IT’S getting harder by the day to figure out the self-appointed custodians of Indian culture. On the one hand, they are forcing Muslims to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’, but on the other, they are opposing a Muslim teacher’s appointment in the Sanskrit literature department of Banaras Hindu University (BHU). Assistant professor Firoz Khan can probably recite ‘shlokas’ from Valmiki Ramayana with effortless ease, but his credentials are insignificant to students owing allegiance to the RSS-affiliated Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad. The ‘sanskriti rakshaks’ have been staging a sit-in outside the VC’s office, sticking to their baseless argument that Khan cannot do justice to the job of teaching Sanskrit — simply because he is a Muslim. They would rather prefer a Hindu lecturer, perhaps even if he is not even half as good as Khan. The university authorities have commendably put their foot down, asserting that Khan has been duly selected as per UGC guidelines. The VC has stated that BHU is committed to providing equal educational and teaching opportunities to everyone. That’s exactly what the architects of our Constitution had envisaged.
The uproar over the non-issue has coincided with the forced resignation of Kiran Damle, deputy chief proctor at the BHU’s South Campus in UP’s Mirzapur district. The official was accused of insulting religious beliefs after she removed an RSS flag in a playground on the premises while a ‘shakha’ was in progress. She had to step down following a protest by the students, who were backed by the local BJP MLA. On the complaint of an RSS office-bearer, a criminal case has been registered against Damle, who has paid a heavy price for swimming against the tide.
Both unsavoury incidents are telltale signs that cultural nationalism has made deep inroads into our temples of learning. Rabble-rousers masquerading as students are taking their intolerance to preposterous extremes. These ignoramuses are unaware that pluralism and diversity are the hallmarks of a vibrant, all-embracing culture. Their ill-conceived ideology of exclusivism, ironically, is striking at the very root of the ‘sanskriti’ they are rooting for. Our campuses — and society — would be better off without them.