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India’s dash for majoritarian rule!

Published : Tuesday, 3 December, 2019 at 12:00 AM  Count : 299

Nazarul Islam

Nazarul Islam

Is this India's moment of shame? Perhaps, it is also the nation's moment of pain! Students of Sanskrit department of the prestigious Benares Hindu University (BHU) are voicing their gravest protests yet--against the appointment of a Muslim, as a faculty teacher, in that department. This has opened the doors of another controversy, that has ripped apart India's claimed adherence to secularism. Are we not witnessing India's vile events--undignified and scornful of the values,that have guided this famous institution, for over a hundred years.

At least the students are crystal clear in what they do not want: that is, to be taught the ancient and sacred language of Sanskrit, as well as the Hindu shastra--by a Muslim scholar, Feroze Khan. With postgraduate degrees and a PhD, under his belt, he has been the University's, ultimate choice--and also, the freshly-appointed assistant professor. He has postgraduate and doctoral degrees in Sanskrit, and has been selected for the faculty position, under UGC guidelines.

Indian scholars have strongly criticized that the students' demands are reprehensible, and should be condemned in the fullest terms. It is indeed shocking for the students of a public institution, to have made such a regressive demand. But, it is also true that such a demand is unprecedented in India's history, after their independence.

Beyond any doubt, a particular language is traditionally owned by or patronized by the community, or a group or even a country, where it is practiced--as the medium of written and spoken communication. Sanskrit is the common heritage of India and the subcontinent. Obviously, this cannot be identified with, or owned by any followers of a particular religion. Scholars of other, non-Hindu communities have also studied this ancient language, having made serious, literary contributions in the past, to Sanskrit.

It will be easier to comprehend the issue, if you think that Latin is also, not a language, prescribed and patronized by Christians. Nor can we say that Arabic and Urdu, may be regarded exclusively, as Muslim languages.Most languages have common roots and many have interacted and influenced each other over centuries.

Sanskrit, at one time, in its evolution and practice, was deemed to have lost its vitality and since, failed to flourish. It was the time, when the scholars had realized that in view of the limitations of scope, only a small community is now willing to claim its ownership. Don't you think that a Muslim has as much a right, to learn and teach Sanskrit?

Some students of Banaras Hindu University, have further claimed that the founder of the university, Madan Mohan Malviya, did not feel comfortable with the idea that a Muslim could teach Sanskrit, devotedly. When we checked facts, it was discovered this concept does not bear authenticity and therefore, would be morally or legally wrong and unacceptable, for India's secular society, to discard merit, on grounds of religious bias--even if the University's founder had so desired.

We have continued to survive, in an era of denial and annihilation. And, all that protest in Benares is indeed indicative of the vitiated times, in which we are living today--particularly when we observe that language, food, attire, names, histories and traditions are all being communalized. There is a developing culture of frenzy, that is practiced in India.

Do the events also reveal India's fundamental shift,that has moved towards a newly-cherished, system of the majoritarian rule? Perhaps, something that had been desperately needed to be employed, to divide and polarize society; whereby the malady has spread to our educational institutions, affecting our daily lives.

The BHU protest also has shown 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.
India's Constitution has granted equality and equal opportunity to all citizens and thar there cannot be discrimination, exercised on the basis of language, religion or ethnicity or other factors. Therefore, it is imperative that protesting students should resume their classes and must be given no concession in this matter.
Furthermore, the protesters should apologize to Firoze Khan and the nation, for their outrageous demand?

As a nation, Indians appear to be rapidly sinking into a cesspool of rabid differences, discrimination and diabolical political designs. The latest row over a Muslim scholar's appointment as a Sanskrit professor at the famed Benaras Hindu University mirrors the times we are living in when languages are castigated, categorized and compartmentalized into "ours and theirs." Instead of lauding Prof. Firoz Khan for learning Sanskrit so well that today the man is entitled to teach the language at a prestigious Indian university, students are protesting and boycotting classes! This is indeed pitiable, nay, reprehensible.

As pointed out earlier, a language does not limit itself to any particular religion or ethnic group of people. It is not the preserve of a given community. Logic is that, If Urdu had belonged exclusively to Muslims, there would never have been a Munshi Premchand or Raghupati Sahay 'Firaq' Gorakhpuri. And, a Sikh Sampooran Singh Kalra, known to us by his pen name 'Gulzar', would have been barred from learning Urdu and writing in that language; a Brahmin Pandit Brij Narayan Sharma 'Chakbast' from Lucknow, or the Kashmiri Brahmin and the ultimate authority on Allama Iqbal, poet Dr Jagannath Azad, and his distinguished father Trilokchand 'Mahroom' would never have learnt and mastered Urdu-if they had thought that Urdu is a language of Muslims.

The charted Hindu students of BHU, are screaming and claiming that its founder-Poet Madan Mohan Malviya, never wanted a Muslim to teach Sanskrit and Hindu Dharm. They should have done their homework. Do they know, it was the Malviya, who himself went to Lahore to request Maulvi Mahesh Prasad (yes, he was called a Maulvi by scholars of Islam) to come and teach Islamic theology, Urdu, Arabi and Persian at BHU? Maulvi Mahesh Prasad was the HoD of Islamic Studies at Lahore University at the time!

The latitudinarian Malviya, had never discriminated on the basis of one's religion or caste. The spirit of BHU has always been all-inclusive and encompassing. Religion, faith or beliefs of the BHU students and professors, had never been an issue of controversy. Alas, the times have changed. We've begun to associate a language to a specific ethnic group or religion. This has created wedges. Now, the most important question is: Why Sanskrit remains linguistically aloof, supercilious and over-exclusive?

Historically, two languages have always been over-exclusive and over-sensitive regarding their linguistic purity (Vishuddh in Sanskrit/Nikhalis in Arabic) and so-called 'sanctity', Arabic and Sanskrit. Muslims have always believed that Arabic is the language their Allah converses in and the Al-Furqan (Holy Quran) and the chosen language of the Divine message, has been spoken, later written in Arabic.

Hindus in India believe that Sanskrit is 'Dev Bhasha', (a divine language), spoken by the Supreme Brahman (the Almighty) and his earthly representatives, a position that the Brahmins have claimed exclusively for themselves. Even the mythological legends and traditions have reinforced this point and therefore, Lord Ram killing Shambook (an untouchable who dared to study the Vedas) is justified by a section of people--who, perhaps, never wanted any kind of contamination or adulteration, and had therefore put utmost emphasis on racial and communal purity.

Unfortunately, the ethnically charged people still constitute a large chunk of society and have the political and religious wherewithal with them to influence the whole system and bend universal perceptions of equality and egalitarianism to their brand of selective paradigms. They are the people whose descendants are clamouring for the removal of Prof Firoze Khan. Perhaps, by a misunderstanding, that has lasted for generations, they believe that if the appointed Muslim professor teaches Sanskrit, that 'sacrosanct linguistic ethnocentrism' will be affected, and totally desecrated.

Sanskrit cannot be seen merely as an ancient language in the 'modern' India of the BJP, it's a wheel of renewed ritualistic juggernaut for today's over-conscious and ambitious Hindus, ready to take umbrage at the drop of a hat. Since times are now pretty much polarized, the morbid attitude of 'ours and theirs' rules the roost. Why just Muslims?

Upper-class Hindus (read Brahmins) still seem to frown upon, when 'other' low-cast Hindus dare to venture into the forbidden realm of Sanskrit and their Dharma! As the greatest living western scholar of Sanskrit, Sheldon Pollock at Columbia University (US), said, it's this 'ghettoisation' of Sanskrit by its 'custodians' that hampered its march.

Let me assert that those who are presently engaged in shouting and screaming from the rooftops, are pretty much unaware that Sanskrit and Persian (Hindus may also like to call it a language of Muslims!) are grammatically very similar. Linguists and experts of oriental languages have stressed that more than 38,000 words in Sanskrit and Persian have identical etymological roots, with very slight changes in the orthography.

Sanskrit's 'trishna' (thirst) is 'tishnagi' in Persian; 'tan' (body in Sanskrit) is 'tanam' in Persian; 'abhra' (cloud in Sanskrit) is 'abra' in Persian; 'vyom' (sky, vayum and al, ambience in Sanskrit) is 'vaaham' in Pahlavi (the precursor to modern Persian); 'ksheer' (milk in Sanskrit) is 'sheer' in Persian; 'shigaal' (fox in Persian) becomes' shrigaal' in Sanskrit; 'ashva' (horse in Sanskrit) is Asp in Persian, and so on.

When you get to the roots of languages, all found, these are same. So, why is this unnecessary controversy being allowed to continue over a Muslim scholar teaching Sanskrit?

Languages transcend religions. We should rather be proud of India's composite and diversified culture. All those enterprising individuals who don't care for such barriers, and go on to learn and understand the languages of 'others.' Need to be congratulated.
Concepts and beliefs are changing faster than time itself. Technology has made this possible and ultimately united people of diverse faiths, beliefs and cultures.

The writer is a former educator
based in Chicago

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