Over 100 teachers counter Delhi University’s stand on English syllabus

Teachers said that the interference of DU’s Oversight Committee has forced them to to work without any official syllabus from July 2019

Over 100 teachers counter Delhi University’s stand on English syllabus University of Delhi (source: Wikimedia Commons)
Team Careers360 | Sep 4, 2021 - 12:36 p.m. IST
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NEW DELHI: Over 100 English teachers of Delhi University, in a collective statement, has countered the university's statement justifying the changes to its English syllabus . The Delhi University had been facing flak for dropping the works of Mahasweta Devi and two Dalit authors, Bama Faustina Soosairaj and Sukirtharani.

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The Delhi University had responded to criticism by saying that the syllabus is of “inclusive nature” and that authors were selected “without consideration of their religion, caste and creed”.

Teachers said that the interference of DU’s Oversight Committee has forced them to to work without any official syllabus from July 2019. The full statement by the DU English teachers is given below:

We, the members of various subcommittees for the LOCF 2019 BA Hons English syllabus and the teachers of English in the University of Delhi, write this in response to the Press Release by The Registrar, Delhi University dated 26th August 2021, to point out multiple falsehoods and misrepresentations in it.

1. “The University of Delhi has accepted the recommendations of the Oversight Committee with respect to the syllabus of BA (Hons) English for Semester V… the syllabus of the course has been passed through democratic process with the involvement of all the relevant stakeholders and necessary deliberations at appropriate forums.”

Our response

The draft syllabus of BA (Hons) English had been formed in a most democratic manner UNTIL the mala fide interventions of the Oversight Committee. The syllabus of BA (Hons) English has indeed been passed through democratic process with the involvement of all relevant stakeholders and necessary deliberations at appropriate forums UNTIL the entire process was flagrantly violated and bypassed by the Oversight Committee.

Due to the interference of the OC, at the beginning of almost every semester since July 2019, there is no official syllabus available to teachers and students, costing us precious time and mental resources. This past month, the OC has put paid to every democratic deliberation and due process that we had ensured our syllabus came through. It was 44 days after the V semester began that the University has notified the English Honours syllabus including all the proposed Discipline Specific Elective papers that too by deplorably using Emergency powers of the Vice Chancellor for an academic matter i.e. for more than six weeks of the semester there was no duly notified syllabus for the English Honours students and teachers.

2. “The final content of the syllabus has been designed by the Department of English. The empowered Oversight Committee constituted by the Executive Council of the University, after due deliberation with the and recommendations of the Head, Department of English, finalized the syllabus of BA (Hons) English course for Semester-V, Department of English, which is already available on the website of the university www.du.ac.in.”

Our response

Since the Delhi University Press Release has been issued “for the information of all concerned” we feel it is imperative for us to put in the public domain that the English Department has repeatedly put on record that it is unwilling to make changes in the Women’s Writing paper.

  • On 19th July 2021, less than 24 hours before the beginning of classes, the Oversight Committee arbitrarily recommended that Mahasweta Devi’s ‘Draupadi’ "may be deleted with an alternative short story to be suggested by the Department which will be considered by the Oversight Committee accordingly”. The English Department, mandated by members of the syllabus committees, wrote back to the Oversight Committee TWICE giving all the academic and pedagogic reasons why it was unwilling to replace this story.

The University refused to accept our rejection of their “recommendation” and held the Department of English to ransom by not notifying its BA (Hons) English Semester V syllabus on the website until the 1st of September 2021 (44th day of the Vth semester, a week after the Registrar's Press Release).

  • On 9th August 2021 the Assistant Registrar wrote to the HOD English Department repeating the command to delete ‘Draupadi’ and send the final syllabus to them.
  • On 10th August 2021 the English Department, under duress, replaced Mahasweta Devi’s iconic story “Draupadi” with an alternative story – “The Hunt” by the same author.
  • On 11th August 2021 it was told that the chairman of the Oversight Committee had ideological objections to any story by Mahasweta Devi and was insisting on the inclusion of a story from an arbitrary list of six alternatives.
  • On 17th August 2021, the HOD had a meeting with the Oversight Committee in which he finally had to agree to accept one of the stories suggested by the OC in order to end the stalemate, so that the Fifth Semester syllabus would be notified officially and students' academic careers/lives would not be jeopardised.

Through the above, it is clear that there has been a complete mockery of all democratic and due processes that went into drafting the syllabus: the HOD’s final agreement was obtained through what we believe is coercion, that too without necessary endorsement from the syllabus subcommittees or more importantly, the GBM of English teachers which initiated the democratic syllabus making in the first place, completely negating the claim that the syllabus was finalized “after due deliberations with and the recommendations of the Head, Department of English.”

We would like to point out once again that although the Press Release says that the finalized English Department syllabus is already on its website on 26th August, that notified syllabus was incomplete as it had only 5 out of 10 DSEs listed. Again, while the OC, after recommending deletions of Dalit women writers Bama and Sukirtharani in the same paper, included another writer instead of Bama in the Autobiography subunit it callously excised the two poems of Sukirtharani without even being bothered to suggest additions to complete the Poetry subunit, proving that the whole exercise was done without any minimum academic care.

3. A careful perusal of the present syllabus clearly brings out the inclusive nature of the syllabus under reference in terms of its diversity of content and inclusion of pioneering works of various renowned scholars of both national and international fame without consideration of their religion, caste and creed as, according to the University, excellence in academia is not subservient to these attributes.”

Our response

It is indeed true that the present syllabus of the English Department, for the Honours papers as well as Programme courses, and even for the SEC and GE are inclusive in terms of diversity. As a matter of fact, in one of the first meetings of the syllabus formation exercise, we minuted the decision that we must include diverse voices in our syllabi and move away from being canonically British or Eurocentric, as most English Departments have been in the past. By definition, diversity means bringing in works of authors of different religions, castes, and creeds. We have, therefore, very consciously included texts from marginalized voices, including trying to have at least one text on disability in each paper. It is rather shocking that Delhi University makes a statement in which it says that diversity and inclusion can be done without consideration of religion, caste and creed when by definition diversity and inclusion mean including diverse voices.

4. “The University subscribes to the idea that the literary content forming part of the text in a language course of study…”

Our Response

We are incredulous that the University has chosen to mislabel our discipline as 'language course of study'. We are an English Literature department and our research and specializations come from the field of literary studies. We are NOT a language teaching course and even a quick rudimentary glance at the syllabus would have relayed that. If the Oversight Committee, whose decisions the Delhi University Press Release is defending, had considered the expertise of any faculty of the English Department they would have realized the untenability of this claim, and which is why in the absence of subject experts, there is this glaring misunderstanding of the discipline of English Literature.

According to a news report: ‘Addressing allegations that there were no people from these disciplines in the OC, Pandit said, “I accommodate everyone’s point of view. They are all experts… I can read English, you can read English. If something offensive is written somewhere, we don’t need a PhD in literature to understand that.”’ The complete ignorance of what constitutes literary studies is directly responsible for the unacademic decisions taken by the Oversight Committee which are disastrous for the English Literature syllabus.

5. “… should contain materials which do not hurt the sentiments of any individual and is inclusive in nature to portray a true picture of our society, both past and present. Such an inclusive approach is important for the young minds who imbibe the content of the teaching learning emanating from the syllabus in letter and spirit. Therefore, the content of the syllabus depicts the idea of inclusiveness, diversity and harmony.”

Our response

It is ironic that the above statement by the University claims to support a syllabus that is inclusive, while in fact, it has done everything in its power to EXCLUDE diverse voices. Furthermore, those that have been excluded are already members of a historically excluded community. The voices that have been throttled are those of Dalit and non-Dalit women writers writing about Dalit/Tribal women. What else could be less inclusive than excluding these powerful Women narratives, Mahasweta Devi's 'Draupadi', Bama's Sangati (chapters 2-4) and Sukirtharani's two poems 'Debt' and 'My Body', that congeal caste and gender oppression with that of patriarchal state violence from the syllabus?

The University and its classroom space has historically been premised upon encouraging free debate and thought. Our syllabus includes texts and readings that sensitise students to social issues through stories, poems, plays and essays. While putting together syllabi for the almost 80 courses that the teachers of the English Department teach, we studied courses taught in different universities in India and across the world; literature that is read by young minds in diverse spaces. It is to sensitise them to the idea of inclusiveness and diversity that literary studies include texts that take students out of their comfort zone and make them think critically, which has always remained the purpose of studying literature.

Our response to every point made in the University press release, makes it amply clear that the Oversight Committee has done the opposite of what it claims to be doing. It single-handedly seeks to destroy a syllabus that has been put together after years of careful discussion and debate, where democratically elected committees have chosen democratically diverse texts that seek to represent all sections of society.

We demand the reinstatement of works by Mahasweta Devi, Bama and Sukirtharani in the Core Women’s Writing Paper of semester V. We also demand that the Oversight Committee should immediately pass the syllabus for Semester VI (without any changes) rather than starting the process just before the commencement of the next semester.

Write to us at news@careers360.com.

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