The Delhi University is facing backlash for removing feminist literature by Dalit women from its BA (hons) English syllabus. The varsity has removed Mahasweta Devi’s short story, “Draupadi”, a story about a tribal woman as well as writings of two Dalit authors Bama Faustina Soosairaj – a Tamil Dalit feminist, teacher and novelist and Sukirtharani, a feminist poet known for her contribution to contemporary Dalit and Tamil literature.
There were protests against the “overreach of the Oversight Committee” claiming that the committee has “arbitrarily” removed the writings. Academic Council member Mithuraaj Dhisiya said, “It is shocking to note that this Oversight Committee did not have any experts from the concerned departments whose syllabus was changed. There is no logic behind such removals.”
Academic Council meeting was marked by the dissent raised against the Oversight Committee for “arbitrarily changing the texts” in the new undergraduate LOCF syllabi of the fifth semester, by bypassing the “statutory bodies like faculties, committees of courses and standing committee”
Addressing item no 9.14 of the agenda of the meeting, and the case of the revised syllabus of BA (Hons) English, the dissenting note said, “In a core paper titled Women’s writing in semester V, the oversight committee has committed the maximum vandalism. It first decided to remove two Dalit writers, namely Bama and Sukarttharini who were replaced by a UC writer Ramabai.”
Second, “the committee as an afterthought suddenly asked the English department to delete the celebrated short story of Mahasweta Devi, ‘Darupadi’, which is a story about a tribal woman without giving any academic logic to the decision,” said the note.
The AC members who dissented pointed out that Draupadi has been taught in DU since 1999 owing to its seminal academic value and also figures in UGC model syllabus 2019 for BA (H) English.
The AC members were surprised that the Committee refused to accept any short story by Mahasweta Devi despite her iconic status globally as a writer and being a winner of Sahitya Akademi Award and Padma Vinhushan from the government of India.
The AC members dissented that in a DSE paper titled “Pre-colonial Indian Literatures,” the Oversight Committee instructed the department to replace “Chandrabati Ramayana with Tulsidas, thus removing a feminist reading of Ramayana,” said the note.
Similarly in another DSE paper titled “Interrogating Queerness,” the teachers said no feedback was shared before arbitrarily deleting the sections from the units at the expense of the academic rigour of the paper.
The note by AC members Mithuraaj Dhusiya, Rajesh Kumar, Biswajit Mohanty, Sunil Kumar, Chandra Mohan among others said: “It is unfortunate that the Oversight Committee has always shown a prejudice against the representation of Dalits, tribals, women, and sexual minorities as evident in its concerted efforts to remove all such voices from the syllabus.”
Further added, “This is particularly evident in the Committee’s insistence to forcefully excise the authors like Mahasweta Devi, Bama and Sukartharini who represent Dalit tribal and marginalized voices. It is important to note that OC does not have any member from the Dalit, Tribals who can possibly bring in some sensitivity to the issue.”
Several elected members of the Academic Council gave their dissent to Item no. 9.14 pertaining to the functioning of the Oversight Committee. “We urge the university to follow due process and to abide by the recommendations of the committees of Courses of the concerned departments, which are the only competent bodies to frame syllabus of the various courses offered by them,” the note said.