Over two weeks after students at the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) started protesting against the appointment of Feroze Khan as an assistant professor at the Sanskrit department, voices supporting the Muslim professor too have become vocal now. Students and professors speak in unison that a language can't be "shackled" by anyone.
Shastri Kosalendra Das, an Assistant Professor in Philosophy Department of Jagadguru Ramanandacharya Sanskrit University, Jaipur, says the protest against Khan is "not just a threat to Sanskrit as a language but also the constitution."
Speaking to Outlook over the phone, Das said no language can be protected by restricting it to a particular community or people. "Today, you are staging a sit-in against the appointment of a Muslim professor, but what will you do to the books written in Sanskrit by Muslims and Christians over the past 400 years," Das said, adding, "innocent Khan was being hounded for a stupid reason."
He added that numerous other Muslim professors were teaching Sanskrit in universities across the country. "In my department, five Muslim students are studying Sanskrit, so what?"
Das also drew attention to the fact that Mughal emperor Akbar had ordered the translation of Mahabharata from Sanskrit to Persian. "One lakh (100,000) Shlokas were translated into Persian and today, a copy of this work can be found in the 'City Palace Museum' of Jaipur," Das said. The Persian translation of Mahabharatha is known as "Razmnama".
Aakash, a student at the BHU, said the protest against Feroze's appointment has been on for well over two weeks, but things look under control now. "Feroze Khan was upset after the protests and he said that he didn't want to teach here," Aakash said, adding, "there is still a group of 15-20 people protesting in front of the Vice Chancellor's office."
Another student, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Feroze had been appointed as a professor based on his qualifications. "He applied for the job and was considered most suitable for the post," the student said. When asked about the hue and cry over the appointment, the student said it's his appointment as an Assistant Professor at the Sanskrit Vidya Dharm Vigyan that has not gone down well with some students there.
Referring to an inscription at the entrance of University's Sanskrit department, the student said protesters were following the words of Madan Mohan Malviya who had clearly said that "no non-Hindu can teach or study in the university’s Sanskrit department". He added a person's identity or his religion was no reason why he can't teach a language or subject.
The university has, however, denied there was any such inscription anywhere on the premises, a report in The Print said.
BHU Chancellor Giridhar Malviya, who is the grandson of university founder Madan Mohan Malviya, on Thursday backed the Muslim professor's appointment, saying if the latter were alive, he, too, would have approved.
A BHU professor Outlook reached out to said a circular instructing them not to speak on any matter concerning the varsity had been issued. "It's not just about this issue. We are not supposed to speak about anything involving the university."
Vice-Chancellor Rakesh Bhatnagar has not deviated from his stand that Khan's appointment was legitimate. Several BHU professors have also come out in support of Khan.
The professor, who holds a doctorate in Sanskrit, has left for his village in Jaipur, a BHU student told Outlook.
On Thursday, another group of students, carrying placards saying "We are with Feroz Khan", held a peace march within the campus in support of Khan. It was a joint initiative by outfits like the NSUI, Youth for Swaraj and AISA, they held the banner of 'Joint Action Committee'.
Vikas Singh, a PhD student of Political Science and a member of NSUI, told IANS, "Through our peace march, we tried to tell that we welcome Dr Feroz Khan in this university that was established by Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya. There should be a solution to this issue. The students protesting against his appointment have a narrow casteist mentality."
Last week, BHU backed the appointment of Khan, saying it was committed to providing equal opportunities to everyone irrespective of religion, caste, community or gender.