By Sanjeev Sirohi*
It was shameful to see that how the students of the Banaras Hindu University’s (BHU’s) Sanskrit Vedvigyan Sankay (SVDVS) went on strike demanding the cancellation of the appointment of Assistant Professor Feroze Khan and transfer him to another faculty. These students were opposing the appointment of a Muslim to teach Sanskrit in BHU’s’s Sanskrit studies department. Nothing on earth can be more shameful than this. India as a nation cannot be ever complete without Muslims and this cannot be ever denied or disputed.
Why do we forget that Muslims are an integral part of India just as Hindus? Why do we forget that many Muslims like Ashfaqullah Khan smilingly sacrificed their lives while fighting against the Britishers so that we can gain freedom? Why do we forget that it was Abdul Hamid who was the main hero of 1965 war against Pakistan who destroyed more than 22 tanks of Pakistan and inflicted huge damage on them?
Why do we forget that we are a secular nation where all religions are equal and not a theocratic nation like Pakistan where one religion alone reigns supreme? Why do we forget that Dr Abdul Kalam was also a Muslim who fathered India’s nuclear weapons and India’s missile programmes like that of Agni, Prithvi among others and went on to become the most popular President of India acceptable to people from all religion equally?
Why do we forget that Muslims have contributed for the betterment of our country in all fields? Why do we forget that it was Maulana Abul Kalam Azad who had opposed the partition of India on the ground of religion till the last even though Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel and Mahatma Gandhi had agreed to it?
Why do we forget that it was Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who while opposing partition, had said, “Nehru what have you done? You have made me a foreigner in my own country by agreeing to partition of India on the basis of religion.”
I cannot ever even dream of India without Muslims. I still feel that majority of Indians are secular, but such shameful incidents damage the reputation of our country on the international for a. I can never forget how Maulana Mehmood Madani had sharply rebuffed former Pakistani dictator General Pervez Musharraf, who when while in India had slammed the condition of Muslims in India saying that, “I am seeing that you want to do politics on the condition of Muslims in India. Don’t worry on this score as 90% Hindus are with us. They shall always remain with us.”
It is good to note that students ultimately decided to call off a fortnight long protest against the appointment of a Muslim to teach Sanskrit in BHU’s Sanskrit studies department, ostensibly swayed by the huge support he received even from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and BHU Vice Chancellor Rakesh Bhatnagar.
The local chapter of RSS described “as totally wrong” the protest against the appointment of Dr Firoz Khan at the department of sahitya in the faculty of SVDV. Jai Prakash Lal who is a senior functionary at the Kashi region RSS, said, “It is the firm, and clear view of RSS that the protest on communal grounds against a person, who is dedicated to teaching Sanskrit reverentially and has been appointed through a legal selection process, is entirely wrong.”
Good to see that BHU students now called off their 15-day dharna. It was also good to see that the students associated with the Joint Action Committee (JAC) of BHU took out a march to support the appointment of Firoz Khan as an Assistant Professor in the faculty of SVDM. A senior administrative official of the BHU said that that 99% of the university staff and administration were behind Khan.
It is also good to note that even BHU vice chancellor Rakesh Bhatnagar took a firm stand in favour of the appointment of Dr Firoz Khan, which helped defused the protest. He said without mincing any words that “there is no question of looking back at the matter as the appointment has been done on basis of pure merit.”
In my personal life only once I witnessed a Muslim who faced discrimination on the ground of religion about which I have never written earlier. My school friend Rais Khan who studied with me in Class XI in Sagar way back in 1990-91 while standing alone stood dejected with tears in his eyes. I asked him what happened. He said that wherever he goes, his class fellows stop talking and slowly start moving away from him and that he would be left totally alone.
I started observing him, and I found that he was right. He told me, “They feel that I am Muslim and as Mulayam Singh Yadav had ordered firing on Hindus at Karsewaks in 1990 in which many Hindus had died so I should be boycotted.” I became very angry for this unpardonable act of theirs.
I immediately consoled Rais and told him that I was with him, so he did not have to worry and we both would stay together, always. I started slamming hard all those who did such boycotting act and asked them whenever they tried to taunt me, I would tell them, “What is the fault of my friend Rais Khan if Mulayam Singh Yadav ordered police to open fire? Did Rais Khan play any role in it? When he has no role then why are you all boycotting him? Why is Rais being singled out just on ground of his being a Muslim?”
These words did worked like magic and slowly all Hindus of my class realized their folly and started talking with him gradually one after another. Rais too stood with me in my trying times, once going so far as to tell the principal, “If Sanjeev Sirohi will be expelled from school on any ground whatsoever then expel me also because he always stood by me in my trying times while narrating the whole incident. I will not continue with my studies without my friend Sanjeev Sirohi”.
The Principal who was a “sister” of St Joseph Convent School was visibly shaken and she commended me for standing with him when all others had boycotted him.
It is good to note that Dinesh Sharma, UP Deputy Chief Minister, has come out strongly in support of Dr Firoz Khan, categorically asserting, “Teachers do not have any religion. Students can always raise questions about the appointment process, whether merit has been compromised in the selection process of the teacher. But students cannot raise questions about the religion of teachers.”
He added, I was taught Sanskrit by a Muslim teacher, Sir Waliullah Khan, when I was studying at Government Jubilee Inter College in Lucknow. Recently, I felicitated Waliullah Khan Sir at a function held in my school. It was such an emotional moment for me.”
Indeed, we must always remember that India as a nation can be complete only with people from all religions live in peace and harmony and respect each others’ sentiments. If this does not happen then there will be communal violence, strife and discord, which can never be in the long term national interest of our country.
Strict legal action must be taken against all those who try to discriminate against anyone on ground of religion, caste, sex or community or any other ground whatsoever. There has to be zero tolerance for intolerance.
*Advocate, Meerut, Uttar Pradesh