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Petition Demands Reinstatement of 3 Women Authors in DU English Honours Syllabus

In August, Delhi University had come under fire for removing Mahasweta Devi's seminal short story Draupadi.

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Education
3 min read
<div class="paragraphs"><p> Mahasweta Devi's seminal short story 'Draupadi' has been dropped from the BA English Honours course of Delhi University.</p></div>
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Over 1,150 people have signed a petition demanding the reinstatement of three women authors whose work has been removed from the English Honours syllabus of Delhi University.

In August, the university had come under fire for removing Mahasweta Devi's seminal short story Draupadi from the said course of the University of Delhi on Tuesday. The works of two other Dalit women writers, Sukirtharini and Bama, have also been dropped from the syllabus by DU's Oversight Committee (OC).

The elimination of Draupadi, which had been taught as part of the Women's Writing paper in the fifth semester, was met with strong opposition from at least 14 members of the DU Academic Council (AC).

A press release by the petitioners, dated 6 September, called the removal of these three women authors a "shocking display of prejudice against literary representations of gendered, Dalit and Adivasi oppression and resistance in decolonized India".
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WHAT ARE THE QUESTIONS BEING RAISED?

The press release goes on to say that both Bama and Sukirtharani articulate the lived experience of being Dalit women in contemporary India, illuminating how "caste oppression colludes with modes of patriarchy to produce gendered oppression and exploitation".

The two writers would have constitute a very significant component of a core/compulsory paper of the final year English Hons. Syllabus, titled Women’s Writings that aims to explore past and contemporary female lives in India (and the world) – the promises kept (or not) and the work in progress.
The statement by the petitioners

Further, the release claims that the quote which was cited for the reason behind the excision of Draupadi is not even from the said text by Mahasweta Devi, but from from the translator’s introduction quoting the ‘Mahabharata’.

Mahasweta Devi’s ‘Draupadi’ is about a Santhal woman, Dopdi Mejhen who recalls her epic other in her demonstration of indominable resilience in the face sexual abuse and exploitation. Why should students not learn about women’s oppression and resistance in and through literature, the release questions.

There is a pattern to the deliberate map of misreading underlying these excisions, it further says.

"The excision is a rare example of political disregard, omission and marginalisation; it reveals the savarna patriarchal ‘oversight’ politics which we strongly criticise," the statement argues.

Accordingly, the petition asking for the reinstatement of these three authors and signed by people from across the country and abroad, has been handed over to the Vice Chancellor of Delhi University and to the President of India.

Among those who have signed the petition are historians Ramachandra Guha and Romila Thapar, authors Arundhati Roy, Perumal Murugan and Vikram Chandra, as well as actors Nandita Das, Shabana Azmi and Sharmila Tagore.

WHAT HAD DU SAID ABOUT THE REMOVAL?

Reacting to the outrage, Delhi University on 26 August, said that its present syllabus for BA English Honours course is 'inclusive' and called issues highlighted by 'a section of the media' regarding the said content 'misplaced and unfounded'.

It further said that the flak is 'misplaced' because the syllabus of the course "has been passed through a democratic process with the involvement of all stakeholders and necessary deliberations at appropriate forums".

“A careful perusal of the present syllabus clearly brings out the inclusive nature of the syllabus under reference in terms of its diversity of content and inclusion of pioneering works of various renowned scholars of both national and international fame without consideration of their religion, caste and creed as, according to the University, excellence in academia is not subservient to these attributes,” DU Registrar Vikas Gupta said in a press release.

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