BHU Assistant Professor Firoze Khan: ‘Studied Sanskrit all my life, never made to feel I am Muslim, but now…’

Avaneesh Mishra
Firoze Khan’s appointment in BHU’s Sanskrit dept has sparked protests

Having joined as Assistant Professor at Banaras Hindu University’s Sanskrit Vidya Dharam Vigyan (SVDV) 11 days ago, Firoze Khan, a doctorate in Sanskrit, has gone hiding for the past few days, switching off his mobile phone too.

On Monday, a “hawan kund” was set up and around 20 SVDV students were sitting on a dharna outside the Vice- Chancellor’s residence protesting his appointment. The protests have been on since Khan’s appointment, for the only reason that he is a Muslim. No classes have been held since he joined the faculty on November 7.

Khan is distraught, and hopes students will come around. “All my life, I learnt Sanskrit and I was never made to realise I am a Muslim, but now when I am trying to teach, suddenly it has become the only subject,” Khan told The Indian Express.

He completed his Shastri (Bachelor degree), Shiksha Shastri (B.Ed), Acharya (post-graduate) and received his Ph.D in 2018 from Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan, a deemed university, in Jaipur. Khan has also cleared NET and JRF.

“I started learning Sanskrit since Class 2, but no one ever pointed this out even though my mohalla in Bagru (30 km from Jaipur) had 30 per cent Muslims. Neither the local maulavi nor the society. In fact, I don’t know as much Quran as I know Sanskrit literature. Prominent Hindus in my area praised me for my knowledge of Sanskrit and its literature despite being a Muslim,” said Khan, whose father Ramzan Khan too is a graduate in Sanskrit.

Krishna Kumar, a research student at SVDV, who is leading the protest with three other fellow students, “If a person is not connected with our feelings and culture, how will he be able to understand us and our dharma,” he said. The other three are Shashikant Mishra, Shubham Tiwari and Chakrapani Ojha.

Mishra denied the protests were led by any political organisation, but claimed he has been an RSS member in the past. Ojha was a member of the ABVP and Tiwari was member of the ABVP and Kendriya Brahmin Mahasabha.

Opinion | Protests in BHU against hiring of a Muslim Sanskrit professor speak of dismal times

BHU administration has been unable to convince SVDV students that teaching Sanskrit literature has nothing to do with religion. Khan took pains to explain this. “To students who are protesting with an argument that how can I teach Hinduism when I am a Muslim, I want to say that in Sahitya department, we have to study about the technicalities of Sanskrit literature and famous dramas like Abhigyan Shakuntalam, Uttar Ramcharitam or Mahakavya like Raghuvansh Mahakavya or Harshcharitam and all this has nothing to do with religion,” he said.

Students from some other departments and other faculty members find the protests outrageous and fully back Khan given his credentials. Mahesh Prasad Ahirwar, Professor of Ancient History, Culture and Archaeology said the university had nothing to do with caste and religion. “Those who were oppressed earlier are now coming and showing their ability. This is the changing India: whoever is capable has the right to teach in BHU. I feel that those who oppose this should be punished as per law,” he said.

Khan’s former teacher Arknath Chaudhary, Principal of Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan, Jaipur, said Firoze joined the university during his tenure. He remembers Khan as a good natured, soft-spoken and sociable person. Chaudhary, who has also been the Vice Chancellor of Shree Somnath Sanskrit University, Veraval, Gujarat, taught Khan in the final year of his Shastri course.

With protests by a section of students continuing for more than ten days, Khan said, “At one point I can agree that if I have to teach Vedas, Dharam Shastra or Jyotish then its better I am a Hindu but teaching Sanskrit Sahitya has nothing to do with it. All I have to teach what is written over there,” he said.

The excitement of being selected as a faculty at BHU apart, Khan is at a loss what to do now. When asked if he will fight to be here and teach the students he just said if the environment is one of inclusiveness, questions like this won’t arise. “Whatever they have in their heart, I hope I can change that,” he said.