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Saturday, 29 October 2011

Delhi University scraps Ramanujan's essay on Ramayana

Delhi University's top academic body has decided to withdraw from its History syllabus an essay by eminent scholar A K Ramanujan on the Ramayana that had run into a controversy and even sparked violent protests by some right wing groups here in 2008.

The decision was taken by the university’s academic council in a day-long stormy meeting on Sunday. While a majority of the council members favoured withdrawal of the controversial essay from the prescribed readings for BA History (Honours) students, nine of them vehemently opposed and submitted written dissents.

“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,” one of the dissenting members on council, Abha Dev Habib, said.

Another scholar, who did not want to be identified, said that the university’s decision to scrap the essay was an instance of a secular institution buckling under the pressure of right wing organisations. “This decision does not augur well for the university and will set a bad precedence”, he said.

Ramanujan, a scholar of Indian literature from Mysore city, was a renowned poet and playwright. Although, he wrote extensively both in English and Kannada, his academic research ranged across three other languages—Tamil, Telugu and Sanskrit. He was conferred the Padma Shri by the government in 1976 for his contributions to the field of literature.

The matter came up before the Delhi University’s academic council following a directive from the Supreme Court where a case seeking removal of the essay from the syllabus is pending.

Hearing the matter in July 2010, the Supreme Court had asked the university to set up an experts committee to look into the matter and submit a report before the academic council for a decision.

Poster by ABVP congratulating the Vice Chancellor of Delhi University

Ramanujan’s 30-page essay, which was included in the History syllabus five years ago, offers a number of tellings of the epic story of Lord Rama, including the Jain, Buddhist and Kannada narratives. This did not go down well with some of the right wing groups which raised serious objections to the inclusion of the essay in the syllabus, describing Ramanujan’s write up as “blasphemous”.

In 2008, a group of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad activists had even gone on the rampage at the university History department in protest. “The Hindu understanding of Ramayana and Valmiki’s rendering of the epic is in no way the singular versions. The removal of any material that incorporates Tamil, Jaina and Buddhist versions of the Ramayana would be an act of majority fundamentalism being imposed on linguistic religious minorities of the country,” members on the academic council said in their dissent note.

Ramanujan’s essay will now be replaced by two essays — by historians Romila Thapar and R S Sharma.

(Source: Deccan Herald)

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