The Human Resource Development (HRD) ministry wrote to Delhi University vice-chancellor Yogesh Tyagi on Wednesday urging him to “reconsider” the use of the history book that refers to Bhagat Singh as a “revolutionary terrorist”. Ministry officials maintained that the government’s letter was “advisory” in nature and not a directive as all central universities have complete autonomy in taking academic decisions.
The book in question is ‘India’s Struggle for Independence (1757-1858)’ authored by historians Bipan Chandra, Mridula Mukherjee, Aditya Mukherjee, K N Panikkar and Sucheta Majahan, which was first published in 1988.
The letter came a day after HRD Minister Smriti Irani assured that she would convey her “angst” to the university. The ABVP along with a relative of Bhagat Singh also met Tyagi on Wednesday demanding that the book be banned from the curriculum.
“This book is being taught to MA students for a long time. We recently got to know that the book describes freedom fighters like Bhagat Singh and Surya Sen as terrorists. We met DU officials today and asked that the book be banned. We also plan to meet the authors of the book in the coming days,” said DU Students’ Union (DUSU) president Satender Awana.
One of Bhagat Singh’s relatives who met the DU VC told reporters, “The Britishers, who hanged Bhagat Singh, described him as a ‘true revolutionary’. Even they didn’t use words like terror or terrorism. Using such words for revolutionaries in an attempt to stir controversy is very unfortunate.”
Historian D N Jha, who was the head of department of DU in 1988 when the book was first introduced in the syllabus said the book was of “seminal importance”. “When the book was written, the use of the word “terrorist” meant somebody different from a “moderate”; someone who did not believe in ahimsa (non-violence),” he said.
In a joint statement, authors Aditya Mukherjee, Mridula Mukherjee and Sucheta Mahajan said, “Bipan Chandra.clearly said that it is a term we use without any pejorative meaning and for want of a different term.” In his later writings, Bipan Chandra stopped using the term as it has acquired a very negative meaning recently.”