The curious case of the Sanskrit teacher at BHU     

Who engineered the controversy and why? And who has gained from it and what?

The curious case of the Sanskrit teacher at BHU      

Sunita Shahi

There are three centres in the BHU where Sanskrit language and literature is taught besides other topics. But the appointment of Firoz Khan as Assistant Professor at one of the centres, the subsequent controversy and protest by a section of the students and his subsequent appointment at another centre have raised eyebrows.

Was all of it orchestrated? If so, by whom? Asked to shed some light, a BHU Professor laughs uproariously before recovering to ask, “Doesn’t Indresh Kumar, head of Rashtriya Muslim Manch affiliated to the RSS, camp in Varanasi?” To raised eyebrows, he patronisingly added, “Who created Ram temple issue and then solved it? Who created an issue over Article 370, literally a non-issue, and then claimed that they have solved it? Who is creating a controversy in the BHU and then solving it?”

Light dawns on the assembled friends and one of them remembers that Firoz Khan had been quoted as saying that he was proud to be a member of Kashi Hindu Vishwavidyalaya.

It has been a longstanding demand of the RSS to rename BHU as KHV. Kashi is of course the ancient part of modern Varanasi, stretched along the river Ganga and which finds mention in Hindu religious texts.

The appointment controversy was triggered by the RSS affiliated ABVP, which had declared that a Muslim would not be allowed to teach them about Hindu rituals ( since the Centre also teaches them). After allowing the controversy to simmer in the media for several days, when TV channels went to town about Firoz Khan’s father also having learnt Sanskrit and singing bhajans at a temple, the RSS came out saying that it did not support the students.

The VC and the Chancellor gave interviews and hardliners among Hindus were seen standing by Firoz Khan till he disappeared from the scene around November 21. Till then he was readily talking to the media. There was speculation that he had gone home in Rajasthan.

But on November 29, the BHU issued a statement in Hindi. “A section of local, national and international media are using words and phrases like going underground, missing, vanished (for Firoz)… he is pained to see all this. Dr Firoz has clarified that he neither needed to go anywhere nor had to leave the city. He has also said that baseless reports have been written about his different applications (for job).”

It quoted Firoz Khan as saying, “Being a teacher of a respectable university like Kashi Hindu Vishwavidyalay, I am not only aware of my duties but also responsible to follow the rules. It is my great luck that I got the opportunity to teach in the garden of Mahamana (Madan Mohan Malviya, the founder of BHU). I am committed to follow the ideals and values of Mahamana while doing my duty in Kashi Hindu Vishwavidyalay”.

Firoz Khan was appointed Assistant Professor of Sanskrit Literature in Sanskrit Vidya Dharma Sankaya, a separate faculty, on November 7 and had joined the very next day.

However, over two dozen students of the faculty had sat on dharna near the residence of Rakesh Bhatnagar, Vice Chancellor, demanding to “cancel the appointment of a Muslim in a faculty where Hindu religion is taught.” Some retired professor of the department with RSS connections through its morning shakhas (the assembly of the RSS members for exercise and ideological debates) came openly in support of the protesters, forcing the university administration to shut the faculty. The protesters had said they would have no problem if Firoz was shifted to Sanskirt department of any other faculty in the university.

Jai Prakash Lal, RSS in-charge of the Kashi Zone (for the Sangh, it includes Varanasi and adjoining districts) had declared a week after the start of the protest that the Sangh was of the view that Firoz’s appointment was done on the basis of merit and it shouldn’t be made an issue unnecessarily.

Hours before the BHU PRO issued the press release on November 29, Firoz Khan appeared in an interview for the post of Assistant Professor in the Department of Samhita and Sanskrit in the Faculty of Ayurveda of Institute of Medical Sciences, BHU.

There were nine other candidates who had reached for the same interview but nobody saw Firoz, though his name was certainly there in the list put up on the notice board.

While the interview was still going on in the Department of Samhita and Sanskirt, the list of 39 interviewees with Feroz as the 11th candidate in Sanskrit Department of the Art Faculty was released.

The continuing mystery is where he would finally teach. And the unanswered question is what the RSS has gained by engineering and stoking this controversy.

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