Qualified Acharya, PhD In Sanskrit Scriptures; Only Aspect 'Disqualifying' Firoz Khan Is Religion
The controversy over Dr Firoz Khan’s appointment in BHU’s Sanskrit Vidya Dharma Vijnan (SVDV) has prolonged to the third week and while the university firmly stands its ground on the recruitment – which was announced on the 5th of November – the students have been protesting from the 7th this month, alleging corruption and conspiracy in their faculty.
“Hume bas taale kholne ka intezaar hai. Humko humari duty karni hai” (We are only waiting for the locks put on our department doors, to be opened. We just wish to our job), a senior teacher told The Logical Indian on the condition of anonymity.
As the debate has grown and penetrated every household, Dr Firoz Khan has decided to hibernate until sentiments simmer down. Currently seeking emotional refuge in his hometown in Rajasthan, Dr Firoz Khan says that he has been aggrieved by the students’ reactions.
Who is Firoz Khan?
The 29-year-old comes from a family of Muslims who’ve had a long association of interest and appreciation for Hindu culture. Starting from his paternal grandfather who would perform bhajans in Rajasthan, serenading devotees in temples, Dr Firoz Khan grew up with respect and admiration for the Hindu dharma.
His father, Ramzan Khan sings bhajans at temples, performs aartis and serves at cow shelters. Ramzan holds the qualification of a Shastri (Bachelor degree) in Sanskrit, making it no wonder that his son went on to pursue an Acharya degree (postgraduate studies) and a PhD from the Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan in Jaipur.
Apart from being highly qualified, he also has the certified clearance of NET and JRF to his name.
The NET (National Eligibility Test) is a fairly recent examination mandated by the University Grants Commission (UGC) for anyone who wishes to apply for the position of an Assistant Professor in an Indian university or government college. The JRF (Junior Research Fellowship) is a paid research fellowship offered by the UGC to those candidates who clear NET with high scores, obtaining ranks.
Dr Firoz Khan has both credentials, in addition to his PhD in Sanskrit.
“There are certain technicalities involving the appointment in the SVDV faculty. Having completed my PhD in Sanskrit as well, I am not ‘technically’ eligible to serve in SVDV but Khan holds every qualification necessary”, a BHU professor from the Department of Sanskrit under the Faculty of Arts, told The Logical Indian.
The ‘technicality’ being referred to here is fairly simple. A teacher of SVDV needs to hold the qualification of a Shastri or Acharya to be a member of the teaching corps – and there lies one of the primary differences between the Faculty of Arts and SVDV, in Banaras Hindu University.
The teaching members of the Faculty of Arts have obtained their qualification by studying Sanskrit as a mere language – understanding its structure of grammar, etymology, semantics, linguistics, philology, etc. But the knowledge of Sanskrit as a Shastri/Acharya is necessary to be a teaching member of the SVDV faculty. The nature of study dives deep into the ‘paramparic’ (religious and traditional) understanding of Sanskrit – including intensive learning of the Vedas.
There are only a handful of institutions in the country that impart such education and Firoz Khan has graduated as an Acharya and completed his PhD from one such university – the Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan, in Jaipur.
Thus, he is fully and entirely qualified for the position of Assistant Professor in the Sanskrit Vidya Dharma Vijnan faculty of Banaras Hindu University – as appointed by the Vice-Chancellor and Head of Department.
He also scored a perfect 10 in the recruitment examination that the university asks prospective professors to take. Other candidates were reported to have scored between 0-2 and Khan’s stellar result, in addition to his academic accolades, inspired the authorities to go ahead with his appointment.
However, a position earned by hard work and merit is being objected over his name and identity, by the students.
Students’ Specific Problem
A conflict of interest can have several layers making it difficult to explain but the students’ problems over Khan’s appointment is as clear as it can get – a Muslim Acharya cannot teach Hindu students dharmic studies.
Several allegations of corrupt favouritism, ‘innate character flaws’ in present teachers, and money-swindling surfaced in a piece written on a far-right website.
The students, while claiming that they do not have a problem with a Muslim teaching Sanskrit as a part of the Arts Faculty, have enforced a lockout for two weeks at the SVDV unit because Khan’s ‘identity’ does not have the permission to teach as per the department’s foundational doctrine.
While speaking to The Indian Express, a protesting student said that the foundational tablet of the department states that the entry of a ‘non-Aryan’ and ‘non-Hindu’ is prohibited. Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists are allowed but any other ‘non-Hindu’, ‘non-Aryan’ individual is forbidden to enter.
On the 14th of November, the students demanded the ratification of Khan’s appointment, but BHU Vice-Chancellor Rakesh Bhatnagar and Head of Department (SVDV) Umarkant Chaturvedi maintained that Khan will not be removed from the position awarded.
“Yeh sab humari bhavanaon ko bhadkaane ke liye kiya jaa raha hai”, (This is an attempt to trigger our emotions) a post-doctor fellow studying in the Department of Geography said.
While speaking to The Logical Indian, he alleged that the position awarded to Dr Khan was reserved for an OBC candidate, but the university has reiterated that they followed UGC guidelines and the BHU Act’s provisions by letter and spirit.
We have not been able to confirm whether Dr Firoz Khan belongs to the OBC category, and thus the students’ accusations against the university stand unverified, but this report will be updated when the relevant information is obtained.
The Vice-Chancellor has advised the agitated students to seek legal opinion over the BHU Act as the university’s administration have strictly acted as per the law that governs them.
Brijesh Kumar, 35, who had passed out of BHU in 2005 expressed deep concerns over the intolerant temperament brewing in his alma mater. “Desh samvidhaan par chalta hai. Jo ho raha hai, ekdum galat hai” (India is run as per its constitution. What’s happening now is very wrong), he said.
“It is unconstitutional to allocate jobs as per one’s religious identity and BHU is a central university run by the government. Even if the foundational slab makes discriminatory rules the administration is not obliged to follow it, however, they are obliged to follow the law of the land and the law prohibits such bigotry”, he added.
A professor from the Department of Sanskrit in the Faculty of Arts was of the same opinion. “Kaun padha sakta hai, kaun nahi, yeh samvidhaan tai karta hai” (Who can or cannot teach can only be decided by the Indian Constitution), she commented.
The Logical Indian reached out to another BHU alumnus who was an RSS-functionary during his days at the university. He told us that he has never seen the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh interfere with the university’s business in his days – when he was a proud member. “But now it hurts all of my ex-RSS friends who worked with them at the university, to see gundaraaj being perpetrated by the group”, he said hinting at the possible association between the SVDV protests and the RSS shaka at BHU.
RSS has had an efficiently functioning shakha in the university for over a decade and has organised several events at a pan-university level since its inception. The foundation day of RSS is celebrated every Basant Panchami in BHU, where the student-members don the conventional uniform and take a long march across the campus.
Different yet similar connotations of SVDV exist amongst the teachers, students and alumni of Banaras Hindu University. While some say that it was established to impart ‘Vedic Sanaathan Dharm Ki Shiksha’, some call it a ‘Dharm Vigyaan Sansthan’.
Seemingly dissimilar, they principally mean the same thing.
The Sanskrit-Vidya-Dharma-Vijnan-Sankaya was established by Madan Mohan Malviya in 1918 to preserve and promote the studies of ancient Indian Shastras, Sanskrit language and literature with the intention to remove existing delusions about religion, spirituality, Astrology and Tantras in society and reinstate a scientific temper within followers.
The faculty has eight separate departments: Ved (the study of Vedas), Vyakaran (Grammar), Sahitya (Literature), Jyotish (Astrology), Vaidic Darshan (Numerology, Law, Science, and History), Dharmagam (ideologies with Sanaathan Dharma), Dharmashastra and Mimansa (jurisprudence and theology), and Jain-Bauddha Darshan (Study of Jain and Buddhist philosophy).
Dr Firoz Khan has been selected as an Assitant Professor in the Sahitya department and while we were in conversation with a professor from the same department, he informed us that to master this subject, one needs to be ready to learn everything under Vyakaran, Dharmashastra, Dharmagam and other branches, as Sahitya‘s matter cuts through all dimensions of study.
“We tell our students to choose Sahitya studies only if they are ready to consume the tsunami of all-encompassing knowledge coming their way as literature deals with everything under the sun.”
The SVDV faculty has a very simple and straightforward objective – with which it was established. Remarking on the identity-politics that has gripped the faculty at the moment, one of BHU’s Sanskrit professors said, “Hinduism ki koi quote-unquote paribhasha nahi ha. Par humara paramparic vigyaan hai. Issi ko aage badhane ke liye SVDV ki sthapana hui. Par isko kaun aage badhayega, Hindu, Jain ya Musalmaan – isse kya farak padta hai. Vigyaan ki padvrudhi hona sabse mahatvapoorna hai.”
(The religion of Hinduism has no definition but it does have an array of religious texts teeming with traditional knowledge. SVDV was established to promote those texts and the wisdom they contain. Who promotes it – Hindu, Jain or Muslim – should not matter. The promotion of such traditional knowledge is critical)