Communalising languages now

The BHU students’ demand is reprehensible and should be condemned in the strongest terms.

The protest by students of the Sanskrit department of the prestigious Banaras Hindu University (BHU) against the appointment of a Muslim as a teacher in the department is a shame, and an affront to the values that have guided the institution for over a century.

The students have said that they do not want to be taught the language and the Hindu shastras by a Muslim scholar, Feroze Khan, who was appointed on November 6 as an assistant professor. He has postgraduate and doctoral degrees in Sanskrit and was selected and appointed for the post fulfilling all UGC norms.

The students’ demand is reprehensible and should be condemned in the strongest terms. It is shocking that students of a public institution could make such a regressive demand. But it is also true that the demand could not have been made at any other time in independent India’s history. 

No language belongs to a community or a group or even a country. Sanskrit is the common heritage of India and cannot be identified with or owned by any religion. Scholars of other communities have also studied the language and contributed to it. Latin is not a Christian language. Nor are Arabic and Urdu Muslim languages. Most languages have common roots and many have interacted and influenced each other over centuries. There is nothing exclusive about them.

Sanskrit, in fact, lost its vitality and stopped growing when a narrow community claimed its ownership. A Muslim has as much right to learn and teach Sanskrit as a Hindu. The students have claimed that the founder of the university, Madan Mohan Malviya, did not want a Muslim to teach Sanskrit. This is not true, and in any case, would be wrong and unacceptable even if he had said so. 

But the protest is a sign of the vitiated times we live in when language, food, dress, names, histories and traditions are all communalised. These are used to divide and polarise society, and the malady has spread to our educational institutions and even the daily lives of people.

The BHU protest also shows the increasing anti-Muslim prejudice in the country. To their credit, the university authorities and many other students have stood by Khan, and the university administration has ruled out his removal or transfer to any other department.

The Constitution grants equality and equal opportunity to all citizens and there should be no discrimination on the basis of language, religion or other factors. The protesting students should resume their classes and should be given no concession in this matter. They should apologise to Khan and the nation for their outrageous demand.

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