The Taliban in Afghanistan had terrorised people and banned all art and literary works — music, films and books that could change the way people think and make them liberal and noble.
The same has now entered our society in a different form, with universities, authors and publishers being forced to withdraw books from the syllabus and market. Delhi University’s cowardly decision to drop AK Ramanujan’s essay, Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples And Three Thoughts On Translations from the BA History (Honours) syllabus has proved that we, too, are succumbing rather easily to the pressure of extremist organisations.
Here, the allegations were that Ramanujan has depicted Ram, Sita and Hanuman in a bad light by stating that Ravana was Sita’s father. (Ramanujan was only citing references that already existed in Jain and Kannada literature. The epic has been written and rewritten by different people at different times.)
A few months ago, Mumbai University also surrendered under pressure from the Shiv Sena’s Aditya Thackeray by withdrawing Rohinton Mistry’s Such A Long Journey from the BA English literature syllabus. Earlier, the Varkari Sampradaya had forced author Anand Yadav to withdraw his novel Santsurya Tukaram from the market.
Banning and withdrawing books is becoming a regular phenomenon in India, which is dangerous. If we shut down the screening of good films and drop good works from syllabi, then a time will come when there will be nothing worthy left to watch or read. Our views will become myopic and will not have any value.
Earlier, Pune University used to have at least eight William Shakespeare plays in its English literature syllabus. Now, there are hardly two dramas and they, too, have less weightage in the examination. The reason: lecturers find it difficult to understand and teach Shakespeare.
Clearly, education is being devalued. At least some of this devaluation can be traced to the growing political interference in the system. Earlier, educational institutions were known for the scholar-teachers who held students spellbound with their style of teaching and knowledge. Now, they are known for the politicians who wield clout there. In fact, many of them are named after politicians.
This political interference is most visible in the appointment of vice-chancellors, where, increasingly, merit isn’t the most important criterion. These vice-chancellors then fail to take a tough stand in favour of academics, yielding instead to pressure from politicians and extremists.
The best universities are free, liberal, thinking centres. Academicians should understand that it is not their job to please certain sections of society, but to prescribe the best of texts to enrich students. If extremist forces can decide university syllabi by stirring up a controversy quoting sections out of context, why do we need expert panels at each university for this task?
It is sad that our academicians are not coming out to defend themselves. If this trend continues, the day is not far when India will be ruled by Taliban-like forces, which decide what you should eat, read and watch.