More than a month has passed since HT first reported that the University of Mumbai used emergency powers to drop Rohinton Mistry’s Such a Long Journey from its arts syllabus, after the Shiv Sena’s student wing burnt copies of the book.
HT first published this news on September 17: It carried a summary on the front page and the entire story inside.
The teaching fraternity and civil society took a while to react to the grave implications of the university’s action. On October 3, Usha Subramanian, a lecturer of English Literature and an HT reader, in an opinion piece that appeared in this very space, criticised not only the university but also academics and thinking citizens for their silence. This article and a decision by Mumbai Mirror to re-visit the episode that same weekend by splashing it on its front page finally galvanised civil society.
So HT and other newspapers, did achieve something: they spurred people into staging protests and writing both to the vice chancellor and editors condemning the university’s action. Among them was Rohinton Mistry himself, who ended his letter by praising civil society’s “exemplary” stand.
These protests did not, in turn, shame the university into restoring the novel to the syllabus — which would have been one concrete action that the reporting might have brought about. But journalism cannot always lead to observable change. In most cases, all it can do is provide information that people might use to form opinions about institutions and people in the public eye and that spurs discussion and debate.
In this case, for instance, from my point of view, the coverage underlined yet again the Shiv Sena’s crassness and political desperation, it revealed Mumbai university’s intellectual and moral decay and raised serious questions about the calibre of the man leading it.
It has also spurred debate, in some circles, about the relationship between art and politics and about the future of intellectual life in Mumbai.
It has also once again raised questions about the Marathi manoos, on behalf of whom the Sena regularly unleashes violence. Unfortunately, to Mumbaiites who do not read Marathi newspapers and therefore have no regular access to intelligent and progressive voices within Marathi society, the Sena has begun to represent the community. You can hear some of these voices today,