‘Medieval’ tag on BHU bullies
Senior academics have condemned as “medieval” the way a group of students from Banaras Hindu University’s main Sanskrit faculty have succeeded in bullying the campus administration into removing a Muslim teacher.
Feroze Khan, 32, last week resigned as assistant professor a month after joining BHU’s Sanskrit Vidya Dharma Vigyan faculty after the agitating students refused to be taught Hindu religious texts, which are part of the curriculum, by a Muslim.
As a compromise solution, Khan has joined as an assistant professor with the Sanskrit (literature and language) department in the university’s arts faculty.
“This is condemnable. What you teach should have nothing to do with your religion in a modern university. We are going back to the medieval ages,” sociologist Andre Beteille told The Telegraph.
He said that in the middle ages, European universities only allowed Christians to pursue higher education and teach, while barring the Jews.
“It would be wrong today to say that you need to practise a particular religion to be able to teach. Modern universities are secular institutions,” he said.
Khan’s November 7 appointment, after he cleared an interview, had triggered a class boycott and frozen semester exams in the faculty. Backed by some teachers, some of the Brahmin students had refused to be “taught Hindu rituals by a Muslim” or anyone not wearing a “sacred thread”.
Vasudha Dalmia, professor emerita for Hindi and modern South Asian studies at the University of California, Berkeley, said the BHU episode was a “scandal”.
“Identifying Muslims with ‘mlechchha’ is a relatively recent phenomenon. Till well into the 19th century, the term included Europeans. Would the BHU students object to white Indologists teaching Sanskrit?” she asked.
“German Indologists did great work in and for Sanskrit. They made the Vedas known all over the world. How can anyone question who should pursue Sanskrit and to what end? If a scholar has an excellent track record in Sanskrit studies, on what basis can the students oppose his joining the faculty?”
BHU vice-chancellor Rakesh Bhatnagar said Khan was a “brilliant” scholar. “His subject is Sanskrit literature. He was selected by separate panels of experts,” he said.
Padmanabhan Balaram, former director of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, said the appointment of a teacher by experts following due procedure cannot be questioned.
“Once all the procedures have been followed, the selection cannot be questioned. If there is a lapse in procedure, that can be raised in the legitimate forum. This controversy has contributed to a negative perception about the university,” Balaram said.
Bhatnagar said all the rules had been followed in Khan’s appointment. “I checked the rulebook, the BHU Act and Statute. It does not discriminate against anybody on the basis of their colour, caste or religion,” he said.
Hareeshwar Dixit, who teaches the Vedas in the Sanskrit Vidya Dharma Vigyan faculty, defended the student protests.
“Only a maulvi performs the azan — just anybody who knows Urdu cannot perform the azan. Khan knows Sanskrit literature but not pujapath or karmakanda; he cannot do those,” he said.
Zafarul Islam Khan, an Islamic scholar, said the azan is recited in Arabic and any Muslim can perform it.
Dixit said the students of the faculty touch the feet of their teachers and receive their blessings.
“Will any student touch his (Khan’s) feet? He himself would have felt offended. It’s good that he chose the Sanskrit (arts) department, which does not follow these practices,” he said.
Dixit also referred to the Sravani Upakarma ritual that the faculty organises every year in which only Brahmins perform the rites.
He said the devotees take the holy dip amid the chanting of hymns during the ritual. “The devotees are blessed with a shower of panchagavya, a mixture of cow urine, cow dung, ghee, milk, curd and water. Khan cannot do this.”
The student protesters had danced and distributed sweets to celebrate their victory.
“We are happy that the university is ready to follow tradition and keep a Muslim away from teaching the Vedas and other Sanskrit religious texts,” Chakrapani Ojha, a leader of the protesters, said.
“We also thank Khan for understanding our emotions and resigning. We have no problem if he teaches the Sanskrit language or literature in any other department.”
Additional reporting by Piyush Srivastava in Lucknow