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New Delhi: Over 1,150 individuals and organisations have issued a statement demanding that works by three authors that were recently removed from the Delhi University English Honours syllabus – Bama, Sukirtharani and Mahasweta Devi – be reinstated for students.
In August, DU announced that it was dropping Devi’s short story ‘Draupadi’, two poems by Sukirthani and selections from Bama’s Sangati from the syllabus. The petitioners, however, believe that these writings are essential readings for students, given how they bring out the complex, discriminatory socio-cultural realities of India, both past and present. A statement released by the signatories argues:
“Bama and Sukirtharani articulate the lived experience of being Dalit women in contemporary India. They illumine how caste oppression colludes with modes of patriarchy to produce gendered oppression and exploitation. The two writers would have constituted a very significant component of a core/compulsory paper of the final year English Hons. Syllabus, titled Women’s Writings that aims to explore past and contemporary female lives in India (and the world) – the promises kept (or not) and the work in progress. Is this not something that the young men and women of independent India need to know and engage with? Both Bama and Sukirtharani are Tamil Dalit authors. Is it not important to teach and know, in a central university located in Delhi, the regional diversity of contemporary India? How else will an inclusive, better and equal world be shaped?”
Similarly, the petition raises the important points brought out by ‘Draupadi’, which signatories believe provide crucial learnings to students:
“‘Draupadi’ is the story of Dopdi Mejhen, a twenty-seven years old Adivasi woman who acts against systemic oppression against landless share-croppers. ‘Draupadi’ brings alive the long tradition of Adivasi fight against oppression of feudal, imperial and capitalist systems of colonial and decolonial India. ‘Draupadi’ shows that poverty is a socially constructed state and thus open to transformation. Draupadi is also a woman. She is the namesake of an epic protagonist who is disrobed in the presence of all her kinsmen during a game of dice. The Draupadis, across centuries, help splinter the sabha, the family or the state as not quite the promised safe haven for women. Not yet.”
Signatories of the petition include academics like A. Mangai, Aijaz Ahmad, G.N. Devy, Ramachandra Guha, Romila Thapar, S. Anand, Susie Tharu, Uma Chakravarti, Urvashi Butalia and V. Geetha; authors including Ambai, Arundhati Roy, Joy Goswami, Perumal Murugan and Vikram Chandra; Dalit and DNT rights organisations such as the All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch, Asia Dalit Rights Forum, DNT Rights Action Group, National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR); and filmmakers and performing artists like Anand Patwardhan, Anjali Monteiro, Mallika Sarabhai, Maya Krishna Rao, Nandita Das, Shabana Azmi and Sharmila Tagore.
The deleted literary works, the petitioners write, are “seminally important as they help realise the systemic oppressions of the Dalit and Adivasi communities that was prevalent, especially in gendered terms, and provide a better appreciation of our contemporary ethos and polity”.
Students in independent India, they continue, deserve the chance to learn from and engage with these texts. “How else will a better and equal world be shaped? Or are we to relegate the protesting woman and the Adivasi to the peripheries of the syllabus of Delhi University 2021? What are we afraid of?”
Find the full text of the petition and list of signatories below.