DU comes under fire for dropping texts by Dalit writers

University counters backlash from several quarters, says present English syllabus inclusive in nature, includes pioneering works of renowned scholars

August 27, 2021 12:21 am | Updated 12:21 am IST - NEW DELHI

What’s best for the future?  Students at the Delhi University campus.

What’s best for the future? Students at the Delhi University campus.

The Delhi University’s decision to drop texts by two Dalit authors Bama and Sukirtharini — “Sangat” and “Debt” respectively — from the English syllabus has come under severe criticism from several quarters. The translated texts were part of the new syllabus that came into force in 2019 and were supposed to be taught to the current batch of third-year students for the first time, several DU professors said.

Additionally, Mahasweta Devi’s “Draupadi” which has been taught at the university since 1999, according to professors, was also dropped from the syllabus by the varsity.

Due deliberations

Countering the backlash, DU in a statement on Thursday said that the empowered Oversight Committee “after due deliberations with recommendations of the Head, Department of English, finalised the syllabus”.

The varsity also maintained that the present syllabus was “inclusive” in nature and that it included “pioneering works of various renowned scholars of both national and international fame without consideration of their religion, caste and creed.”

‘Move disappointing’

Following the university’s decision to drop the texts at an Academic Council (AC) meeting held on Tuesday, despite 15 elected members marking their dissent, several professors said that the move was “disappointing and shocking.”

Mithuraaj Dhusiya, an AC member who marked his dissent said, “There was no proper discussion regarding this. The Oversight Committee had members who did not have any expertise on the English syllabi. The English Department Head was a special invitee which meant that there were no rights to vote or dissent. The manner in which it was passed is shocking and disappointing. Why were only certain authors and certain texts dropped?”

Rudrashish Chakroborty, professor at Kirori Mal College said, “The Oversight Committee is guilty of not only undermining the laid down academic processes of the university, they have also abdicated their responsibility towards the students by delaying the notification of the syllabus in every semester. It is unbecoming of a university having stature like DU to notify the syllabus five weeks after the commencement of the semester. The fact that students/teachers don’t know which texts to study/teach speak volumes about the academic apathy and the irresponsibility of the Oversight Committee towards the teaching-learning process. Coupled with this is the overreach of the arbitrary addition/deletion of texts without the consent of the Committee of Courses — the only statutory body to frame the syllabus.”

Senior DU professors closely associated with the matter said that the two texts by the Dalit writers were a part of the draft revised syllabus which came into effect in 2019.

Mahasweta Devi’s work

“The current batch of third-year students would have been the first to be taught these two texts. However, in the recommendations sent by the OC, these two texts were dropped and it was eventually passed in Tuesday’s AC meeting. Dropping of Mahasweta Devi’s “Draupadi” was an afterthought,” said a senior DU professor.

M.K. Pandit, the Chairperson of the Oversight Committee, however said that “Draupadi” was dropped as a “large majority had a different view”.

“The OC is an empowered committee and comprises senior academics and deans. What “overreach” is there? I am an academic and I do not know if someone is a Dalit or a non-Dalit writer and such aspects were not kept in mind. I am only aware of Mahasweta Devi’s text which was dropped as many felt that there were details in the text which was not conducive to cater to all sections of society who come to DU. Students come from different backgrounds and their sensibilities might not be the same,” said Mr. Pandit.

The statement issued by the varsity also added, “The university subscribes to the idea that the literary content forming part of the text in a language course of study should contain materials which do not hurt the sentiments of any individual and is inclusive in nature to portray a true picture of our society, both past and present.”

The dissent note moved by 15 of the AC members read, “It is unfortunate that the Oversight Committee has always shown prejudice against the representation of Dalits, tribals, women and sexual minorities as evident in its concerted efforts to remove all such voices from the syllabus. This is particularly evident in the committee’s insistence to forcefully excise the authors like Mahasweta Devi, Bama and Sukartharini who represent Dalit, tribal and other marginal voices.”

Political pressure

Three AC members who had marked their dissent termed the university’s statement as “false and misleading”.

“The claim of the press release is utterly false and misleading: the Oversight Committee was conspicuous by its undemocratic decision-making of issuing fiats to the English department without giving any academic rationale. In fact, the Oversight Committee has undermined the collective efforts and the democratic processes undertaken by the Department of English in framing the syllabus through its subject committees mandated by the department GBM which then got ratified by the committee of courses. However the Oversight Committee, instead of examining the rationale of the texts included in the syllabus, merely pandered to the political pressures and vested interests,” the statement read.

Further it added that, “…to use hurt sentiments as an excuse to delete texts is a blatant attempt to impose thought control of the dominant and privileged social groups. By suggesting that the syllabus should merely uphold the status quo and not critique or question the same, the DU press release has actually undermined the very ethos of a university.”

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