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India: Delhi University abdicates its core duty by removing Ramanujan’s essay

1 November 2011

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The Economic Times


Delhi University abdicates its core duty by removing Ramanujan’s essay

ET Bureau October 31, 2011

The brilliant scholar and poet A K Ramanujan begins his essay, Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation, with a story about Rama dropping his ring. In a bid to retrieve it, Hanuman descends to the netherworld, where, finally, the King of Spirits asks him to take the ring from a platter with thousands of rings on it - all belonging to Rama.

The point of the story is the belief in many reincarnations of Rama, but it is also about the richness of multifarious narratives and traditions. The appalling decision of the Academic Council of Delhi University, made last month, to remove this essay by Ramanujan from an undergraduate course is a blow against that Indian richness and diversity.

It is also dangerous, as it underlines a tendency to hegemonise through recourse or reference to violence. Some years ago the student wing of the BJP vandalised Delhi University’s history department against this very essay. And the university Academic Council’s decision, even by default, evokes just that sort of majoritarian hegemony that Hindutva politics envisages.

The richness, even strength and durability, of India’s culture lies in diversity, in the way many traditions and interpretations have coexisted, enriched each other through borrowings, adaptations and even contestations. The notion of erasing that and of making Indian culture something monolithic is at the heart of the Sangh Parivar’s ideology.

Great violence attends this project of homogenisation of cultural and national identity, which also means demonising and excluding those not fitting into the prescribed slot.

If a university Academic Council almost unanimously rejects such an essay, it underlines the fact that those notions of hegemony have crept into institutions which should be at the forefront of upholding and furthering that richness of Indian culture, and the freedom to explore every nook and corner of its diversity.

Targeting and seeking to exclude or ban works of scholarship or art, among other things, is a signpost to fascism. This trend needs to be combated and reversed.


The above editorial from The Economic Times is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use.