his job is to teach Sanskrit sahitya (literature) only. “At one point I can agree that if I have to teach Vedas, Dharam Shastra or Jyotish then its better I am a Hindu but teaching Sanskrit Sahitya has nothing to do with it. All I have to teach what is written over there,” he told The Indian Express.

Who is Firoze Khan and how did he reach there?

Firoze Khan comes from a family of Sanskrit pundits from over three generations. Yes, while that may come across surprising to some, but for the Muslim Khan family, Sanskrit is their love. Firoze was born Bahru village of Rajasthan’s Jaipur to Sanskrit scholar, Shastri Ramzan Khan. His grandfather, Gafoor Khan was also an expert of Sanskrit and had sung Hindu devotional songs as a means to livelihood, a tradition both Ramzan and Firoz continued.

He says that three generations of his family have dedicated themselves to Sanskrit and never ever bothered by anyone due to their religion. “I wanted to study Sanskrit so in Class 2, I got into the village Sanskrit school. My younger brother, Waris, also went to the same school,” Firoze said, adding that the Sanskrit school in Bagru is next to the village mosque and has several Muslim students. “It did not matter in the village. In fact, it did not matter in the college also. I never faced any discrimination because of my religious identity, until now,” he told Hindustan Times.

He is also a regular on state broadcaster Doordarshan’s Sanskrit program Vartavali, where he sings Bollywood songs in the ancient language. a 29-year-old postdoctoral scholar of the ancient Indian language, Firoze was among 10 candidates shortlisted to teach at SVDV in BHU. While others scored between 0 to 2 on a scale of 10, Firoze scored full marks due to his exceptional credentials.

Who is where on the issue?

The BHU administration has fully backed the Professor and are hopeful that he will start his services, as soon as situation normalizes. As opposed to claims of the protesting students, BHU administration maintains that a proper procedure was followed and that the spirit and motto of institution as laid down by Madan Mohan Malviya, are being maintained. However, some conspiracy theorists have claimed that some from within the faculty are encouraging the protests.

As per reports, the protesting students largely belong to organizations such as Hindu Mahasabha are behind the protests. Sangh affiliated students wing, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad or ABVP have also extended their support to the protests. However, some other RSS functionaries have gone against the students to back the professor. An RSS, weighed in on the pointlessness of the protests and said, “It is absurd that the BHU students are protesting against a Muslim teaching Sanskrit in their university. I don’t know what are the fundamentals of BHU and on what grounds are the students protesting, but I know that Sanskrit is for all.”