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Dalit Authors removed from English Syllabus at DU

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Continuing the curse of heavily damaging undergraduate courses, an Oversight Committee (OC) removed stories by renowned author Mahasweta Devi and two Dalit Authors from the English syllabus at the Delhi University. The university faces extreme scrutiny due to this decision.

In a meeting on Tuesday, the OC removed two Dalit authors – Bama and Sukhatharini. They were Tamil Dalit feminist writers. They were replaced by an ‘upper caste writer’ Ramabai.

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Mahasweta Devi’s ‘Draupadi’ is a story about a tribal woman. It has been taught by the University of Delhi since 1999. Mahasweta Devi is a globally celebrated author and a winner of the Sahitya Akademi Award, Jnanpith Award and Padma Vibhushan by the Government of India. Ignoring all these facts, the OC removed ‘Draupadi’ from the English syllabus without any academic logic. Moreover, they refused to accept any stories by Mahasweta Devi. 15 members of the Academic Council dissented this move but were overruled.

The Oversight Committee had no representatives from the English Department. The head of the English Department was only a special invitee. One of the members of the Academic Council, Mithuraj Dhusiya said, “The restructuring of the syllabus has been ongoing and has been democratically done at various levels. A year ago, the AC formed the oversight committee to look at controversial syllabus changes. But the committee does not have a locus standing to alter anything. There were political reasons for removing certain texts. We, the 15 elected members expressed our dissent but the English changes were still approved.”

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The OC arbitrarily deleted portions of the DSE (Discipline Specific Elective) paper titled ‘Interrogating Queerness’ without taking into consideration the stakeholders within the syllabus committee of the department or with the Committee of Courses. In another DSE paper titled ‘Pre-Colonial Indian Literatures’, the OC has replaced Chandrabati Ramayana with Tulsidas. The former was a feminist reading of the Ramayana.

One of the members who dissented alleged that the OC has always had a prejudice against the representation of Dalits, tribals, women and sexual minorities as it continues to erase all such voices from the syllabus. Also, the OC does not have any member from the Dalit or the tribal community who can bring some sensitivity to the issue.

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In the past year, the OC has drastically affected the syllabus for departments like History, Political Science and Sociology and has come under great scrutiny for the same.

Last year, the History department was forced to incorporate modifications that do not pertain to history. The role of Hindu icons and epics has been exaggerated in the course. Mythological texts being taught as history for an entire semester is worrisome.

In Political Science, the OC tried to remove a chapter from Sociologist Nandini Sundar’s ‘Subalterns and Sovereigns: An Anthropological History of Bastar’. After much opposition from different teachers in the University, the chapter was retained. They also objected to the teaching of Maoism. In Sociology, they were bothered by the absence of Vedic times and joint family that bothered them.

The chairman of the OC, MK Pandit said “The Oversight Committee is appointed by the Executive Council, the highest decision-making body of the university and is an empowered committee. This panel has been working for over six years now and was specifically created to look at matters of syllabuses particularly when the AC and EC meetings aren’t being held.” Addressing concerns about no representation of the department in the committee, 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.”

Contrary to this, AC member Rajesh Singh 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.”

The LOCF syllabus has been coming under attack for an year now. Last year, the right-wing teachers’ group National Democratic Teachers’ Front (NDTF) had objections to ‘Maniben alias Bibijan’. They had issues with the Bajrang Dal and RSS in a ‘bad light’ and as ‘murderers’. They also had an objection to Indian gods being portrayed as a part of the LGBT community in the English syllabus.

Political biases are clear in the changes being brought about. The OC has been ignoring the concerns of stakeholders and imposing changes that go heavily opposed, like a 4 year UG course, constant changes in the syllabus etc.

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