Shakespeare was wrong in saying “What’s in a name?” There is a lot in a name. The names of institutions have far greater significance than the names of individuals as they give us an idea about their history, purpose and character. A UGC audit team recently suggested that the words ‘Hindu’ and ‘Muslim’ be dropped from the names of two denominational universities: Banaras Hindu University (BHU) and Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). It not only exceeded its brief but also showed its ignorance of the history and the unique character of the universities.
It is also wrong to assert, as some have done, that while AMU was meant to serve primarily Muslim interests, BHU did not give central importance to Hindu interests. In fact, the editor of Leader (an English newspaper started by BHU founder Madan Mohan Malaviya) said the birth of BHU was in fact the beginning of Hindu renaissance. To deny the Hindu character of BHU is to rewrite history.
“No Hindu who has received an English education ever remains sincerely attached to his religion. It is my firm belief that if our plans of education are followed up, there will not be a single idolater amongst the respectable classes in Bengal thirty years hence,” said Lord Macaulay. To counter the ill effects imparted by the British educational institutions, Hindus wanted a university of their own. The Central Hindu College was founded in 1898 by Annie Besant and Bhagwan Das to promote the study of Hindu shastras along with western education. Revival of Hinduism was the primary goal of this institution. Khalsa College was similarly founded in 1892 to conserve Sikhism.
The MAO College at Aligarh founded in 1877 by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan had a similar motive but there was a difference. Here, Sir Syed was more interested in western education than the revival of Islam. As many as five fatwas were issued against him, including one from Mecca. He and his college were called evil. While Sir Syed was for radical reforms in Islam, Malaviya represented and practiced Hindu orthodoxy. Malaviya’s links with Hindu organisations were quite cordial.
In 1887 Madhya Hindu Samaj sent him as its delegate to the newly-founded Indian National Congress session. Malaviya was one of the founders of Hindu Mahasabha which too was formed with the intention of promoting the Hindu identity. He repeatedly said that Hindus should take pride in their Hindu identity as the British education system had inculcated in them a feeling of inferiority. But when the Hindu Mahasabha adopted an aggressive and exclusionary approach, Malaviya withdrew himself from its activities. Malaviya as the third vice-chancellor of BHU in 1938 permitted the construction of two rooms on campus for the RSS to carry out its activities.
In 1904 at the Congress session, Malaviya’s proposal for the BHU was unanimously adopted. The British government also supported the proposal in the hope that it would produce loyal British subjects. Harcourt Butler, member education, Government of India , without mincing words said about the BHU Bill that “educating the youth in India in the Hindu religion would inspire loyalty to the government and would serve to quell growing sedition in India”.
The Hindu kings were of the similar view. When Butler informed the promoters of both the universities that the secretary of state did not agree to using ‘Hindu’ or ‘Muslim’ in the names of the universities, both communities opposed it. The Maharaja of Darbhanga, president of Hindu University Society, wrote to Harcourt Butler that “the new name will not appeal to the Hindu public at large”. He also said in any case, a “change of name will not alter the essential Hindu character of the proposed University”. The Viceroy Lord Hardinge’s letter of 7th October, 1912 to the secretary of state saved the day as he persuaded him to concede this genuine demand.
Malaviya was also opposed to the non-cooperation movement. In fact Gandhiji at the Nagpur session of Congress where the non-cooperation resolution was adopted did acknowledge Malaviya’s absence; otherwise he would have opposed this resolution. Gandhiji considered institutions run with British support as ‘satanic’. He advocated BHU’s closure as the education was not nationalist. When Malaviya did not concede, Gandhiji got an alternative nationalist university established at Benaras itself: Kashi Vidyapith. At its inauguration in 1921, Gandhiji regretted that Malaviya had even refused to attend the function. Similarly in Aligarh, Jamia Millia Islamia was founded as an alternative to AMU by the nationalist Muslims with Gandhiji’s patronage. Subsequently it was shifted to Delhi.
The BHU reflected its Hindu character. The university’s Supreme Governing Body till 1951 consisted only of Hindus. Only Brahmins were permitted to teach at the College of Theology. When non-Brahmin donors and kings objected to this, Malaviya convinced the members on the basis of Manusmriti. Non-Brahmins were not admitted even as students of the Theology College as according to the shastras, they were not entitled to perform the duties of priests. On the same basis, women too were excluded.
In 1945, even Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan who had succeeded Malaviya refused to go against the regressive decisions. Thus it is absurd to say that BHU was progressive and AMU was sectarian and regressive. We should be proud of the Hindu character of BHU and in view of its origin and purpose, retain ‘H’ in BHU. It does not impinge on our secular character. In 1965, the Centre’s similar proposal was opposed even by the RSS and was dropped. The BHU is certainly better than most universities in India and its character has not diluted its academic standards.
Vice-Chancellor of NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad