Students of Banaras Hindu University (BHU) have been protesting over the appointment of a Muslim professor, Dr Firoz Khan, at the Sanskrit Vidya Dharma Vigyan. The students have been called Adharmik bigots, giving it a colour of communal bigotry.
The controversy surrounding this appointment and the protest is worth exploring, trying to understand each side’s point of view, without labelling them, bigots. Nevertheless, it seems those who are opposing the BHU students have only argument available – label all believers as bigots. No reasoning, no logic, no discussion, just call them Hindutvawadis.
I am a graduate from BHU. I prefer people indulging in this debate to first understand BHU, about its conceptualization, about its principal objective, and also about the people behind this sacred institution that blends ancient Indian traditions with modern education.
Bharat Ratna Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, who became president of the Indian National Congress as many as four times and also founded the Hindu Mahasabha, stands as a colossal figure in the history of the nation. He observed that while students of other sects knew much about their religion, the Hindus knew very little about their rich cultural legacy. He was grieved to learn that the number of Indian youths, who went abroad for higher studies, returned home with distorted attitudes towards their own country and culture. The only solution to his mind was to lay in creating a university in which a correct approach towards Indian cultural values.
Same time, as part of the Aligarh movement, in 1875, the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College was set up by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan to help Muslims in India overcome their educational backwardness and prepare themselves for government services. MOA provided western education, but the focus remained on Islamic theology. In 1920, it was granted university status and called the Aligarh Muslim University.
In the year 1904, Mahamana formally moved the resolution for establishing a Hindu University. The Hindu University was not established merely to grant degrees and diplomas to young men of India. Its primary purpose was to enable the students to feel grateful to be true Hindus and patriots.
The resolution for the establishment of a HINDU UNIVERSITY was announced on 1 January 1906. The resolution was reiterated at an assembly of Hindu religious leaders and scholars held at Prayag during Kumbh under the President-ship of Jagadguru Swami Shankaracharyaji.
The resolution reads as follows:
Notice the first laid out objective of the university and the first institution of learning that was resolved to be created. It was a Vedic Vidyalaya that later turned out to be Sanskrit Vidya Dharma Vigyan Sansthan.
Since Malviya Ji hailed from Prayag, many influential citizens pressed him to shift the venue of the University to Prayag, but Malaviyaji did not budge an inch. He chose Kashi as the site because of the centuries-old tradition of learning, wisdom, and spirituality inherent to the place.
After initial hiccups, Malviya Ji got the clue of how to persuade people to donate. He propagated it as a noble Hindu cause. With the overwhelming support of the Hindus, the foundation-stone of the BHU was laid by Lord Hardinge, the then Viceroy, on the Vasant Panchami day in 1916.
It was a unique experiment where the study of Dharma Shastras was promoted by the most potent functionary of the colonial government in Gandhi Ji’s presence. It established that the genuine pursuit of Hindu Dharma Shastras is not a gateway to some chauvinism, the way today’s liberals make us believe.
The vision of this Hindu University, in the beginning, was to study Dharma Shastras and other such literature. However, Malviya Ji was a true sage who represented a unique amalgamation of the ancient and the modern.
BHU has the word ‘Hindu’ in it and a grand Viswanath temple inside the campus that echoes Hinduism in its institutional thinking. However, the word ‘Hindu’ in BHU does not carry any communal and sectarian connotation. In a speech delivered at the time when BHU Bill was introduced in the Legislative Assembly, Malaviyaji explained its real purport.
BHU is essentially a national and cultural University whose character is an extension of the sacred geography of Banaras. Please do not try to paint it as another bigoted institution because of its name. There are plenty of obvious ones. BHU teaches us how to be culture-specific and yet cosmopolitan. Its excellence does come from not moving away from its Hindu character, but because of it.
The BHU Act of 1915 clearly states that the university will be open to people cutting across gender, race, caste, creed, and class, something which makes it truly inclusive. The ONLY EXCEPTION being the Sanskrit Vidya Dharma Vigyan Sansthan that follows a specific rule as per BHU’s constitution.
The establishment of the SVDV stream is dedicated to establishing scientific value to the Hindu beliefs, unearthing the minefield of Indian texts. The other objective is also to reverse the colonial thrust of contemporary knowledge about India, that mocks and demeans Hindu traditions and faith. It is the responsibility of this faculty to clarify and put forth the scientific basis for each matter of tradition and faith.
BHU has 14 faculties, more than 120 departments dealing with ould an array of subjects across all branches of the humanities, social sciences, sciences, engineering, and medicine. It boasts of more than 20,000 students from more than 34 nations and nearly 2,000 faculty members who come from all castes and religions.
With that background, now look at the roots for this controversy over the protest.
- The students allege serious corruption in the recruitment process. The allegation is also that the recruitment of Dr Khan is done through OBC quota. It could be true or false, and there is no arm investigating the matter.
- The appointment is against the established rules of the department. The BHU rule clearly says that a non-Hindu can neither study nor teach in SVDV stream. The appointment of a Muslim as an assistant professor could be a part of a conspiracy.
First and foremost, this protest is NOT about a Muslim scholar teaching Sanskrit. The students are NOT seeking exclusive claim over Sanskrit. Sanskrit is just another Indian language, and any person following any religion can teach it. BHU has a Department of Sanskrit in the Faculty of Arts.
But the usual suspects in media are running the story as if the students are opposing the appointment of Muslim professors in BHU. That would have been ugly bigotry if that was the case.
There are two aspects to this debate — first, the rules, then the logic.
The rules as per BHU’s constitution are loud and clear, and it does not allow a non-Hindu to study and teach ONLY in this department. Debate on it. Present solid arguments and get the rules changed. Until that is achieved, the rules must adhere.
Now, let us talk about logic. For once, give a try to understand and respect a believer’s perspective. It is not a “Sanskrit course.” It is Dharma Vigyan. There is a vast difference.
This one department out of 120 other departments teaches Hindu Theology – Vedic and Dharmic Studies. The protesting students are followers of Sanatan Hindu traditions. Their objection is not – how can someone who does not practice, who does not have faith in the literature, teach Hindu Dharma? Their objection is – how can they have the trust and faith in what that person is teaching? It is not about his ability or eligibility; it is about the believer’s faith.
For believers who are pursuing a career in Dharma Vigyan, the expectation from their Guru to embody respect for the sacredness of the literature he is going to teach is obvious. How is it considered misplaced by any measure? What is the debate?
Those who are opposing the believers have deeply internalized the idea that since Hindus are a majority in India, they must cease to own any exclusivity. How can they ask to build a Rama Temple in India at his birthplace? How can they have an exclusionary rule in a tiny department of a large University that was conceptualized primarily for the studies of Hindu Dharma Shastra?
Prof Khan chose Sanskrit as his career, which is excellent. There is no taking away from the professor’s scholarship. These students have also not chosen a lucrative career either. The opted Vedas, Vedang, Karmakand, Jyotish in which they have full faith and have dedicated their lives to them.
Faith matters when the topic taught is about faith. In Dharma Vigyan, the literature has to be decoupled from the point of view of Dharma. It requires embodying specific values, practices, and rituals. Obfuscating from this and focusing on the language only, is misleading.
While laying the foundation-stone of BHU, Lord Hardinge who echoed these Indian sentiments:
“The whole Indian idea of education is wrapped up in the conception of a group of pupils surroundings their Guru in loving reverence and not only imbibing the words of wisdom that fall from his lips but also looking up to him for guidance in religion and moulding their character in accordance with their precept and example.”
One may still disagree with the student’s point of view, but calling it bigotry as the only presentable argument, going in every tangent to abuse the believers, is ugly bigotry.