The decision to drop the history elective course ‘Inequality and Difference’ has invited vehement criticism and concern from members of the academic community who believe the course to be an important means of navigating the history of India’s oppressive social systems that affect present-day inequalities in more ways than one.
The Standing Committee for Academic Matters of Delhi University, headed by the Vice Chancellor, has suggested dropping an elective course titled ‘Inequality and Difference’ offered by the History Department of the University. The elective course included issues around gender and caste and helped students gain a historical understanding of institutions such as caste. This development came about after a similar proposal by the standing committee to scrap a paper on B.R. Ambedkar from the B.A. Programme Philosophy syllabus.
This proposal has caused a tussle between the committee and various professors and academicians in the department who have previously taught the course. The committee stated that they are considering dropping the course because concepts of caste and gender are already being taught. On the other hand, professors in the department reasoned that the course helped students view inequality through a historical lens and hence greatly contributed to a nuanced historical understanding of persisting inequalities and biases.
The course is offered to students of different honours degrees as a generic elective paper in their fourth semester and has been part of the curriculum for more than seven years. It comprises four units. The first unit, titled ‘Structural and Forms of Inequalities: Normative and Historical Experiences,” involves discussions around oppressive structures and social systems such as the Varna system, slavery, etc. The second unit is on ‘Gender, Household, and Public Sphere’. The third unit is on tribes and communities of forest dwellers. The last unit is called “Indian Constitution and the Questions of Equality’. The works of historians and scholars such as Uma Chakravarti, Romila Thapar, and Sunil Kumar, among various others, made it to the reading list for the course.
The move has invited condemnation from various members of the academic community who believe this to be “an act of political indoctrination” and alleged propagandising of education. Dr. Maya John, a professor at the Department of History at the University and an Academic Council member, stated in conversation with the Quint that the fate of the course is yet to be decided and although they hope to retain the course, once the decision passes through the Standing Committee, it is difficult to reverse it.
It is a rich course that speaks about the institutionalisation of inequality and the resistance to it. It is the history department’s way of engaging students from other departments, in conversations about the various structures of inequality in the Indian subcontinent. It teaches students to think historically about varna, caste, gender inequality, and racial and ethnic differences.
– Dr Maya John, in conversation with the Quint
Professor Abha Dev Habib, from the Department of Physics at Miranda House, raised concerns regarding the drastic changes being brought about to the academic curricula at the school and university levels.
Read also: DU Philosophy Department Opposes Decision to Scrap Course on Ambedkar
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