How the BHU Sanskrit-students’ protest has been handled by the government is in sharp contrast with how the JNU students’ protest against fee hikes has been dealt with. There is little doubt the protest was totally unjustified; at `20 a month, JNU hostel fees are less than 1% of those in Delhi University.
Scenes of students at the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) distributing sweets and celebrating the resignation of Firoz Khan, who had been appointed as an assistant professor in the university’s Sanskrit Vidya Dharma Vijnan (SVDV) department, jar with the idea of India as secular republic. The students had been protesting Khan’s appointment for nearly a month, saying that only a Hindu could teach them about their religion—SVDV offers courses in shastras, Sanskrit language and literature; Khan was appointed to teach literature. Earlier this week, the protesting students told the proctor that they would not only boycott the upcoming semester exam but also fast till death if Khan wasn’t removed with immediate effect. The BHU administration initially supported Khan, saying that the appointment was made in accordance with the BHU Act and the UGC guidelines; the university, which had said Khan was the best among all candidates considered, later caved and offered him a post in the faculty of Arts. With little choice, Khan had to resign without having conducted a single class.
How the BHU Sanskrit-students’ protest has been handled by the government is in sharp contrast with how the JNU students’ protest against fee hikes has been dealt with. There is little doubt the protest was totally unjustified; at `20 a month, JNU hostel fees are less than 1% of those in Delhi University. The threat by student protests at both universities to boycott exams was nothing short of hooliganism and strong-arm tactics to show the authorities that the students would have their way. The JNU administration has warned of police assistance in ensuring that the exams are conducted while BHU seems to have given in. While the police didn’t act in BHU, they had no compunctions in lathi-charging JNU students marching to the Rashtrapati Bhavan to submit a petition to the president; last month, they used water canons. In both cases, sadly, the teachers have supported the misguided protests. In BHU, senior members of the faculty and former professors wrote to the president saying “appointment of any non-Hindu is against the established norms and tradition of the department”, and in the JNU matter, the teachers’ association pushed for a complete rollback of the fee hike in its meeting with a three-member Union HRD ministry panel. So far, the JNU administration has not capitulated to the protesting students in the matter than the BHU authorities did, but this is probably just a matter of time.