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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Dalit authors, Mahasweta Devi removed from English syllabus, DU comes under fire

In the Academic Council (AC) meeting held Wednesday, 15 AC members submitted a dissent note against the OC and its functioning. They alleged there had been “maximum vandalism” in LOCF (Learning Outcomes based Curriculum Framework) English syllabus for Semester V.

Written by Aranya Shankar | New Delhi |
Updated: August 26, 2021 6:21:31 pm
This is not the first time the LOCF syllabus for these courses has come under attack. In 2019, the right-wing teacher group, National Democratic Teachers’ Front (NDTF), had demanded changes. (Express file photo by Praveen Khanna)

Delhi University has come under criticism from some quarters after the Oversight Committee (OC) removed renowned author Mahasweta Devi’s short story and two Dalit authors from the English syllabus.

In the Academic Council (AC) meeting held Tuesday, 15 AC members submitted a dissent note against the OC and its functioning. They alleged there had been “maximum vandalism” in LOCF (Learning Outcomes based Curriculum Framework) English syllabus for Semester V.

They said the OC first decided to remove two Dalit authors — Bama and Sukhartharini — and replaced them with “upper caste writer Ramabai”.

“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.

This is notwithstanding the fact that ‘Draupadi’ has been taught by the University of Delhi since 1999 owing to its seminal academic value,” the AC members wrote.

“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,” they said.

The AC members said that in a DSE (Discipline Specific Elective) paper titled ‘Interrogating Queerness’, the Oversight Committee “arbitrarily deleted sections from the units at the expense of the academic rigour of the paper”.

They said these “arbitrary and academic changes” were “imposed without sharing any feedback from the stakeholders either with the syllabus committee of the department or with the Committee of Courses”.

“The Oversight Committee has always shown a 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… It is important to note that the Oversight Committee does not have any member from the Dalit or the Tribal community who can possibly bring in some sensitivity to the issue,” the dissenting members wrote.

They also said the OC had “continued to harass no end departments like History, Political Science and Sociology while approving their revised LOCF syllabus: that too only for Semester V”.

“The Committee directed the History department to incorporate modifications in the syllabus of BA (Hons) History, none of which belong to the discipline of History,” they said.

AC member Biswajit Mohanty, who teaches Political Science at Deshbandhu College, said the OC had an issue with a chapter from Sociologist Nandini Sundar’s ‘Subalterns and Sovereigns: An Anthropological History of Bastar’ .

“They wanted that to be removed from the syllabus, but we were able to retain it finally,” he said.

History HoD Seema Bawa said all modifications made to the course were before she took over as HoD in November 2020, so she would not be able to comment on the matter. Former HoD Sunil Kumar died on January 17 this year.

Sources said any objections or changes to the History and Sociology syllabus had been made in 2019, and the issue was now largely procedural.

AC member Rajesh Singh, who teaches history at Moti Lal Evening College, said, “The only authority which can decide on courses is the Committee of Courses, which then gets approval from Faculties, Standing Committee and AC. The OC has no such authority. 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.”

OC Chairman M K Pandit said there was always dissent, which was part of the process. “I don’t want to go into specifics, but a certain story has been taught for many years, and if there is revision, that is fine. There’s not just one author; there are many authors who deserve to be taught,” he said.

Asked about allegations of casteism, he said, “I don’t know the caste of authors. I don’t believe in casteism. I don’t look at Indians as belonging to different castes.”

Addressing allegations that there were no people from these disciplines in the OC, Pandit said, “I accommodate everyone’s point of view. They are all experts… I can read English, you can read English. If something offensive is written somewhere, we don’t need a PhD in literature to understand that.”

This is not the first time the LOCF syllabus for these courses has come under attack. In 2019, the right-wing teachers’ group National Democratic Teachers’ Front (NDTF) had demanded changes.

In the English course, they had objections to ‘Maniben alias Bibijan’ based on the Gujarat riots as it allegedly showed Bajrang Dal and RSS in “bad light” and as “murderers”.

They had also objected saying the English syllabus portrayed Indian gods as being part of the LGBT community.

With respect to the History syllabus, the NDTF had a problem with Naxalism and Communism being taught in papers such as “Democracy on work’, and that in the ‘Historians Craft Course’, Indian gods Krishna and Arjun were being described as “great slaughterers of creatures”.

In Political Science, their objection was to the teaching of Maoism in the ‘Social Movements’ course, and in Sociology, it was the absence of vedic times and joint family that bothered them.

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