Amid Book Controversy, DU Teachers Appeal to VC to 'Restore Culture of Academic Debates'
Earlier, in 2017, Delhi University teachers stalled a proposal to include chapters from Sundar’s book, The Burning Forest: India’s War in Bastar in the MA sociology syllabus.
File photo of Delhi University campus (Image: du.ac.in)
New Delhi: A select group of Delhi University teachers on Tuesday sent an appeal to the DU Vice Chancellor to, “restore the culture of academic debates" and discourage "selective ideological targeting of books" in syllabi, after objections were raised over removal of two texts having "sympathy towards Naxalite movement" from the history department's reading list.
Professor Nandini Sundar’s ‘Subalterns and Sovereigns: An Anthropological History of Bastar’, 1854-2006 (2007) and Professor Archana Prasad’s ‘Against Ecological Romanticism: Verrier Elwin and the Making of an Anti-Modern Tribal Identity (2003)’ are being considered for their removal from the reading list after some members of the Council raised objections.
The Academic Council met in August for the revision of Post-graduation syllabi under the Choice Based Credit System and one particular paper ‘Tribal, caste and exclusion” referred by the History department had the two books mentioned in the Reading List.
Since then varsity has been embroiled in the discussion of "preserving the culture of dissent and academic debates".
Speaking to News 18 DU Professor Geeta Bhatt said, “Nobody is debating the fact that work of different ideologies should be taught but some of these works build a narrative that glorifies Naxalite movement. There is another book by Prasad that legitimises the conversion of tribals by saying there are other pressing issues in their lives – amenities, employment food etc. These books build such a narrative by calling it data and research.”
She added, “The books are not banned, those interested can go and read it. But why do we need to teach them in a university? This is where the young students of impressionable age come and these books create sympathy for the Naxalite Movement.”
Earlier, in 2017, Delhi University teachers stalled a proposal to include chapters from Sundar’s book, The Burning Forest: India’s War in Bastar in the MA sociology syllabus. They found the title to be “propagating a war against India”.
Bhatt is hopeful, “We got the earlier one removed from the Sociology syllabus, we will continue to object till it gets removed from the syllabus.”
Letter to the VC
Calling this unfortunate, another Academic member wrote to the VC saying, “It is unfortunate that Academic Council members of the dominant political persuasion are being allowed to repeatedly go beyond their respective academic expertise and selectively target authors and works that offer a critical perspective at variance with the dominant political opinion but are considered meritorious and rigorous enough by domain experts to be included in syllabi.”
The letter is signed by Indira Chandrashekhar, Deo Kumar, Jyoti Sabharwal, Sachin N, Saikat Ghosh, Shashi Shekhar Prasad Singh, VS Dixit, all members of Academic Council.
The academicians said in the letter that it is a “dangerous trend that threatens to disrupt and dismantle the culture of intellectual trust and academically well-informed debates that has traditionally characterised the functioning of the University’s august Academic Council.”
The academicians are shocked to learn that Professor Archana Prasad’s work was deemed to be in support of religious conversion.
“How they arrived at this inference remains unclear, but the sentence that was picked out as evidence provides an utterly flimsy basis for such an inference,” the letter said.
The sentence quoted to object to Prasad’s work reads: “Conversion of tribals is inconsequential to what the tribal face.”
“While quoting such a sentence in a de-contextualised and isolated way is academically dubious, when put in context the sentence implies that religious conversions (and re-conversions) have neither freed the tribal populace from their difficulties nor improved their lot in any empirically observable manner,” said the academicians in complain to the VC.
Works of Sundar and Prasad, “Cannot be callously branded as subversive or prejudiced,” read the letter.
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