The Delhi University has come under fire for deleting works of Mahasweta Devi and other Dalit authors from the English syllabus of Semester V of the BA (Hons) English course. Reportedly, the Academic Council (AC) in a meeting held on Tuesday expressed discontent over the Oversight Committee’s (OC) functioning alleging “vandalism” of the curriculum.
15 members of the AC have accused the OC of deciding to remove two Dalit authors — Bama and Sukhartharini. They also voiced their dismay over the deletion of celebrated literary work.
“The Committee as an afterthought suddenly asked the English department to delete the celebrated short story of Mahasweta Devi, ‘Draupadi’ – a story about a tribal woman – without giving any academic logic,” complained the committee. “Moreover the Committee refused to accept any short story by Mahasweta Devi despite her iconic status globally as a writer and being a winner of the Sahitya Akademi Award, Jnanpith Award and Padma Vibhushan from the Government of India,” the academic council members added further.
The council further accused the OC of making these ‘arbitrary and academic changes’ without the consent or feedback from the ‘stakeholders either with the syllabus committee of the department or with the Committee of Courses’.
Elaborating on the harassment by the OC, Rajesh Singh a History professor alleged, “They also delay notifying the syllabus for each semester, usually 4-7 weeks after the classes begin. We had given them the LOCF syllabus for Semester VI too, but they have still notified it.”
DU issues clarification
Delhi University on Thursday released a statement clarifying its stand on the controversy that erupted over the unfair deletion of portions. DU in its statement insisted that the syllabus of the course had been passed through a ‘democratic process.’
“A careful perusal of the present syllabus clearly brings out the inclusive nature of the syllabus under reference in terms of its diversity of content and inclusion of pioneering works of various renowned scholars of both national and international fame without consideration of their religion, caste and creed as, according to the University, excellence in academia is not subservient to these attributes,” reads the statement.
“Such an inclusive approach is important for the young minds who imbibe the content of the teaching- learning emanating from the syllabus in letter and spirit,” the media statement said further.
National Democratic Teachers Front backs decision
The National Democratic Teachers Front (NDTF) has backed the decision to remove works of Mahasweta Devi from the English syllabus. It said in a statement, “It is an unfortunate fact that a section of teachers in the English Department exploited academic autonomy and freedom in an attempt to denigrate and demonise Hinduism and our ancient civilisation, to perpetuate animosity between social castes, to encourage militant maoism & naxalism amongst tribals, etc. Many stakeholders raised valid objections and they were checkmated. That is why they are making political noises.”
“‘Draupadi’, a story written in Bengali by Mahashweta Devi and translated into English by Gyatri Spivak, had been taught in DU for many years. The very title of the story which revolves around humiliation of a tribal woman, is an insidious attempt to demean Hinduism. The contents of the story is replete with description of gory details of her private body parts, sexual innuendos, vulgar descriptions of sexual attacks on her, etc.,” added the statement.
It proceeded to add, “NDTF is for academic freedom and autonomy. Writers and academics are free to write and publish what they deem fit. But under freedom of speech none has the right to demand that the same must become part of university syllabuses. And therefore, in the name of autonomy and freedom University syllabuses should not be allowed to be dictated by a particular political leftist ideology.”
“Why cannot they prescribe Munshi Premchand’s story ‘Jihad’ which fits eminently into what’s happening in the Talibani mindset ? Why is Tulsidas Ramayana is strictly no no for them and deviant Ramayanas acceptable? University academic programs cannot be allowed to foster animosity between different social sections of society and religion. The aim of leftists had always been to inject society with the cancer of social and religious conflicts. As patriots and nationalists NDTF is committed to resist their toxic cancerous approach and demand from University Administration to scan all syllabuses made by English Department,” it said.
Indian Gods as part of the LGBT community
This is not the first time the DU syllabus has come under attack. In 2019, the right-wing teachers’ group National Democratic Teachers’ Front (NDTF) had expressed concerns over ‘Maniben alias Bibijan’. A story based on the Gujarat riots painting Bajrang Dal and RSS in a ‘bad light calling them ‘murderers.
They had also objected to the syllabus that portrayed Indian gods as being part of the LGBT community. Further, the History Syllabus taught Naxalism and Communism as ‘Democracy on work’.
Not sparing even the Hindu epics, Krishna and Arjun were being described as ‘great slaughterers of creatures’ in the syllabus.