It is a dismal outcome of the RSS-affiliated ruling dispensation’s increasing interference in premier universities like DU that the University’s Standing Committee of Academic Council has recommended the removal of Kancha Ilaiah’s books from the PG syllabus in Political Science, branded him anti-Hindu and disallowed the use of the word ‘Dalit’ in academic discussions, teaching and learning. As an elected teachers’ representative in the Academic Council, I strongly express my protest against this decision of the Standing Committee. My protest is based on the following reasons:
Firstly, the word ‘Dalit’ is an established term of academic reference in the study of politics, political movements, literature and culture pertaining to the communities that have been exploited most by the caste-system that has continued to prevail in India over centuries. No court of law has banned the use of this word. The Supreme Court merely directed public institutions to refer to Dalits as SCs in official correspondence related to Government policy as ‘Scheduled Castes’ is a jurisdictional/legal category. That does not mean that we stop using the word Dalit in academic and intellectual discourse. Those who have taken a plea to excise this word, on behalf of the Supreme Court, are deliberately misguiding the academic community and university officials.
Secondly, Kancha Ilaiah is an established scholar and thinker in the domain of Dalit politics and philosophy. His philosophical critique of Brahminical Hinduism cannot be reduced to a simplistic anti-Hindu position. Had that been so, our Constitution and Penal Code provides ample safeguards against any public utterance that is disrespectful towards any faith. No government or court of law has ever convicted Kancha Ilaiah for abusing the Hindu religion. A philosophical critique is not abuse. Academicians are expected to be sensitive to this difference.
Thirdly, the Standing Committee has no domain expertise or right to remove books from a syllabus prepared by a group of subject experts. It can seek clarification from the Political Science department about the academic value of Kancha Ilaiah’s books, but it cannot on its own decide the merits of demerits of teaching his books. Unfortunately, this Standing Committee has overreached itself in this matter.
Fourthly, the RSS-affiliated teachers who are members of bodies like the Academic Council and Executive Council are attacking Kancha Ilaiah, Christophe Jaffrelot or any thinker/scholar who has expressed criticism of the RSS or Hindutva ideology. They are thus fabricating false pretexts and flimsy excuses to have all critical and divergent opinion removed from DU syllabi and curriculum. This is obvious browbeating and bullying. It will be resisted tooth and nail by those who wish to preserve plurality and diversity of ideas in the academic system.
And finally, this attack on Dalit political philosophy is consistent with the Hindutva strategy of denying caste oppression and discouraging academic enquiry into the caste-based dynamics of Indian society. Their reactionary views on the SC-ST Atrocities Act and their repeated attempts to change the Reservation Roster so that reserved categories are denied their Constitutionally-mandated entitlement is linked with this new offensive against contemporary Dalit thinkers like Kancha Ilaiah.
It is unfortunate that DU officials are readily bowing down before the bullying tactics adopted by the RSS-affiliated teachers. These offensives will be resisted at all available forums, including the Academic Council by elected representatives like me.
We won’t give up using the word ‘Dalit’ and we won’t give up on Kancha Ilaiah. I will be writing formally to the DU VC and the Visitor (President of India) against this academic terrorism and intolerance that the RSS is unleashing on the University of Delhi.
Saikat Ghosh is a Member, Academic Council, Delhi University.