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Vandals without a cause

india Updated: Feb 27, 2008 00:17 IST

In the world of petty politics that involves seeking out grievances where there are none, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) has touched a new low. On Monday, members of this agit-prop brigade went about ransacking and damaging Delhi University’s Department of History. All this in the presence of police personnel and mediapersons. And what was the cause of their incredible outrage? The inclusion of an essay by the late Padmashri scholar, AK Ramanujan, ‘Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation’, in the recommended reading list for second year History BA Honours students. Ramanujan’s essay is part of a unit called ‘The Ramayana and Mahabharata: Stories, Characters, Versions’ — that includes supplementary readings like the detailed and scholarly introduction by Robert P Goldman to the Valmiki Ramayana.

All this still doesn’t explain why the ABVP goons went on a rampage in one of the country’s most prestigious higher education institutions. One would have thought that the dissemination of various interpretations and narratives of the Hindu epic would have pleased the ABVP. After all, Ramanujan’s essay in question illustrates and analyses the great dynamism and variety in what the scholar describes as “tellings” of the story of Rama within India and across the world. But from when did goons sit down and start thinking that they might be barking up the wrong tree? So barking and biting they did. Add to that the fact that Upinder Singh of the History Department, targeted by the protestors for ‘compiling’ a collection of the course readings including the concerned essay, actually did no such thing — an unauthorised spiral-bound photocopied collection has her name typed on it — and one proves how politically motivated this ugly episode really is.

So how did the vandals manage to do what they did? The controversy over the inclusion of the Ramanujan essay was known since early last month. It’s bad enough that stupid ways of finding grievances as an excuse to have one’s 15 minutes of fame are allowed to intrude into the world of scholarship. It’s worse that law and order broke down in the presence of those supposed to uphold those very two things.