About two-dozen people stood outside the office of the University of Mumbai Vice Chancellor Rajan Welukar on Wednesday afternoon. They were English teachers from across city colleges and members of the Bombay University College Teachers’ Union.
They wanted to appeal to the vice chancellor to revoke his decision to drop Rohinton Mistry’s book Such a Long Journey from the second-year English Literature syllabus.
The Hindustan Times had first reported the university’s decision to drop on September 17.
The university took the decision, which has shocked academics, within 24 hours of Aditya Thackeray, Balasaheb Thackeray’s grandson, and members of the Bharatiya Vidyarthi Sena, the Shiv Sena’s student wing, meeting the vice chancellor and asking him to drop the book because it had comments against the party and the city’s dabbawalas. (See box: Sena proposes, University caves in).
The teachers submitted a letter to the vice chancellor outlining their stand on the issue. “The book has received recognition, acclaim and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for its literary work, characterisation, satire and humour. But what is shocking to the teaching community in that you as vice-chancellor have taken recourse to an undemocratic approach, ignoring precedents in using the emergency powers vested in the VC under the Maharashtra Universities Act, 1994,” stated the letter.
“The VC has to be the leader of the academic and intellectual community and should consider it his duty to defend it against any onslaught on academic freedom from wherever it comes — be it the state or any section of the people. Unfortunately, the academic community in the state feels let down by your action of dropping the teaching of the said novel from the curriculum all of a sudden. In academic matters, the Academic Council is the highest body. In academic matters, the last word must be that of the academic community.”
The chief minister Ashok Chavan said on Wednesday that he would speak to the VC and look into the issue. Faculty members of the university are also writing to the governor of Maharashtra, K. Sankaranarayanan, the ex-officio chancellor of universities, objecting to the manner in which the university dropped the book.
“While everyone’s sentiments should be considered, such haste was not required. The new board of studies is going to meet soon and it would have been absolutely fine if they had they recommended some other book in its place. “But what is not correct is bowing to a diktat from a political student outfit,” said a faculty member.