Students are on strike in two of India’s biggest universities and for different reasons. In Banaras Hindu University (BHU), a section of students are demanding that the recent appointment of a particular teacher be cancelled. Whereas in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) the majority of students are on strike demanding the withdrawal of the recent hike in hostel fees. Underlying both contexts is a clash of ideologies, a conflict between two opposing worldviews that, in a sense, puts the very identity and direction of our nation in perspective.
For the last two weeks, a group of 30-odd students of Sanskrit literature belonging to the Sanskrit Vidya Dharm Vijnan department have been sitting outside the office of BHU Vice-Chancellor. They are protesting against the recent appointment of Firoze Khan as Assistant Professor. These students, mostly with allegiance to Hindutva groups, do not want a Muslim to teach them Sanskrit.
Banaras (Varanasi or Kashi) is India’s premier pilgrim city where millions throng to get salvation both for themselves and their forebears. It’s a place which confronts the individual with the ultimate spiritual lesson about existence—that one is fundamentally a soul and that all material/physical markers are insignificant or secondary. It was here that, in 1916, Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya and Annie Besant established the Banaras Hindu University on a 1,700 acre land donated by the hereditary ruler of Kashi. The Nizam of Hyderabad also contributed a generous donation of one lakh rupees. The university was expanded later and is now one of the biggest residential institutions in the world. It is spread over 4000 acres and boasts of a student population of around 30,000. Interestingly, the first thing that strikes anyone visiting the official website of the University is the vision of its founder, Mahamana Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya given on the homepage: