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Panjab University research proposal sparks controversy

The synopsis for a PhD thesis in Panjab University's (PU) English Department is generating a lot of controversy among the faculty, who are divided over the alleged sexual and pornographic content of the research.

education Updated: Sep 19, 2009 13:34 IST

The synopsis for a PhD thesis in Panjab University's (PU) English Department is generating a lot of controversy among the faculty, who are divided over the alleged sexual and pornographic content of the research.

The Research Degree Committee (RDC) of the department, which gives final nod to the research topics of PhD scholars, has deferred a decision on Nipun Kalra's topic on films of French writer and director Catherine Breillat, based on sexuality and extreme violence and Spanish film director Pedro Almodovar, whose subjects are chiefly sexual identity, homosexuality and violence.

His research project is titled "Transgressive depiction of sexuality onscreen: a study of selected films of Catherine Breillat and Pedro Almodovar".

"The committee had told me to incorporate various changes in my topic and subject matter. At this stage, I have no other option and I will abide by their instructions," Kalra told IANS.

Defending Kalra's choice of subject, sociology professor and PU Teachers' Association president Manjit Singh said: "One can choose his research topic from any sphere of life and academically there should be no restrictions on it. Therefore, deferring a topic on the grounds that some teachers were uncomfortable or because it is based on pornography and sexuality is not acceptable."

"There is no need to create this fundamentalism and only filter should be that the topic should not be based on communalism or hurt religious sentiments. RDC should focus on other disciplinary things instead of creating such kind of hurdles," Singh told IANS.

Meanwhile senior faculty members of the English department contended that there is no harm in deferring a discussion on the topic if there is anything objectionable in it.

"We have deferred this topic only till the next meeting of RDC. A very senior teacher, who had seen these movies, told us that there were many objectionable and obscene scenes in them and we cannot ignore this," Rana Nayyar, chairperson of the English department, told IANS.

Nayyar said they also found out that some of these movies were banned in France and there were many reviews condemning them. "Therefore there is no need to rush and let us weigh all the pros and cons of the issue," he added.

Anil Raina, former chairman of the English department and RDC member, told IANS: "There were one or two members of the committee who were not in favour of this topic because of its content. Moreover, the movie VCDs are not easily available in the market, so for the time being we have deferred this topic."

"We have not dropped his topic and told him to first submit the VCDs to us; we will take a decision after evaluating every parameter," he added.

Meanwhile, some faculty members claimed that mischievous elements within the department were behind highlighting the issue in bad light.

Akshaya Gupta, a professor in the English department, told IANS: "Some faculty members have blown this issue out of proportion. RDC always has a right to direct the candidate to make certain changes in his research subject and it can even drop the topic. It had also happened in the past."

"This case was widely discussed in the RDC and we have just directed him (Kalra) to make some legitimate changes. Otherwise, everything is fine with us," he added.

However, other research scholars, who are pursuing their research work at PU are also not happy with the decision of RDC.

Research scholar Harmanjit Singh Deol, working on the feasibility of the Right to Information Act, told IANS: "It is very disgusting on the part of RDC that they are delaying the project because it is based on pornographic or obscene material."

"By raising such questions, they are diluting the real purpose of doctorate studies. RDC always has a right to suggest various additional things but interfering in the topic itself is quite shocking," he said.