At the outset, I have always been proud to call myself an alumnus from Dr Hari Singh Gaur Sagar University in Madhya Pradesh which is the first Central University in MP and is also one of the oldest University as I completed my BSc from this very same reputed Central University way back in 1996 for which I have always felt proud. But the recent unwarranted controversy that brought Sagar University in news for wrong reasons made me immensely sad as I very strongly feel that a very small issue has been blown totally out of proportion. We all saw how last month in last week of March a woman was shown offering namaz in a class in Sagar University. If only media had shown maturity in not highlighting it, this issue would not have garnered so much of hype which was totally unwarranted!
To start with, it was on March 25 that it was a friend who came rushing to her with news of the “viral video” – shot only a few hours earlier, it had the 22-year-old who is a CM scholarship recipient and a topper offering namaz in an empty room at Dr Harisingh Gaur Central University in Madhya Pradesh’s Sagar district. It must be mentioned here that the video that was shot secretly and in complete breach of her privacy which is against all norms of ethics and so also of law definitely angered her which is quite ostensible also but even after this attracted adverse publicity she wasn’t scared. She rightly said that, “Why should I be scared? I was confident that I haven’t done anything wrong.”
To put things in perspective, that day, as right-wing social media handles began working themselves up into a lather, with the Hindu Jagran Manch giving a written complaint to the University officials demanding action against her. As it turned out, the University in turn then set up a six member internal inquiry committee. The University later issued a statement saying that she has promised to refrain from indulging in religious practice on campus.
As we see, this garnered a lot of unwarranted media attention and was also reported even in national newspapers like The Indian Express among others and I too have myself read extensively on it. The woman who hails from Damoh district in Madhya Pradesh hopes to be a teacher after completing her studies. Presently, she is in her final semester of BSc-Bed – a four year integrated course offered by the University’s Department of Education and is awaiting her final exam results. Her family and teachers say that she has always been among the toppers.
For the exclusive benefit of my esteemed readers, let me bring out here that in the recently held Common Entrance Test conducted by the Professional Examination Board (PEB) for recruitment as a Trained Graduate Teacher (TGT), she had the unique distinction of topping her class by scoring brilliantly 127 marks out of 150. It would be also in the fitness of things to mention here that she is also among the six meritorious students who have been selected by the Sagar University for a teaching internship at the government-run Kendriya Vidyalaya in Sagar Cantonment. Of course, it cannot be lightly dismissed that having secured 86 percent in Class 10 and 85 percent in Class 12, she had also received Rs 25,000 under the Chief Minister (CM) scholarship scheme for meritorious students.
It must be mentioned here that the woman’s father aged 50 who lives with his wife, son and the 22-year-old in Damoh’s Hatta tehsil says that despite his middle class background, he enrolled his daughter in Bundelkhand Public School – then the only private, English medium school in Hatta. He very candidly and also proudly pointed out that, “It didn’t matter if we ate less a certain day but I ensured I never delayed paying her school fees. She has always been a meritorious student. Throughout school and college, every time we entered her class for parent-teacher meetings, we would look for her name on the board as she was always among the rank holders.” He also vividly recalled that, “She secured 93 percent in Class 11, but her Class 12 percentage fell as she had to undergo an elbow surgery.”
In hindsight, while recalling the day she was filmed offering her namaz, the 22-year-old woman says the department was holding elections for class representatives for the student council – she was one of the five candidates who was in the fray. One of her teachers disclosed that since the pandemic had erupted last year’s student union elections, they were held this year, though the academic session was almost winding up. It deserves mentioning here that the woman says that from the time she joined the University in 2018, she has been regularly doing her namaz, something her batchmates and the faculty were aware of, but no one had ever raised an objection.
Furthermore, she pointed out that, “When we enrolled here, we were given a detailed orientation about the rules governing the institute. No one told us offering prayers while in the department or the University wasn’t allowed. And no one anyway had a problem. But that day, because of the elections, students across batches were milling around.” This clearly shows that a mountain was made out of a molehill which certainly cannot be justified by anyone.
Going ahead, the following day, as newspapers and television channels reported on the video and the Hindu Jagran Manch’s demand seeking action against her, the Inspector of a local police station called to ask her if she needed protection. It goes without saying that the Inspector definitely deserves all the praise for boldly standing with the woman who was being unnecessarily harassed and for assuring her that the police is there for her security. We all saw how a group of over 50 members associated with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Hindu Jagran Manch had descended on the campus and started chanting the Hanuman Chalisa. This was shown and reported in many news channels also!
Needless to say, her father said that, “My daughter called me up and told me all this. I told her not to be scared and said she must stay put in the hostel. She was only offering her prayers. How is that wrong? Unlike me and my wife, my daughter is very punctual about doing her namaz five times a day.” I must mention here that my best friend Sageer Khan in Sagar was also very punctual in offering namaz five times a day and he used to always ensure from 1993 till 1995 when he and I were staying in same rented building that when he used to offer namaz I used to pray to Lord Shiv and he always ensured that I never desist from praying in time just like him!”
No doubt, religion must always unite us and not divide us. This can be possible only if we respect each other just like my best friend Sageer Khan who had just no compunction to offer namaz in same room of mine while I used to pray. Just looking for excuses to fight in the name of religion is just not done. Dean Swift had once very rightly said that, “We have just enough religion to make us hate one another but not enough to make us love one another.” So it all depends on us whether we use religion as a platform to fight or to unite.
It merits no reiteration that there can be no justification for conversion and I can still recall that my best friend Sageer Khan was very firm in holding way back in 1994 while I was doing BSc from Sagar University in Madhya Pradesh that, “Religion, nation and parents can never be changed under any circumstances. It is better to die than to change religion, nation and parents. Always worship Lord Shiva whom you worship till now till you die just like I will always worship Allah till I die. Never even dream of shunning your God whom you worship or your religion or nation as it can never be justified under any circumstances. Moreover, all religion are nothing but just different path to reach the same destination and so we should always follow the path in which we took birth and choose no other path for ourselves as it makes just no difference.”
It is worth noting that with right-wing groups descending on the campus on March 26, the Sagar University issued a notification “barring religious activities or activities that promote communal tension” within the University premises. It further advised students who wanted to perform their religious activities to do so in the privacy of their homes or in places of worship. Very rightly so!
It is also worth mentioning that a member of the Inquiry Committee set up by the University pointed out to the media that secretly shooting video of the student is a cyber offence in itself and even under the amended IPC. The member also said that, “We asked the student if she was wanting to file an FIR but she refused to pursue the case.” Most commendably, her father said that they just didn’t want to pursue the matter because there were careers and reputations at stake on the other side too. Her father also candidly said that, “Just as I have sent my daughter there to study, the student who made the video was also sent there to study. We do not want to punish the student’s family for his or her mistakes. Hum maaf karke aage badhne mein vishwas rakhte hai (We believe in forgiving and moving on).”
To conclude, I have just no words to most rightly praise the 22-year old woman and so also her father for not resorting to legal action even when they had an option to do so. This could have definitely destroyed the bright career of the students who made the video but they didn’t exercise that option for which they definitely deserves to be lavishly commended! It is high time and we must all definitely rise above our petty differences and start respecting each other religion just like we respect our own and this I learnt best from my own best friend Sageer Khan who never had any compunction whatsoever to bow before idols of Lord Hanuman and Devi Durga with me while accompanying me to a temple in Sagar itself for which I have just no words to describe and for me that temple in Sagar is most sacred on earth! I learnt from him best as to how respecting other religion does not make one small and how we are all one and just follow different paths to reach the same goal! I only hope and earnestly pray that such needless controversies never occur again in India as we are all one and only follow different path! It goes without saying that we must certainly inculcate more tolerance, respect and love for each other even for those who follow different religion from ours! Only then can we really make India prosperous, peaceful and powerful!
Adv. Sanjeev Sirohi is a Lawyer registered with the Meerut Bar. View expressed in the post are that of the author.