In this sorry spectacle of book-burning and book-banning, the Shiv Sena has followed its depressingly familiar, tediously predictable script of threats and intimidation that Mumbai has endured since the organisation’s founding in 1966.
But it is the expeditious decision by Mumbai University which causes profound dismay. After his long silence, the vice-chancellor has now stated that he, in fact, followed the correct procedures, and the decision was taken by the Board of Studies.The outgoing Board of Studies, to be precise. More bobbing, weaving, and slippery behaviour is no doubt in the offing. But one thing remains: a political party demanded an immediate change in syllabus, and Mumbai University provided de luxe service via express delivery, making the book disappear the very next day. The University, in the person of the vice-chancellor, occupies an exalted position in civilised society, the champion of academic independence and freedom of expression.
Instead, Mumbai University has come perilously close to institutionalising the ugly notion of self-censorship. The vice-chancellor knows what he must do to remove the stain.
This sordid story, however, does have a bright spot. Civil society has responded, in Mumbai and elsewhere, with outrage, questions, petitions; it is inspiring to see.
The stand taken by the teachers, citizens’ groups, bloggers, journalists is exemplary. Who knows, it may even educate the main actors about the workings of a real democracy.
As for the grandson of the Shiv Sena leader…what can — what should — one feel about him? Pity, disappointment, compassion? Twenty years old, in the final year of a BA in history, at my own Alma Mater, the beneficiary of a good education, he is about to embark down the Sena’s well-trodden path, to appeal, like those before him, to all that is worst in human nature.
Does he have to? No. He is clearly equipped to choose for himself. He could lead, instead of following, the old regime. He could say something radical—that burning and banning books will not feed one hungry soul, will not house one homeless person nor will it provide gainful employment to anyone (unless one counts those hired to light bonfires), not in Mumbai, not in Maharashtra, not anywhere, not ever.