New Delhi: In a decision that could stoke controversy, Delhi University’s top academic body has decided to withdraw from History syllabus eminent scholar AK Ramanujan’s essay ‘Three Hundred Ramayanas’ which had incensed some right wing Hindu groups.
The decision, made in a stormy meeting of the Academic Council (AC), did not go unchallenged with at least nine members raising strong dissent over the issue, Council members said. While some members of the University community described the move as “unfortunate”, other said the removal of the essay was a “victory of the right wing”.
The 30-page essay, which offers a number of tellings of the epic story of Lord Rama, including the Jain, Buddhist and Kannada narratives, had not gone down well with sections of the right wing, some of whom called it “blasphemous”.
In fact, in 2008, a group of ABVP activists had gone on rampage, attacking the Department of History, in protest against the essay being included in the syllabus. The matter came before the AC following a Supreme Court directive which had asked the varsity to place before the Council observations of some experts who had been requested to submit their observations on the essay.
“It is very regressive and unfortunate that a Central University in today’s world has arrived at such a decision. The essay gives different perspectives on the Ramayana which are important from the academic point of view. We are sorry
that the Vice Chancellor did not act like an academic on this issue,” said Abha Dev Habib, one of the dissenting members of the AC.
Prof ZH Jafri, who was head of department of History when the controversy erupted in 2008, however reacted more cautiously. He said since the AC has arrived at a decision by a majority it is a democratic decision that has to be accepted. Recalling his own experience at the helm of the department, he said: “At that time I had to defend our department at many forums and the department too stood solidly behind me even though there was lot of pressure on us to withdraw the essay. ”However, I do not know in detail what transpired at the AC meeting. All I know is the fact that it was a hectic debate in which nine people also dissented, and I accept the democratic decision,” he said.
The members who were opposed to withdrawing of the essay submitted a note of dissent on the issue. They said the “Hindu understanding of Ramayana and Valmiki’s rendering of the Ramayana are in no way the singular versions of Ramayana”. ”The removal of any material that incorporates Tamil versions of the Ramayana and Jaina and Buddhist versions of the Ramayana would be an act of majority fundamentalism being imposed on Linguistic Religious minorities of the country,” they said.
They also appealed that their dissent be placed in its totality before the Supreme Court along with Council’s resolution. Members who attended the meeting on Sunday said among the four experts required to submit their views, three had stated they found the essay appropriate for the syllabus, and the fourth expert had suggested he believed otherwise.
“Even the HoD of History Prof RC Thakran had stated that the department council of history had considered the issue and decided in favour of keeping the essay,” Habib said.
Prof Pramesh Ratnakar, who teaches History at the Deen Dayal Upadhyay college, also expressed unhappiness over the issue. ”Scholars like Ramanujan are world renowned. If they have come up with an argument, you don’t just throw it out because it is inconvenient to you politically,” he said.