Thursday, October 13, 2011

Delhi University takes Ramanujan's essay on the Ramayana off their syllabus

I'm a day or two late with this  (but hey - the essay is off the syllabus forever, so what's the rush?) but news is that Delhi University has taken Ramanujan's essay, 'Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation' off its syllabus.

Manan Ahmed has a lovely post about his first encounter with the text of Ramanujan's essay and concludes thus:
So, when I hear that the Delhi University has removed the essay from History syllabi, I feel the urge to grab my print copy, a chair, walk to the busiest intersection on campus, stand on the chair and start reading out loud his essay. Every word. Make them listen. They will be transformed. 
I empathise with the 'shout it from the rooftops' impulse, but tend towards Nilanjana Roy's view that it's easy enough to disseminate the essay - see how we've all linked to it? - but what is to be done about academic institutions, which ought to encourage and indeed, demand debate and discussion and the free exchange of ideas, but instead are always too ready to play the camel just before the last straw is placed upon its back*.

Note: I could wish that newspapers wouldn't call the essay 'controversial', even if they somewhat question the use of the word by putting it in scare quotes. It's many things - erudite, eloquent, clever - but it's not in the least controversial.

What is controversial is the wingnuts' demand that it be taken off the syllabus, and the Academic Council's slightly tubelit decision to comply.

* Um. What she said is:

"The damage might seem limited: what prevents a handful of history students from finding Ramanujan’s essay on their own, reading it and discussing it if they so choose? But the real damage is caused by the act of censorship, by the precedent the University sets when it says: this idea is dangerous, or controversial, or too explosive to be discussed. You expect academics and scholars not just to defend free speech, but to defend the work of a man who was probably one of the greatest writers and thinkers in contemporary Indian literature. You also expect them to stand up for the tradition that insists there were always many Ramayanas—that the oversimplified, often chauvinistic version of the epic that the right-wing has often put forward is not, by any means, the only one."


dipali said...

It is such a brilliant essay. Removing it from the syllabus makes nos sense whatsoever.

km said...

This is a rather late reaction to DU's run-in with the boys from the brigade over this essay back in 2008.

Wonder what took them three years?

Space Bar said...

dipali, km: sorry. meant to reply - thought I had - and then I find I haven't.

Yes, it makes no sense at all! I think the reason why it's taken so long is that the Supreme Court had asked fro teh Academic Council's opinion on whether the essay should be removed from the syllabus, and they'd met only now. Nobody, three years on, was twisting their arms; it's disgraceful.