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BHU's double standards

Last updated on: November 22, 2019 10:40 IST

When a university allows a small group of students to prevent classes being held; when the professor selected to hold those classes gives up and goes back to his hometown; what conclusion can be drawn, asks Jyoti Punwani.

IMAGE: Some students have been staging a sit-in outside the Banaras Hindu University vice-chancellor's office against the selection of Firoze Khan in the Sahitya department of the Sanskrit Vidya Dharma Vijnan. Photograph: Kind courtesy Firoze Khan/Facebook
 

Both the vice-chancellor and the head of the Sanskrit department at Banaras Hindu University have stood by their selection of Firoze Khan as assistant professor of literature in the Sanskrit Vidya Dharm Vigyan department.

But the university administration has taken no action to ensure that he can start teaching.

Across television channels, interviews of the protesting students show them to be not more than a handful, though for sure, they make a lot of noise, singing bhajans with cymbals, dhols et al.

But are there only a dozen-odd students studying the literature course in the SVDV department?

Or, are the rest either too timid or too indifferent to join the protests?

Why then are they not attending class?

Too intimidated?

Surely it is the administration's duty to ensure that classes are held.

There are ways they could have done this.

If they wanted to stand by the Muslim they have chosen as the best qualified candidate to teach Sanskrit literature, they would have ensured that he goes to class as he is supposed to, whether anyone attends or not.

They could have persuaded the large body of students to attend.

They could have also declared that further absenteeism from class would be punished, and that the courses missed would not be taught later.

IMAGE: Students stage a protest at BHU against the appointment of a Muslim teacher of Sanskrit, November 20, 2019. Photograph: PTI

There's one more thing the administration could have done.

They could have filed an FIR against the protesters for spreading communal enmity.

On camera, these students of Hindu dharm have said that a 'non-Aryan' cannot teach Hindu dharm.

Who is an Aryan is what the administration should be asking these students to explain.

It cannot be that the BHU administration is indifferent to this student protest.

It's been making headlines continuously, and for sure, will be swooped upon by the international media.

In this case, it won't be only because every instance of anti-minority bigotry in 'New India' makes international news.

It will also be because Sanskrit and Hindu religion are taught in many leading universities of the world.

IMAGE: Ramzan Khan, Firoze Khan's father, sings bhajans at a temple near Jaipur. Photograph: PTI

So the only explanation for the university's inaction is fear.

Since 2014, central universities have been browbeaten and many have succumbed to bullying by the central government on a scale never seen earlier.

But in this case, BHU is on strong footing.

They've chosen the kind of Muslim the RSS/BJP claim to love.

The RSS wants Muslims to acknowledge their Hindu past.

Love of Sanskrit, bhajans and go-mata marks Khan's family.

Khan's father sports a red tika when he sings bhajans in such stirring tones that you can't help but be moved, and does gau-seva.

His companions are long-haired, white-robed devout Hindu pandits.

IMAGE: Swami Avimukteshwaranand Saraswati addresses students who have been staging a protest at BHU against the appointment of a Muslim teacher of Sanskrit, November 21, 2019. Photograph: PTI

What more can the RSS ask for?

Indeed, at least one RSS voice has come out against the students.

Calling the protest "'absurd', Dev Pujari, head of Sanskrit Bharti, the RSS wing that promotes the language, has advised (external link the students to withdraw it.

This administrative paralysis on the part of BHU in Firoze Khan's case is in sharp contrast to the speed with which the same administration allowed a senior administrative official to resign.

The resignation of Kiran Damle, the deputy chief proctor who uprooted the RSS flag from the sports ground on November 12, was accepted and sent to the VC after an FIR was filed against her.

A local RSS office-bearer told the police she had disrespected their flag.

Promptly, the Varanasi police obliged by filing an FIR against her.

Since when did showing disrespect to an RSS flag become an offence?

According to reports, the police booked her for creating enmity between two groups on grounds of religion, and insulting religious beliefs.

Which two groups and which religion?

Since Ajay Singh Bisht came to power in Uttar Pradesh, it has been evident that the police in UP take instructions from various arms of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

That, however, doesn't mean that others can't challenge their actions.

But for that you need enough powerful people to feel outraged, as happened in Maharashtra in 2012.

IMAGE: Reenu Srinivasan and Shaheen Dhada with Shaheen's uncle Dr Abdul Gaffar Dhada. Photograph: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

After Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray's death in November 2012, two senior policemen, one of them an SP, were suspended over the arrest of two girls in Palghar.

The magistrate who sent the girls to judicial custody and later granted bail was transferred.

The case against them was closed.

Shaheen Dhada's Facebook post had criticized the forced shutdown of Mumbai on the day of Thackeray's funeral.

Her friend Renu Srinivasan had liked it.

The Palghar police arrested both girls on the instructions of local Shiv Sainiks, kept them overnight in the police station, and charged them with making statements creating enmity between classes.

The same police also allowed Shiv Sainiks to ransack the clinic of Shireen's father's brother.

At that time, then Press Council of India chairman and former Supreme Court judge Markandeya Katju had warned the Maharashtra chief minister of legal consequences if he failed to act against the cops.

Now, who's going to warn the UP CM?

Where's the uproar that a senior university official who was only doing her duty has been forced to reign?

The RSS flag had been implanted into the sports ground; Damle, who was also the assistant director (sports), was duty-bound to remove it.

Instead, she had to apologise to an angry group of RSS students that she didn't know that it was an RSS flag!

Wasn't it the duty of the administration to stand by her and tell the protesters it was they who were wrong, not she?

Interestingly, even while defending Firoze Khan's selection, the head of the Sanskrit department is reported to have said that he was willing to change the university's rules on appointment of non-Hindus, 'if the students were saying that (BHU founder) Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya's feelings have been hurt by the appointment of a Muslim professor.'

With such a head of department, Firoze Khan may be better off looking for a job elsewhere.

Incidentally, it is only on the 14th day of the protests that Leftist students at BHU demonstrated in this Muslim Sanskrit scholar's support.

When will they rally around Kiran Damle, the Hindu woman who dared to uproot an RSS flag from BHU and paid for it?

 

JYOTI PUNWANI
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