This polyglot Muslim woman now heads Sanskrit dept

For many it may come as a big surprise. The name of the head, department of Sanskrit at Allahabad University, has been displayed outside the office in Hindi, English and also in Urdu language.

There is another surprise--an even bigger one. The current head happens to be a Muslim woman.

Once regarded as the Oxford of the East, a history of sort was created at Allahabad University when Kishwar Jabin Nasreen took over as the head of the Sanskirt department.

For Nasreen, a language has nothing do with one’s religion. “For me every language is a source of knowledge,” Nasreen, who has been studying Sanskrit from sixth standard, said.

“I opted for Sanskrit when I was in sixth standard…I liked the language very much,” she told Deccan Herald.

Nasreen, throughout her academic career, excelled in the language. A recipient of Junior Research Fellowship in the language, she joined the varsity after completing her PhD a little later.

“I was the only Muslim in the masters programme in Sanskrit…but that never rattled me,” she said. 

“To many it seemed somewhat odd…may be they never expected a Muslim girl in the Sanskrit class,” she remarked.

Nasreen, who is also proficient in Russian and German languages, says that she never encountered any problem from within her own family for pursuing a career in Sanskrit. “We see it as a matter of pride….for us it’s a knowledge,” she says. She also knows Persian.

“We Indians have been following the principle of Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam (the world is our home)…..we respect every language,”  Nasreen, who has written a number of books on the subject, said.

Family support

Nasreen rues that Sanskrit, despite being a rich language, has not reached the common people. “It is very difficult….a common man will find it extremely difficult to learn,” she said. “But it has been found to be better suited for computer,” she added.

Nasreen stressed the need for changing Sanskrit syllabus at schools and colleges. “The syllabi needs to be revised….it should be made interesting also….we should not, under any circumstances, let  this ancient language slip into oblivion,” she remarked.

The Sanskrit scholar never had to face any problem from her students as well. “Being a Muslim and a Sanskrit teacher may have appeared to be a bit odd for the students but I never faced any problem,” she said. 

There were currently around 200 students in various courses in Sanskrit at the varsity. “There also is a need of good teachers….the teachers can make the language interesting by their knowledge and teaching style,” she said.

And that is precisely what she has been trying to do at the varsity and she is very popular with her students as well. “It has always been my endeavour to popularise the language among the students,” she said. For Nasreen, character building was one of the most important aims of education. “We will be successful as educators if we are able to make sure that the students attain good moral characters,” she said.

Nasreen’s family always encouraged her. “My parents never looked at a language from the point of view of religion…and truly speaking language must never be clubbed with the religion,” she said.

Her husband is a computer engineer and is currently in the USA. Her son, however, is pursuing a different career. “He wants to be an IAS officer,” she said.

She also never faced any problem from within the Muslim community. “The community members may have found it strange but they never discouraged me or felt uncomfortable with my education,” she remarked.

Not many keen

She conceded that not many students today wanted to study the language. “There are practically no employment opportunities in this field….we must do something about it,” she said.

She, however, is happy that a large number of Muslims are learning this language at different educational institutions in the country. “It is a good sign. It shows that religion is not a barrier in learning any language,” she said.

Nasreen has received several prestigious awards, including Sahitya Shree, Mahadevi Kiran Samman, Prayag Gaurav, Rashtriya Gaurav and Father Kanil Bulke Award for her achievement in the field of Sanskrit.

A few days back she was bestowed with the prestigious Janeshwar Mishra Sanskrit Vidushi Samman by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav at a function here in recognition of the services rendered by her in developing the language.

Nasreen’s predecessors and the other faculty members are all praise for her. “We have never seen her as a Muslim…we always found her to be an able teacher,” said a former faculty member.

Nasreen is the first Muslim to have become the head of the Sanskrit department in the 126 years of Allahabad University’s history. Apparently, Nasreen is among the illustrious alumni of Allahabad University who enriched a language other than the one taught by them.

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