'Not In The Least Bit Shocked or Surprised': Arundhati Roy on Removal of Her Book from TN Varsity Syllabus

File photo of author Arundhati Roy. (PTI Photo)

File photo of author Arundhati Roy. (PTI Photo)

In response to Tamil Nadu’s Manonmaniam Sundaranar University’s decision to remove 'Walking with the Comrades' book after objections from the ABVP, author Arundhati Roy said such purges do not stop writers from being read.


Poornima Murali

Left-wing intellectual and writer Arundhati Roy on Thursday said she was not surprised about the removal of her book from the Master’s curriculum of Tamil Nadu-run Manonmaniam Sundaranar University in Tirunelveli, reacting to outrage from the Left Wing about the sudden proscription of the book. Roy’s book 'Walking with the Comrades' is a subsequent documentation of the lives, livelihoods and the dreams of Maoists.

Reacting to the decision of the varsity to remove her book from the curriculum, Roy told Network18, "When I heard of the Manomaniam Sundaranar University's decision to remove my book 'Walking With the Comrades' from its curriculum following threats and pressure from the ABVP—oddly enough I was more happy than sad because I had no idea that it was in the curriculum in the first place. I am glad it has been taught for several years. I am not in the least bit shocked or surprised that it has been removed from the syllabus now. It was my duty as a writer to write it. It is not my duty to fight for its place on a university curriculum. That is for others to do or not do. Either way it has been widely read and as we know bans and purges do not prevent writers from being read. This narrow, shallow, insecure attitude towards literature displayed by our current regime is not just detrimental to its critics. It is detrimental to millions of its own supporters. It will limit and stunt our collective intellectual capacity as a society and a country that is striving for a place of respect and dignity in the world."

Recently, the state-run varsity in Tamil Nadu had removed the book after objections from several people including the Akhil Bharati Vidya Parishad (ABVP), a right-wing student organisation, alleging that the book glorified the ultras and was anti-national in content. The book has been part of the syllabus from 2017-18 batch for the third semester of MA in English Literature of Tirunelveli based Manonmaniam Sundaranar University's affiliated colleges.

Opposition parties, the DMK and CPI(M), opposed the move to take the book off the syllabus that chronicles the author's journey to hideouts of Maoists in Chhattisgarh and the way they operated out of the jungles. Hitting out at the university over the move, DMK MP Kanimozhi said in a tweet that power and politics deciding "what is arts, what is literature and what the students should read" would destroy the pluralistic feature of the society.

CPI(M) Lok Sabha member S Venkatesan said on his twitter handle removal of the book was condemnable and wanted the move to be rescinded.

The AIADMK has, however, not reacted to the move so far.

University officials said that the decision was taken only after a deliberation, and that several complaints had poured in over the book being a part of MA (English) syllabus in colleges affiliated with the varsity. "Last week we got a written complaint from the ABVP. Subsequently, there were lot of other representations. We received complaints from our syndicate members as well," MSU's Vice Chancellor K Pitchumani told PTI.

Such complaints underscored the 'controversial' contents in the book and wanted it to be deleted from the curriculam for students, he said. Hence, a committee comprising senior academicians was set up to look into the matter. The former chairman of the board of studies who framed the syllabus and the incumbent chief were also part of it, he said.

"The committee met on Wednesday and they decided the withdrawal of the book from syllabus for its sensitive nature and in its place, a book of Padma awardee and naturalist, M Krishnan's 'My Native Land, Essays on Nature' has been included," he said. "This has been implemented immediately," he said.

Krishnan (1912-96) was a renowned naturalist, a pioneer in Indian wildlife photography and writer and he was awarded the Padma Shri in 1969. The decision would be approved at a meeting of the university's Standing Committee of Academic Affairs, he said, adding they were not for 'controversy' since academics alone were important.

Asked if the 'sensitive' nature of the book was not taken into account when it was included in the syllabus, the top university official said,"probably it went unnoticed." However, as soon as representations were received against the book, prompt follow-up action was taken, he said. In its complaint, the ABVP's south Tamil Nadu unit alleged Roy's book openly supported Maoists and disseminated anti-national views.

"It is a matter of regret that this book has been part of the syllabus for the past three years. Through this, the Naxal and Maoist ideology has been imposed on the students," the ABVP said demanding the book's withdrawal. Roy's interaction with Maoists and her visits to forests where she met them first appeared in an English magazine in 2010 and it was later published as a book.

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