Frontlist | Arundhati Roy’s book removed from syllabus is not a Surprise

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A meeting presided by Pitchumani decided to replace the book with “My Native Land: Essays on Nature” by Naturalist Krishnan, a native of Tirunelveli.

 

The decision of Manonmaniam Sundaranar University to remove a book written by Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy from its syllabus for postgraduate English Literature course — because its contents allegedly are in support of Maoists — has been met with widespread criticism.

The university Vice Chancellor K Pitchumani, who made the decision on Wednesday, said he had done so after receiving complaints from many quarters including from the ABVP, the students wing of BJP.
The book, Walking with Comrades, was part of the syllabus for MA English course offered by colleges affiliated with the university. A meeting presided by Pitchumani decided to replace the book with “My Native Land: Essays on Nature” by Naturalist Krishnan, a native of Tirunelveli.

“The book was on due to be changed this year. It got delayed owing to the pandemic. As  concern was raised by ABVP and Syndicate members, we held a meeting with officials concerned for a week. The controversial details in the book were discussed and, as it was supposed to be changed, it was replaced,” the V-C told Express.

“An ABVP national executive member raised concern over the book a week ago. Last Friday, ABVP members submitted a condemnation to the Vice-Chancellor. Our concern is that students reading essays and novels which are in support of Maoists could be affected,” said ABVP Joint Secretary C Vignesh. There are several other books, including those about persons like Rabindranath Tagore and other leaders that could be considered.

The Vice-Chancellor had said that action would be taken , and it has now been done.” The move has been met with severe criticism from various quarters. “If politics is going to decide what is literature, art, culture and curriculum, it is very dangerous for a pluralistic society,” said Thoothukudi MP Kanimozhi. “In PG courses, opportunities are provided to learn about various types of people — including dictators such as Hitler, Mussolini, and Idi Amin.

The removal of Arundhati Roy’s book alone is an attempt to ‘saffronise’ education. How is the State government going to justify this?” asked DMK leader A Raja.  Tamil Nadu State convener of Save Higher Education Movement, R Murali, said academics should not have any intervention from political parties or cultural wings of any party.

“The syllabus should be approved by the Board of Studies and passed by the Academic Council. However, conducting a meeting during pandemic is difficult. Nevertheless, such a decision has been taken during this period. We demand that the book be reintroduced, an inquiry conducted and the Vice-Chancellor be suspended.”

I am not in the least bit shocked or surprised, says writer
Reacting to the removal, Arundhati Roy said in a statement: “When I heard of the University’s decision to remove my book from its curriculum following threats and pressure from the ABVP, oddly enough I was more happy than sad because I had no idea that it was in the curriculum in the first place. I am glad it has been taught for several years.

I am not in the least bit shocked or surprised that it has been removed from the syllabus now. It was my duty as a writer to write it. It is not my duty to fight for its place on a university curriculum. That is for others to do or not to. Either way, it has been widely read and as we know, bans and purges do not prevent writers from being read.

This narrow, shallow, insecure attitude towards literature displayed by our current regime is not just detrimental to its critics. It is detrimental to millions of its own supporters. It will limit and stunt our collective intellectual capacity as a society and a country that is striving for a place of respect and dignity.

 

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