A PLAY based on eminent litterateur and social activist Mahasweta Devi’s short story ‘Draupadi’, staged by the English department of Central Univerity of Haryana, Mahendragarh, has pitted students involved in the play against the ABVP.
The RSS’s student wing wants those involved in the play to be booked for sedition, alleging that it presents the security forces in a bad light.
The protest began on September 21 and is continuing, with the ABVP seeking to involve residents of Mahendragarh and surrounding villages. Pramod Shastri, president of ABVP’s Haryana unit, who is camping in the town, said he will not budge until action is taken against those who staged the play.
The story of ‘Draupadi’, set in 1971 against the backdrop of Naxalite violence in West Bengal, is about a Santhal woman who is hunted down by security forces, raped and humiliated.
Alleging that the play was was staged to lower the morale of the armed forces, Shastri said, “Our army was shown as rapists…it seems unruly elements have entered the university. It seems those involved in unrest at JNU, Hyderabad university, Jamia and the FTII (Pune) have taken admission here as part of a plan and are behind this.”
But MPhil student Carlos Fernandes, who comes from Chennai, said one of the problems may have been that the play was in English. “Many people did not understand the context because of that and felt that it was portraying the Army in a bad light. This was not the case,” he said.
Teachers involved with organising the play said the university authorities gave a go-ahead to stage it, but once the controversy arose they asked teachers to give explanations.
The ongoing troubles have prompted the university to declare that from now all cultural events will be vetted by a review committee. Calling the committee a “a mini-censor board”, students and some teachers said it’s disappointing that the university administration did not come out strongly in defence of academic freedom.
Fifteen students involved in putting up the play said the idea was to pay tribute to Mahasweta Devi, who died on July 28.
It was to be held in August, but had to be postponed several times before being staged last week.
University registrar Ram Dutt said, “It is perception of the people that the play shows soldiers in a bad light. I don’t know what provoked them (to feel that way). We have constituted a committee to look into the issue. The committee held a meeting today, but has not reached a conclusion yet.”