Faculty members of the University of Mumbai want Rohinton Mistry’s book, Such a Long Journey, to be reintroduced in the arts syllabus “at the earliest”.
In a letter to vice-chancellor Rajan Welukar, they said a “decision be taken about its continuation when the new academic bodies meet after being duly constituted”.
The decision to write to the Welukar was taken at a meeting of the University of Mumbai Academic Staff Association (UMASA) on October 28.
In the last week of August, Bal Thackeray’s grandson Aditya, 20, along with members of the Bharatiya Vidyarthi Sena, met the vice-chancellor and demanded that the book be dropped from the syllabus because it contained matter that was against the Shiv Sena and Dabbawalas. Within 24 hours, an emergency meeting was convened with the members of the board of studies of English and the book was dropped.
The academic fraternity was aghast at the manner in which the book was taken off the syllabus, and across the city people voiced their protest either at public readings or online.
However, Welukar had denied that the decision was forced on him by Aditya. “He never met me to ask for a ban on this book. It was a group of Shiv Sainiks who held a protest outside the campus, demanding a ban on this book. The decision to prescribe or drop a text in the syllabus is the prerogative of experts in the Board of Studies for that subject,” Welukar had said.
The letter to the vice-chancellor said: “The members of UMASA are firmly committed to the ideal of debate and discussion in the event that a work of literature is thought to have offended the sensibilities of a section of society. It is a fundamental function of creative literature to critique exiting dogmas and subvert oppressive power structures. While doing that, literature often uses an idiom that those entrenched in power are bound to find offensive.” The members said the universities should set an example, and not succumb to political interference.
The letter further states: “A society that prides itself on being modern, democratic and secular should take utmost care that no dissenting voices are suppressed without a thorough dialogue that is rooted in respect for human freedom and reason. Today, our society is in the grip of parochial intolerance from various quarters. We feel that universities are supposed to lead by setting an example.”