New Delhi: On July 16, members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) allegedly barged into the vice chancellor’s lodge in Delhi University to protest against “objectionable” and “anti-RSS” material in the revised syllabus for the English, History, Political Science and Sociology courses.
The protestors, according to professors, gheraoed the vice chancellor’s office when the academic council’s meeting was underway.
As soon as Saikat Ghosh, a member of the council and the head of the English department, started to speak, a group of students allegedly began shouting slogans right outside the office and demanded that the heads of English and History departments be “handed over to them”.
According to the Indian Express, the RSS-backed National Democratic Teachers Front (NDTF) has put forth its objection against a short story – Maniben alias Bibijan (set in the Gujarat riots) – which was added to the English syllabus, claiming that it portrays characters from the Bajrang Dal and RSS in a “bad light” and as “murderers”.
Other “objectionable content”, they say, includes of papers like ‘Literature and Caste’ and ‘Interrogating Queerness’. In political science, the NDTF raised objections over the inclusion of Maoism in the social movement course and the absence of the Vedic period in Sociology.
Rasal Singh, member of the academic council, said that the modifications are being made to impose a leftist ideology on students. “All these materials are anti-RSS and against nationalism. The head of the English department should resign,” he said.
The professors have condemned the whole incident saying that “it is unprecedented” and “frightening” all at the same time.
“Even as DUTA [Delhi University Teachers Association] president, for three years I was never allowed inside the iron gates of the Vice Chancellor’s office. Nor were other elected members, professors, heads, deans who did not have an appointment. The fact that the ABVP members could enter the gates despite the heavy security shows that the university administration is also complicit in the whole chain of events. The ABVP has taken out demonstrations several times in the past but they were never allowed inside the VC’s office complex during an AC meeting. This is unprecedented,” Nandita Narain said.
She added that the NDTF’s objection to a chapter on queerness right after the Supreme Court repealed Section 377, decriminalising homosexuality, shows their (NDTF) “regressive mindset”.
ABVP has objected to certain portions of DU’s syllabus in the past as well, inviting a huge amount of displeasure from students and teachers alike.
Back in 2008, ABVP along with other student collectives affiliated to right-wing outfits protested the inclusion of an essay by A.K. Ramanujam titled Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation in the history syllabus. The protestors said that the essay shows gods and goddesses in derogatory manner.
Two years later, the academic council removed the essay from the curriculum prompting students and teachers to organise protests opposing the move. However, the essay remains excluded from the main syllabus till date.
Moreover, last year, DU’s standing committee for academic affairs decided to remove two books – Subalterns and Sovereigns: An Anthropological History of Bastar by sociologist Nandini Sundar and Against Ecological Romanticism: Verrier Elwin and the Making of an Anti-modern Tribal Identity by Jawaharlal Nehru University professor Archana Prasad. The committee, according to the Hindustan Times, said that the books were not “suitable for the students”.
In 2017, the NDTF opposed the introduction of yet another book by Sundar, The Burning Forest: India’s War in Bastar, in the sociology syllabus. Similarly, in 2010, Periyar’s book Sacchi Ramayan was also dropped from History syllabus.
Referring to the earlier attempt to remove Sundar’s chapters as well as yesterday’s incident at the VC’s office, Apoorvanand, who teaches in the faculty of arts at DU said, “It is not a matter of an academic debate but that of the domination of an ideology. They [ABVP and the teachers affiliated to RSS] don’t want the mention of Naxalbari, caste, queer etc. because according to them it contaminates the minds of the students and is subversive. However, students are intelligent enough to make their own decisions.”
Students, too, are unhappy with the series of events that took place at the VC’s office yesterday and the successive removal of selected books, papers and essays in the university’s curriculum.
“They [ABVP] cannot dictate what should be in the syllabus and what should not. What is there to fear if teachers want us to learn about queerness, caste and Gujarat riots? Perhaps, they [ABVP] don’t want people to know the truth. It is a sad state of affairs and action should be taken against those who disrupted the academic council’s meeting. This is actually creating an atmosphere of intimidation,” said Kawalpreet Kaur, a law student and Delhi president of the All India Students Association.
Meanwhile, the syllabus for Sociology and Political Science was approved at the academic council meeting but that of English and History were sent back for review in lieu of the protest and backlash, PTI reported.
Update: ABVP responds
Rasal Singh, member of the academic council, says:
“The proposed curriculum has replaced the core-paper – Indian Writing in English with ‘Literature and Caste’ and ‘Interrogating Queerness’. Ideally, they should have added these papers as one of the units of the core paper. When did these papers become such an important issue that you decided to replace the entire paper with them?
Lastly, the ABVP members didn’t create any ruckus outside the VC’s office. Although, I do agree that the protestors did cross over the iron gates to further their demands. But calling these students, who are an important stakeholders, “goons” is not acceptable and deeply condemnable. Also, they never entered the council hall, peeped into it from terrace or asked for the head of the english and history department to be handed over to them.”
Ashutosh Singh, state media incharge, ABVP Delhi, says:
“We were protesting peacefully outside the VC’s office on July 15 and the next day when the administration didn’t respond, more students joined in the protest. It was a very peaceful protest because we are deeply disturbed at how the proposed syllabus tries to show one-sided narratives of issues around caste, naxalism and communalism. We are not saying that these things shouldn’t be taught but they shouldn’t be just shown in a positive light. The theories must be backed with criticisms as well.
Also, contrary to the claims made by the DUTA members, we never asked the academic council to “hand over” Saikat Ghosh, the head of English department and others. These are all false claims. Also, we never had any kind of interaction with academic council members as has been the allegations. That’s also not true.”
Note: This story was updated at 1:30 pm on July 20 with the ABVP members’ responses.