The Ramayana controversy in Delhi University took a violent turn on Monday when Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) activists indulged in acts on vandalism in the history department. Students of the history department have now started an SMS campaign against the assault and are planning to hold a protest meet in the university on Tuesday.
“We went to submit a memorandum with the history department head, but we felt he took our objection lightly and was rude with us. Some students got angry and there was some disruptive action after that,” said Vikas Dahiya, ABVP activist and former DUSU vice-president.
The ABVP activists had earlier gathered in the Arts Faculty to protest against the inclusion of an essay by AK Ramanujan on different folk traditions related to the Ramayana tale in the recommended reading for second year BA Honours students. The ABVP and other right wing groups claimed the essay is derogatory towards Hindu god and goddesses. The history department had convened a meeting of all its members on February 4 and had decided no such insult was made in the essay.
The activists were supposed to head for the vice-chancellor’s office, but suddenly decided to visit the history department where they roughed up department head SZH Jafri. “About 10 people barged into my room and grabbed me by my collar and pushed me around,” said Jafri. Soon after there was a spontaneous protest from the student body that gathered in the Arts Faculty and raised slogans against ABVP.
“The ABVP activists went breaking windowpanes from class to class. They disrupted an MA previous internal assessment test. We have started an SMS campaign against the assault on the academic environment,” said Maya John, an MA Final student of History.
Jafri said the department had taken the allegations seriously and had reviewed the contents of the essay immediately and had already submitted the report with the university. “We are being accused of having made fun of Hindu gods and goddesses — something we feel we have not done,” said Jafri.
The book, more like a collection of essays, is compiled by Upinder Singh of the history department, also Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s daughter. The contentious essay is Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation by AK Ramanujan. Some quarters in DU claimed this was merely an attempt to politicise a non-issue.
The teaching community also expressed its solidarity with the history department head. “The said text is being taught for four years and was passed by the academic and executive councils. The NDTF, which, like ABVP, is affiliated to the BJP, is part of both the bodies. Why did they not protest earlier?” asked Ratan Lal, a faculty member at Hindu College.