Welcome to Bengal, Where Thirty Muslim Professors Teach Sanskrit
At a time when faculty members both present and past have even written to the President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, requesting him to intervene and stall the appointment of Dr Feroze Khan in Banaras Hindu University (BHU)’s Sanskrit Dharam Vidya Vigyaan department, West Bengal seems to embracing its Sanskrit professors hailing from the ‘other’ community, comfortably.
Going by a loose headcount there are at least 30 Muslim professors in West Bengal, teaching Sanskrit. Around 14 were recruited last year through College Service Commission and 12 this year. The most recent recruitment being of Ramzal Ali at the Sanskrit department of Ramkrishna Mission Vidyamandir, Belur. Speaking to eNewsroom, regarding his recruitment, he said, “I am in a state of shock with so many calls being made to me, seeking my comment. A Muslim learning Sanskrit is nothing new. There is a history to it. In every Sanskrit department across the state, you will find at least one Muslim student. Muslim Sanskrit teachers in Bengal, is also not rare.”
Perhaps Ali has a point. For, Dr Shaikh Sabir Ali, a gold medalist in Sanskrit from the University of Calcutta has been teaching the language for almost a decade now. Dr Ali, at present, teaches Sanskrit at the West Bengal State University, Barasat. According to him, Sanskrit, as a language is beyond Vedas and Upanishads.
He said, “There is more to this language, apart from the Vedas, Purans and Upanishads. This language has a rich literature and grammar too. It was these two that attracted me as a child. Luckily, my teachers encouraged me to take up this language for my higher studies. You, see one can’t make people take up a language simply based on one’s religion. History is a witness to many Muslims mastering this language.”
Speaking from experience Ali said, “Every batch has at least one Muslim student in the Department of Sanskrit. In Kolkata, I presume, Rabindra Bharati University has a huge number of Sanskrit students.” Dr Ali is also a topper from Ramkrisha Mission Vidyamandir.
Adding to the experiences of Muslim Sanskrit teachers in Bengal, Rakibul Sk, assistant professor at SBS government college said, “I have never been discriminated on the basis of my religion, neither while I was mastering Sanskrit, nor while teaching it. I would like to add that while I hail from a small place like Jangipur, my place of birth has taught me that there is no religious attachment to any language. Hence, when I took up Sanskrit for my higher education, the Hindu neighbours of mine never raised an eyebrow. On the contrary, they were quite happy. The teachers who guided me to reach this position are all Hindus. It’s sad that today, we are discussing all this from a religious perspective.”
However, on being asked about the faculty members writing to the President of India, Ali, said, “I don’t want to open up a new controversy. But let me be very clear, there is a particular department of Sanskrit, which is accessible only to the Brahmin. Even Hindus from other sect are not allowed to enter that domain, so the question of a Muslim being appointed in that domain can be quite challenging. As per my knowledge, Dr Feroze Khan has been appointed in the Sanskrit Dharam Vidya Vigyaan department, which is the domain that I just talked about. I don’t want to get into a further debate, but I guess, his recruitment in the literature department wouldn’t have caused this huge controversy.”
Given the new twist in the story, it would be interesting to see President Kovind’s call on the letter written by the faculty members of BHU, seeking his intervention to stall Khan‘s recruitment, especially when earlier this year, he had awarded Padma Sri for Literature and Education to Sanskrit Scholar Mohammad Hanif Khan Shastri.