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Dismay over Delhi Varsity decision to drop Kanchi Illaiah's books, disallow 'Dalit'

Counterview Desk
Members of the Delhi University’s Academic Council have protested the university’s decision to remove Kancha Illaiah Shepherd’s books from the curricullum, saying, "The Standing Committee on Academic Affairs carries no brief on the privilege of determining the academic value of his works. By branding him ‘anti-Hindu’, it conflates the philosophical critique of Brahminical Hinduism with the abuse of faith."
In a letter written to Vice Chancellor Yogesh Tyagi, Indira Chandrashekhar, Deo Kumar, Jyoti Sabharwal, Mohd. Riyazuddin Khan, Sachin N, Saikat Ghosh, Shashi Shekhar Prasad Singh and VS Dixit have also objected to the decision to disallow use of the term ‘Dalit’ in academic discussions, teaching and learning.

Text of the letter:

We express our dismay and disappointment at the manner in which certain members of the Standing Committee on Academic Affairs have held academic exercises to ransom. On the basis of their ideological predilections, they have repeatedly resorted to censoring curricular content in the Humanities and Social Sciences. We have communicated our concerns to you on this matter previously, in relation to the Standing Committee’s arbitrary decision to recommend removal of Prof Archana Prasad’s and Prof Nandini Sundar’s work from the MA History syllabus. We are yet to receive any response from your office.
We are compelled to write to you again, alerting you to the unnecessary and completely avoidable controversy that the Standing Committee has created around the use of the term ‘dalit’ and the works of the renowned Dalit thinker and political philosopher Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd that were included in the Draft M.A. syllabus of the Political Science Department.
Based on widely reported details in the media and public statements made by certain members of the Standing Committee, we have learned that Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd has been branded “anti-Hindu” and that the Standing Committee has decided to recommend removal of his works "Why I am Not a Hindu" (1996), "Buffalo Nationalism" (2004) and "Post-Hindu India" (2009) from the MA Political Science syllabus. We are also alarmed to learn that the Standing Committee has decided to replace the term ‘Dalit’ with ‘Bahujan’ in every possible academic reference within the context of teaching-learning in University of Delhi.
If the above-mentioned details are true, we wish to place on record to the following points of contention:
The term ‘Dalit’ is widely used in academic discourse. It is an acceptable coinage, as can be evidenced from the widespread use of categories like ‘Dalit Movements’, ‘Dalit assertion’, ‘Dalit Political Philosophy’, ‘Dalit Literature’, ‘Dalit Poetics’ etc. The Standing Committee has been wilfully misled into believing that the Supreme Court has proscribed the use of the term. In fact, the Supreme Court has directed public institutions to use the terms ‘Scheduled Castes’ and ‘Scheduled Tribes’ instead of the terms ‘Dalit’ and ‘Adivasi’ in official correspondence pertaining to Government Policy as the former terms are strictly juridico-legal in nature whereas the latter terms are political and cultural. To conflate juridico-legal contexts with academic discourse shows a terrifying lack of sensitivity on the part of a Standing Committee that assumes the right to advise faculties and departments on the finer points of curricula and syllabi.
Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd’s intellectual accomplishments need no certificate of merit from the University of Delhi. He is an internationally renowned political philosopher and his works are studied as part of course-readings and syllabi in the best universities across the world. The Standing Committee on Academic Affairs carries no brief on the privilege of determining the academic value of his works.
By branding him “anti-Hindu”, it conflates the philosophical critique of Brahminical Hinduism with the abuse of faith. Abuse of faith is a recognisable offence in law and punishable under appropriate provisions of the Penal Code. To our knowledge, no criminal charge of abuse has ever been brought against his writings; nor have any of his books or articles been proscribed by law. Hence, the Standing Committee has clearly overreached itself.
Additionally, in publicly representing the Standing Committee’s position against Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd’s writings as “anti-Hindu” the named members are guilty of defaming him and making libellous remarks to demean his stature. If the University of Delhi endorses the Standing Committee’s hasty decision and the justification provided by the members to the Press, it becomes complicit in defamation and invites legal action against itself.
The Standing Committee neither possesses the required domain-expertise nor the statutory prerogative to excise readings from a Draft Syllabus prepared by an authorised Committee of Courses comprising of subject experts. It can advise or seek clarification from the concerned department (in this case, the Political Science department) but it cannot override the academic decisions of the department and faculty. If the Standing Committee is allowed to ignore the appropriate locus of academic decisions, it becomes an instrument of tyranny.
The Standing Committee cannot be used as an ideological platform to police or limit the spectrum of opinion that learners are entitled to. It is unfortunate that in recent times, the Standing Committee has been repeatedly used to purge all divergent ideas and formulations that are found to be critical of the dominant ideology that the ruling dispensation subscribes to.
We yet again urge you to intervene and ensure that fairness and objectivity is restored in the functioning of the Standing Committee and the decisions of the Academic Council. For a start, your office is urged to immediately reverse the exclusion of elected AC members of a different ideological persuasions from the Standing Committee on Academic Affairs.
The recent decisions of the Standing Committee have drawn public criticism from many quarters of civil society and the international academic community. If this destructive trend remains unchecked, it will tarnish the reputation of our University as a liberal and democratic institutional space for free intellectual enquiry and exchange of ideas.
We hope that your office will consider this matter as urgent and issue appropriate caution to the Standing Committee so that the academic prerogatives of the Committees of Courses in the departments of Political Science and History are safeguarded and the erroneous decisions of the Standing Committee are set aside. We also hope that the University of Delhi will issue an official apology to Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd while immediately withdrawing the slander (attributed to the Standing Committee constituted by the University of Delhi) against him that has unfortunately been put on record in the public domain.

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