NEW DELHI/VARANASI: Students of Banaras Hindu University came out to protest against the demand by Sanskrit Vidya Dharm Vigyan (SVDV) to cancel the appointment of Dr. Firoze Khan as assistant professor in the Sanskrit department of BHU.

The protest against Khan entered its 15th day on Thursday with about 20 persons sitting on dharna, but were countered effectively by a large number of BHU students who organised a protest march on Wednesday evening in support of Khan’s appointment. They came under the banner of the Joint Action Committee (JAC) to counter what they termed a “communal” demand.

“We are with you Dr. Feroze Khan” read the banners as the students countered the protest that made the headlines in the media, and had Khan leaving Varanasi for home town Jaipur. On Thursday the students were joined by representatives of civil society to demand that Khan be allowed to join the post.

“This protest is necessary because not allowing a Muslim to teach is against the Constitution’s basic element of secularism. We have this to say—there should be no tampering with the values enshrined in the Indian Constitution,” Raj Abhishek, Executive Committee member of JAC-BHU told The Citizen. “The ‘dharma’ (religion) (of the professor) should not be seen and he should be allowed to teach here,” he said.

Dr. Firoze Khan was appointed as an assistant professor in the Sanskrit Vidya Dharm Vigyan department of BHU on November 5 to teach Sanskrit literature. Since November 7, around 20 SVDV students have been sitting in protest outside the Vice Chancellor's residence, urging the University to cancel his appointment as he is a Muslim.

The primary demand of the protestors is to transfer Dr. Firoze Khan to another department as he should not be teaching Sanatana Dharma being a Muslim.

While a handful of SVDV students continued their demonstration against Dr. Firoze Khan, a large faction of the student body of BHU came out in full support of his appointment.

“The message that has been coming out of BHU during these 13 days through their (SVDV students’) protest has spread negative news in the country that there is a feeling of hatred against a community in a Central University,” Abhishek said. “Our protest is meant to send the message that we stand in solidarity with Firoze Khan,” he stated.

Under the combined front of Joint Action Committee-BHU, a number of student groups including All India Students’ Association (AISA) and National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) started their march on Wednesday evening from the main gates of the university, known as Lanka gates.

Abhishek reiterated that the values preserved in the Indian Constitution should not be tampered with for any reason. “Their (SVDV students’) protest expresses a certain hatred towards the Muslim community. If you are removing a person on the basis of caste or religion so that he cannot teach, then this is a part of a move to impose a right wing ideology in the institution,” he told The Citizen.

According to reports, the University is standing firm on its position that the appointment of Dr. Firoze Khan was done according to prescribed University Grants Commission (UGC) guidelines. The BHU administration has also reiterated on countless occasions that Khan was the most qualified candidate and his appointment is in keeping with the BHU Act and SVDV department’s required qualifications.

“The University is standing in solidarity with Dr. Firoze Khan and is holding to its position that his appointment is valid and upholds constitutional regulations and is according to the university guidelines,” Abhishek said.

Since his appointment and the subsequent protests against it, Dr. Firoze Khan has been unable to teach at BHU. The University has requested students to resume classes, however classes in SVDV department continue to remain on hold as protesting students refuse to attend.

Speaking in support of Khan, Abhishek stated, “We are demanding that Dr. Firoze Khan be brought back and his classes begin. He should start teaching, this is our main objective and we are going to ensure that the Vice Chancellor takes surety on this matter.”

Abhishek further expressed solidarity with student movements across the country, including the recent JNU protest. “Wherever there is a student’s movement or youth movement going on, we are standing with them against any injustice or state repression,” he stated.

As per reports, Khan has returned to his home-town Jaipur amid the controversy surrounding his appointment. As reported in The Indian Express, Khan stated, “All my life, I learnt Sanskrit and I was never made to realise I am a Muslim, but now when I am trying to teach, suddenly it has become the only issue.”