Banaras Hindu University students protesting the appointment of a Muslim professor to the Sanskrit Vidhya Dharma faculty today called off their 15-day sit-in protest and vacated the area outside the Vice Chancellor's office and residence. However, they have said they will not return to classes as yet and will engage in other forms of protest. It is also unclear if Professor Firoze Khan, whose appointment sparked the controversy, can start teaching.
"We have asked the administration to give us written replies on whether all guidelines were followed in the appointment of Professor Khan. They have requested us for 10 days to give their reply. So we are going to keep an eye on this. For now, we will not attend classes," Chakrapani Ojha, an Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) member and one of the protestors, said.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), to which the ABVP is affiliated, has said it does not agree with the protests. According to a report by news agency PTI, RSS leader Jai Prakash Lal said the organisation does not support students protesting this issue.
On Thursday evening protesting students allowed to the university to reopen department buildings that have been shuttered for more than two weeks. Locks were opened in the presence of Sanskrit faculty members and students were urged to return to class but they refused to do so.
"I can only say that we have got the faculty reopened. The protesting students they have told us they have no objections to the locks being opened," Chandramauli Upadhyaya, a professor at the faculty, said.
Firoze Khan was named Assistant Professor on November 5 but has been unable to teach because of the protests. The students who have spoken out against his appointment have demanded it be cancelled because he is not a Hindu.
The protesting students have, however, been countered by others who have spoken out in favour of Professor Khan and, on Wednesday, held a march to support him; one banner held during the march read: "We are with you Dr Firoze Khan".
The university has stood by Professor Khan and insisted that it will not back down. OP Rai, the Chief Proctor, has asserted the university "has done nothing wrong".
In addition, the panel that selected Professor Khan, which includes Professor Radhavallabh Tripathi, one of India's most eminent Sanskrit scholars, has repeatedly said he is the most qualified candidate.
"Firoze Khan was selected on the basis of his qualification... he has been trained in 'pathshala padhyati' which is the traditional way of teaching Sanskrit... the resistance is because of vested interests and should not be allowed," Professor Tripathi told NDTV.
Condemning the protest, Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati tweeted: "The appointment of an eligible Muslim Sanskrit scholar by BHU as its teacher will be considered simply as giving patronage to talent and no one should be allowed to do any work that could be demoralising. It would be better if the government pays proper attention to it immediately."
With input from PTI