Firoze Khan hails from a family of Sanskrit scholars and bhajan singers. “My grandfather was a bhajan singer. My father taught Sanskrit. He sings bhajans, too,” he said. He did his PhD in Sanskrit from the Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan and cleared the National Eligibility Test for appointment in colleges.
When students’ protests against his appointment to the Sanskrit Vidya Dharma Vigyan of Banaras Hindu University (BHU) started, Firoze Khan, who was proud of the new job, shied away from the Sanskrit department, and was no longer available on phone. As the protests continued, he went back home to Jaipur.
When the BHU Vice Chancellor spoke out in his favour and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) appealed to the students to cancel their dharna, some of his confidence returned. His phone was switched on again amidst rumours that he was seeking a transfer to the Ayurveda Department where he would not have to teach Hindu rituals, the main point of objection raised by the protesting students. But Firoze Khan was quick to deny them.
He refused to take questions on the protests. In the middle of a conversation with this correspondent, he switched off his mobile. Subsequently, he once again came on line. Excerpts from the brief conversation Frontline had with Firoze Khan:
I am surprised. All my life has been spent in learning Sanskrit. It is part of who I am. It has given me my identity. Nobody ever objected to me, a Muslim, learning the language. But now, when I am qualified to teach it, there suddenly seem to be issues with people. My Muslim identity has become paramount over my academic credentials.
My family has been involved with Sanskrit learning for many generations. My father used to teach the language too. He has written bhajans in praise of Krishna and is a gau sevak himself. My grandfather used to sing bhajans in public places. We have studied Hindu scriptures. Nobody ever objected. I have been learning Sanskrit since childhood. Never did I face any discrimination or problem. This is the first time I am made conscious of my Muslim identity. I am told as I am a non-Hindu I cannot teach the language. It is sad.
My father was in favour of my learning Urdu, but I was keen to learn Sanskrit. Once he realised my love for the language, he gave his support. After all, he also sings bhajans. He follows astrology too. Urdu would have been more difficult after a certain level. Sanskrit has been my favourite language. For me, love for Sanskrit is the same as love for my country. They are interrelated.
We are Muslims. We also follow Sanatan Dharma. My father sings bhajans in a temple. He gets invited to many functions to sing. As for students protesting, I would not like to say anything. I am hurt by all the accusations. I feel alienated. I would not have applied for the job had the university mentioned in the advertisement that only Hindus could apply. I passed through a proper interview process. I would say, Sanskrit belongs to us all. It is my language, too.
I would not like to comment. Where all have I applied, ask them. [He disconnects the phone.]
What can I say? I am not there. Such things do happen, but how do I know? I cannot do guesswork. All I can say is, I have been a Sanskrit student all my life. I have devoted my life to the language. Is that not enough? I cannot talk politics at this time. [He switches off the mobile.]