”There are many versions of Ramanayana.”
Delhi University’s decision to withdraw renowned scholar A K Ramanujan’s essay on the Ramayana from the BA (Honours) syllabus goes against the liberal intellectual tradition that has been the hallmark of Indian culture.
It is a surrender to the intolerant sections of society which want to promote only their own version of the tradition, interpreted in opposition to other strands, religious, social and political, which together form a great and diversified narrative. The problem with Ramanujan’s essay, as seen by those who want it to be blacked out from the students, was that it presented other texts of the epic – Buddhist, Jain, Tamil, Kannada and others – along with that told by sage Valmiki.
The Ramayana story has been told and retold through thousands of years and its many versions have enriched the Indian mind and imagination. To claim that there is only one authorised version of the epic is to assert cultural fascism, whose political version is unfortunately gaining ascendance.
The academic council of the university took the decision to drop the essay in the face of stiff opposition from a number of members and against the majority view of an expert committee appointed to report to it on the essay.
Three members of the committee had found the essay appropriate for study by students and had said that the rejection of other Ramayana versions would be an act of majority fundamentalism being imposed on linguistic and religious minorities. But the university went by the views of the single expert who had doubts about the students’ ability to “tolerate the objectionable parts” of the essay. It was claimed that the essay would affect the “sensibilities of impressionable minds.”
It is when the minds are young and impressionable that there should be exposure to the diversity of the country’s tradition so that students can probe, debate and be informed of all lines of thought and perspectives. More disconcertingly, the expert also doubted whether ‘non-Hindu’ teachers were capable of explaining Ramanujan’s essay to the students. This is shocking. Does it mean that only Hindu teachers could teach and explain Hindu texts to students?
The history department of the university has strongly objected to the academic council’s decision. Teachers from other universities have also joined their campaign to get the essay reinstated in the syllabus. Delhi university has tainted itself with its decision and succumbed to elements who consider difference as blasphemy and conformity as strength.