A SAFFRON SPARK: IGNITION OF THE DELHI UNIVERSITY
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Since time immemorial, politics has had a profound impact on education. With new leaders and policies, education is often manipulated to endorse partisan ideologies and beliefs. With the rise of such a trend in India, Delhi University can also now be seen grappling with similar accusations of advocating Hindutva fascism instead of advocating secular and unbiased doctrines. Being one of the top institutions of the nation, it must not fall under the grip of propaganda. However, recent incidents have proved otherwise. Actions that may cause communal disharmony and unrest among the students can be seen to be proactively supported and promoted. Certain cases have caught the eye of national newspapers and have even resulted in students actively protesting against the administration. In these shambolic times, the threat to the spirit of democracy and secularism in the institution becomes highly contentious.
Since the grand victory of the current government in the 2014 elections, it has been accused of saffronising education. Saffronisation is a term that refers to the policies of the government that implement Hindu nationalist propaganda. Saffronisation of education has included cases of changes in the syllabus for school students, for example, deletion of chapters on Mughal courts, poems by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, a poem on Dalit movement etc. Omission of chapters on Islamic lands from class 11th History textbooks and removal of chapters on Mughal administration from class 12th History textbooks during the COVID-19 pandemic did raise some eyes for being islamophobic in nature.(1) A recent controversy that was highly publicised was when the class 12th CBSE sociology paper had a question on Gujarat riots asking which government was responsible for the infamous massacre. Later the Board issued an apology for the same despite it being a part of the syllabus and a fair question. The very attempt to alter the facts and hide the truth proves the textbook manipulation taken up by the government. (2)
Image credits- EconomicTimes.indiatimes.com In April 2022, Union Home Minister Amit Shah had said that, “Hindi should be seen as an alternative to English and not local languages. People belonging to different states should
communicate in Hindi and not English”. The statement met with severe criticism from the Southern and the North-eastern states of the nation. The opposition remarked that the people of the nation do not need to learn a language to prove their nationality. Some questioned the choice of Hindi over other regional languages present in the country. Every now and then, the government seeks to push Hindi and Sanskrit over the people rather than acknowledging and celebrating the diverse languages existing. From silently changing the milestones from English to Hindi in Tamil Nadu to making the non hindi students appear for an exam, the push for Hindi has always been present which is unhealthy for the nation’s unity. It creates a sense of majoritarianism and Hindi hegemony among the people and the languages as well as the voices of the minorities are sidelined.(3) The wave of saffronisation can now be witnessed invading one of the most esteemed institutions of the nation, the Delhi University. Popular for its upfront politics and open platform for the practice of freedom of speech and expression, certain activities can be indicative of colouring the politically diverse ambience of the university into saffron.
TO MOO OR NOT TO MOO?
A recent controversy that has garnered the limelight is the Hansraj Cow Research Centre case. The college has been scrutinised for the establishment of a “gaushala” in the guise of a research centre. The students have protested massively against the move. There were claims that the land on which the project will be carried out was originally for the Women's Hostel. The Principal of the college refuted the allegation stating that only one cow would be inhabited for research purposes.
Hansraj is a DAV Trust college and is thus known for upfront pro-Hindu activities such as conducting rituals on the premises. DAV trust or D.A.V. College Managing Committee is a non-governmental educational organisation which covers in its ambit many schools, colleges and universities. Other institutions funded by the DAV trust includes, PG DAV college of DU, Hansraj College, DAV college in Chandigarh, etc. The objective of the establishment is to impart education and develop individuals who are moral, intellectual, concerned about the society, emotionally stable, physically well-developed and culturally accomplished. The goal of the organisation is to stimulate a scientific temper by working against superstitions and out-dated customs. It also aims at providing a wide range of holistic education by homogenising the western knowledge while remaining anchored to the Indian cultural moorings. Started with the noble cause the foundation now just acts as the flag bearer of saffronisation. The institution is popular for teaching students vedas and encouraging them to perform yagyas. Reinforcing the ideals and principles of Hinduism among the students and obviating a secular approach of teaching. Recently, one of the many branches of the academy made headlines for the wording of a question in the English exam that was called out for propaganda. Mentioning the January 26 violence the question asked students to write a letter to the Editor, condemning the 'terrible, violent acts of miscreants who fail to realise that country comes before personal needs and gains'. Also stating that "destroying public property, disgracing the national flag and attacking police personnel, are few of the various illegal offences committed that can never be justified for any reason whatsoever.” (4). Such cases of propagandist measures are not uncommon to the DAV schools and colleges.
A cow is an important symbol of Hinduism and is venerated by the deities. However, a step taken to promote the holiness of cows in the educational sphere poses a threat to the secular outlook of the University as a whole. The step has been praised and supported by the members of the ABVP unit of the college. Many have come to stand against the decision as well. With such incidents aligning a clear trend of ideologies in a noteworthy college which ideally should inculcate diversity and secularism, one must wonder what incentivizes Hansraj to maintain such activities?
It is not unknown that the central government has worked excessively for the betterment of the cows in the nation. But the incorporation of this holy duty in the college is perilous to the university, its academic environment and even to the nation. The most bothersome part of the entire incident is the sheer disinterest of the college towards the creation of a women's hostel on the premises is a sign of misaligned priorities. The principal has claimed the land for the research centre has nothing to do with the hostel. The college aims to provide a better space for the construction of the hostel. However, since the decision regarding the hostel couldn't reach a consensus in 2016, the idea of a better and bigger space for women seems like a mirage. The horror in this dispute is the fact that the decision for the research centre was effortlessly passed whereas the verdict of the hostel which is an urgent necessity for the female students is sidelined with much ease. The absence of the residents has had a profound impact on the ratio of males and females in the college.
THE CASTE CONUNDRUM
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Yet, another move that raises eyebrows is the university’s decision of restructuring the syllabus by replacing stories of prominent Dalit writers. The “restructuring” of the syllabus is in actuality an act of vandalism, and comes as a surprise to both the teachers as well as the students. Mahashweta Devi’s story “Draupadi”, for instance, is a phenomenal piece of literature that imparts a fresh perspective to the readers about the classics and helps them develop a nuanced sense of the classics. It is a highly celebrated story that has been a part of the English syllabus for a long time. The removal of the story because it described rape is frustrating, and defeats the very purpose of including texts which expose and discuss such a patriarchal set-up from various viewpoints. The focus of the university should be on creating a safe space for women to flourish instead of removing writings that describe crimes against women.
The changes in the syllabus are crucial for maintaining the novelty of the course yet the removal of Dalit writers and incorporation of the upper caste authors manifests Hindutva fascism and promotes a sense of elitism among the students. It is crucial to understand that such actions may seem harmless but can be the seeds for disharmony and oppression in the longer run. The presence of Dalit literature in the syllabus helps the students, who might be untouched and unaware of the years of oppression faced by the marginalized section of the society, understand and empathize with the struggles and pain suffered by the community.
Works of Dalits need to be taught to the students because the college curriculum is a platform for the community to tell their tales and be acknowledged. Removal of these topics can also cause alienation of the community from the majority of the population and result in the creation of stereotypes and prejudices. Minority communities face backlash and are historically and structurally disenfranchised from entering university spheres. Often Dalit students have been subjected to violence and biased treatment just because of their identity. In light of such instances, such changes in syllabus pose a bigger threat of excluding an already subjugated community from the realms of higher education.
A FUNERARY PYRE FOR SECULARISM