The English Department of the University of Delhi (DU) continues to be negatively affected by the Syllabus Controversy.
The Executive Council of DU has approved the syllabus for English for the first semester, but this approved syllabus continues to be a mystery for not only the students, but also the professors. In fact, even the Head of the English Department, Professor Raj Kumar has not been made privy to the new syllabus. This continued delay with regard to the syllabus has now moved beyond ideological and ethical debates, and has started to negatively impact the students, causing mass worry and frustration across the University campuses.
In most colleges, professors have started to teach the first-year students the old syllabus, but they are not sure about whether what they are teaching the first-year students is going to be relevant to them with respect to the upcoming examinations. Priyanshi Banerjee, a first-year student of English at Lady Shri Ram College, said, “No one seems to know anything about the new syllabus and this is causing a lot of problems for us first-years. Examinations are not going to get postponed, but considering the current slow pace of studies I don’t know how we are going to manage to complete our course work.”
Students are not even able to procure the books being taught currently because the bookstores in the college campuses are not stocking them, because of a lack of clarity with respect to the prescribed texts. Shyla Sharma, another first-year student of the English Department, said, “All of us are very anxious. It is very odd for us to see other department’s students going about their course work when we don’t even know what our syllabus is. Even the professors seem upset and lost, and this is causing a lot of confusion. We don’t even have all of our books yet, as we have been told not to buy them. I hope the syllabus is soon released.”
In spite of the mass tension, an academic debate in the midst of the syllabus controversy continues to flourish. Royina Chhabra, a first-year student of the English Department, said, “Restrictions are being put on our academic freedom. We should have a right to study what we want to, especially our history and culture irrespective of whether it is good or bad. How else are we supposed to learn and think for ourselves? This entire controversy is taking a huge toll on our education.” Many students also seem to be specifically upset about the negative debate with respect to the exclusion of the Queer Literature Paper. A first-year student of the English Department, who wanted to remain anonymous, said, “Queerness is a part of our lives. Section 377 no longer criminalises homosexuality, so why is our education system doing so? In fact, I believe that it is the responsibility of our education system to educate people about queerness because most people in India aren’t aware of, or comfortable about it. The fact that our new syllabus is probably going to be politically motivated and authoritarian in nature highly antagonises me.”
The Syllabus Controversy began when right-wing organisations like the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) objected to the English Department for including certain study material relating to caste and gender in the new syllabus. Specifically speaking, they had an issue with the story Manibein alias Bibijaan in which the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bajrang Dal are portrayed negatively, with respect to the 2002 Gujarat riots, and the inclusion of the depiction of Hindu deities in queer literature by taking references from texts like Bhagvath Puran, Sankar Puran, and Shiv Puran. Counter-protests for academic freedom by organisations like the Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA), Students’ Federation of India (SFI), All India Students’ Association (AISA), Krantikari Yuva Sangathan (KYS), and Pinjra Tod soon followed, leading to ideological and educational confrontations. This controversy has led to the syllabuses of many subjects not being released, even though the new academic year has already started.
Feature Image Credits: Sriya Rane for DU Beat