The draft syllabus of BA (Hons) English literature was already formed in a most democratic manner prior to the “mala fide” interventions of the Oversight Committee, said multiple department professors of the Delhi University (DU) in a public statement circulated recently.
On September 3, 2021, members of sub-committees responsible for the English syllabus and other professors, circulated an open letter condemning the deletion of Bengali writer Mahasweta Devi’s Draupadi, Tamil Dalit writer Bama’s Sangati as well as Sukirtharani’s two poems Debt and My Body. The letter, undersigned by 115 DU teachers, said these texts congeal caste and gender oppression with that of patriarchal state violence.
In it, members said, “The Oversight Committee [OC] single-handedly seeks to destroy a syllabus that has been put together after years of careful discussion and debate, where democratically elected committees have chosen democratically diverse texts that seek to represent all sections of society.”
Responding to the August 26 press release of the institution, teachers said the OC flagrantly violated and bypassed the entire democratic process. They demanded the immediate reinstatement of Mahasweta Devi, Bama and Sukirtharani texts in the Core Women’s Writing Paper of semester 5.
“We also demand that the Oversight Committee should immediately pass the syllabus for Semester 6 (without any changes) rather than starting the process just before the commencement of the next semester,” said the letter.
Teachers spoke about how the department has suffered a lack of official syllabus every semester since July 2019 due to the intervention of the OC. However, this year the DU notified the English Honours syllabus, including all the proposed Discipline Specific Elective papers, 44 days after the fifth semester began. Further, the authorities used the Emergency powers of the Vice Chancellor for an academic matter.
“Since the Delhi University Press Release has been issued “for the information of all concerned” we feel it is imperative for us to put in the public domain that the English Department has repeatedly put on record that it is unwilling to make changes in the Women’s Writing paper,” said the press release.
When the deletion of the concerned texts was first recommended, the English Department, mandated by members of the syllabus committees, wrote to the OC twice to explain academic and pedagogic reasons for the inclusion of the texts. However, far from retaining the texts, the OC allegedly refused to include any story by Mahasweta Devi.
“The HOD’s final agreement was obtained through what we believe is coercion, that too without necessary endorsement from syllabus subcommittees or more importantly, the GBM of English teachers which initiated the democratic syllabus making in the first place, completely negating the claim that the syllabus was finalized after due deliberations with and the recommendations of the Head, Department of English,” the English teachers said.
Teachers also condemned the claims that the finalised syllabus was posted on the DU website on August 26, when in fact the OC was yet to replace Bama and Sukirtharani poems to complete the poetry sub unit. Members also expressed shock at DU’s statement that diversity and inclusion can be done without consideration of religion, caste and creed.
Additionally, the open statement pointed out that the use of terminology like ‘language course’ and the ignorance of what constitutes literary studies is directly responsible for the unacademic decisions taken by the Oversight Committee.
In their statement, teachers asked, “Those [writers] that have been excluded are already members of a historically excluded community. The voices that have been throttled are those of Dalit and non-Dalit women writers writing about Dalit/tribal women. What else could be less inclusive than excluding these powerful Women narratives?”
Teachers emphasised that the DU syllabus includes diverse texts and readings to sensitise students to social issues through stories, poems, plays and essays. The goal is to take students out of their comfort zone and make them think critically. As such, they demanded the immediate inclusion of the aforementioned texts in English literature courses.
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