Friday, February 08, 2008

The subversion of history

A friend sent me this email. I hate it absolutely when situations like these occur!

There has been a large demonstration at the Univ. of Delhi and at our dept against a text in the 2nd year, an essay on the many Ramayanas by the late AK Ramanujan. The protests continue.The main one was by the ABVP- the student wing of the BJP. One MP even claimed the writings were by one Dept. member who happens to be the PM's daughter. She is indeed in the Dept. but this is not an accurate representation of the way the course was drawn up and needless to add the essay in question was authored by a ( now deceased) scholar. We have issued a statement that has also been backed by the Univ. leadership.


IN ITS MEETING OF 04/02/2008

  1. A number of groups have organised protest and have raised objections to the inclusion of an essay by (late) A. K. Ramanujan, titled “Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation”. The essay had been published in Vinay Dharwadker (ed.) The Collected Essays of A. K. Ramanujan, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 131-60; [this was an expanded version of a piece that first appeared in Paula Richman (ed.) Many Ramayanas: The Diversity of a Narrative Tradition in South Asia Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991]. The said essay is one of the readings for the Delhi University concurrent course on Ancient Indian Culture in the B. A. (Honours) programme, which has been offered in several Colleges from July 2006 onwards.

  1. The sole purpose of this course is to create an awareness and understanding of the rich and diverse cultural heritage of ancient India among students, and to acquaint them with original sources. Apart from the reading mentioned in the letter, the course includes readings on Kalidasa’s poetry, Jataka stories, ancient Tamil poets and poetry, ancient iconography, and the modern history of ancient artifacts. The essay is part of a unit titled ‘The Ramayana and Mahabharata – stories, characters, versions.’ It is accompanied by an excerpt from Iravati Karve’s book, Yuganta: The end of an epoch. Supplementary readings include the Introduction of Robert P. Goldman’s The Ramayana of Valmiki: an epic of ancient India (the most recent and most authoritative English translation of the epic), which gives a detailed, scholarly introduction to the Valmiki Ramayana.

  1. The late A. K. Ramanujan (recipient of several honours, including the Padmashri) was a widely acclaimed scholar with impeccable academic credentials. His expertise in a range of languages including Sanskrit, Tamil and Kannada was perhaps without parallel. His credentials as a scholar, writer, and teacher with extensive knowledge of ancient Indian literary traditions are incontestable. It is sad to see his name and work being subjected so such ill-informed controversy. In the article in question, he illustrates and analyses the great dynamism and variety in what he describes as ‘tellings’ of the story of Rama within India and across the world.

  1. The concurrent course on Ancient Indian Culture and the readings for it went through the same procedure as all other courses in the University of Delhi pass before being adopted. The readings have not been devised or ‘compiled’ by any individual. Like all the other University courses, they are the product of a consultative process involving many members of the University community. The content and readings for this course were discussed extensively among Department members and College teachers, and were approved through the regular University procedures in statutory bodies, namely the Committee of Courses, Faculty of Social Sciences, Academic Council, and the Executive Council, which include teachers of all disciplines. The Academic Council is the highest statutory body on academic matters in the University.

    5. We would like to emphasize that there is no published compilation of the course readings by Dr. Upinder Singh or any other member of the Department of History. However, it has come to our notice that there is a spiral-bound collection of photocopies of the individual articles and excerpts related to this course at certain photocopying shops. This set of photocopies has a covering page on which Dr. Upinder Singh’s name has been typed, without any authorization whatsoever, as a ‘compiler.’ It is this collection of photocopies that is being incorrectly described as a ‘book’ compiled by her. There is in fact no book.

    6. When readings are prescribed in a course, it is not essential that the course-designers, teachers, or students should agree with or defend each and every word therein. In fact debate, dissent, and dialogue are important parts of the discipline of history. It may be pointed out that the terms that have apparently caused offence to certain individuals should in no way be construed as mischievous or slanderous. There is no question whatsoever of intending or attempting to denigrate or hurt the sentiments of any culture, religion, tradition, or community.

    7. The aim of the course in question is to teach University students (who are, after all, young adults) to be able to analyze a variety of source material academically, analytically, and without embarrassment or denigration. That is the spirit in which the course was framed and that is the spirit in which we believe it is being taught.

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