A four-member committee had been formed to decide on Ramanujan essay at Supreme Court directive

Delhi University's Academic Council seems to have relied on the opinion of one expert, conveniently ignoring the collective opinion of the remaining three, in its controversial decision to drop A. K. Ramanujan's celebrated essay on the Ramayana from its history syllabus.

An expert committee comprising four acclaimed historians, whose names have not been revealed, had been formed at the direction of the Supreme Court following a writ petition by some Right wing groups that the essay hurt their religious sentiments. The expert committee then placed before the AC its report which ostensibly resulted in scrapping of the essay.

The essay, “Three hundred Ramayanas: Five examples and three thoughts on translations,” was quoted by the AC as inappropriate to form a subject of history, given its religious theme.

'Appropriate'

However, expert A noted: “The recommended readings from the essay is very appropriate as it critically and objectively traces out the developments in historical perspective with great vision and unassailable scholarship…I see nothing objectionable, repeat nothing objectionable, in this scholarly essay on Ramayana by Ramanujan.”

The essay was also quoted as being religiously offensive to the Hindu community, to which expert B said: “Recently I came across a pamphlet describing the objections by people who claim to be the spokesmen of the Hindu communities in India. They are silly and superficial and really expose the ignorance of the authors regarding their own unique heritage.”

The essay was also termed offensive and an attempt to discredit Valmiki's Ramayana, to which expert B observed: “No sanctity or special privilege can be attached to any version. Keeping in mind the description of the South Indian as vanaras with long tails or rakshasas with huge ugly animal shapes, the miracle weapons and supernatural feats of heroes, no sane person can consider the Ramayana as works of history…Indian scholarship has always regarded Valmiki's Ramayana as Adikavya (the earliest poem) and the poet is by definition completely free in his world of imagination...apare kavya samsare kavireva prajapati – the poet is the supreme creator in the boundless world of poetry.”

His thoughts are echoed by expert C who said: “By all accounts there is no single version of the Ramayana, many writers, poets, dramatists and scholars have interpreted the story in their different ways. In fact, if the story had been static and did not hold the potential of re-narration, perhaps it would not have survived over 2,000 years.”

Expert B then goes on to categorically state that “the recent trend among advocates of Hindutva to consider this work as being composed of actual historical data is deplorable. It is contrary to our tradition, sanity and commonsense, and an insult to our scholarly culture”.

However, the opinion of expert D who termed the Indian psyche incapable of handling different versions of the Ramayana, seems to have convinced the AC to scrap the essay. “Epic personalities are divine characters and showing them in bad light is not easily tolerated,” he noted.

'Affecting sensibilities'

Expert D also observed: “Although these (other versions of the Ramayana) are literary pieces, they are bound to affect the sensibilities of impressionable minds. If the teacher explains the background of these versions, the students may be convinced, but I doubt if college teachers are well-equipped to handle the situation which, is likely to become more difficult in the case of a non-Hindu teacher.”

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