Now Even Mahashweta Devi Is Taboo!

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03 Oct, 16 13:08
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Dr.H.S.Chandalia

Now Even Mahashweta Devi Is Taboo! The swearing in of the union government with full majority of Bhartiya Janata Party has marked an unprecedented era of demeaning the autonomy of the institutions of higher education. The spree to exercise the hegemony of the ruling party and its front organizations has been witnessed in several instances at the level of union government as well as state governments where Bhartiya Janata Party is in power. In M.L.Sukhadia University, Udaipur last year Prof . Ashok Vohra of Delhi University delivered a lecture in the department of Philosophy. Some members and sympathizers of ABVP, student wing of Bhartiya Janata Party, made some clippings out of context and spread it on social media creating a lot of furor in the town as well as the campus. They accused the organizers and the speaker of insulting Hindu Gods. ABVP state vice president who now is a claimant of the post of vice chancellor , led the hate campaign and members of RUCTA (Rashtriya), a teachers organization affiliated with BJP also took a stance against the HOD of the Philosophy department as she is a progressive and liberal thinker. The University cowed down before the pressure of outside political elements and the Dean of the College of Social Sciences and Humanities filed an FIR against the guest speaker Prof.Ashok Vohra. The whole design was to attack and humiliate Prof. Sudha Chaudhary, whose academic excellence and popularity with the students caused many hearts to burn.
The same modus operandi has been observed in Central University of Haryana. On 21st September, 2016 the department of English and Foreign Languages of the school of Language, Linguistics, Culture and heritage staged a play based on a story " Draupady" written by the Sahitya Academy Award winner world known author and activist late Mahashweta Devi. The story is prescribed in the syllabus. It highlights the question of patriarchy and how the state also works to maintain the status quo. There is an incident of a rape of the protagonist by the state security forces which is not a new thing in this country. The story is set in the background of 1970s. To provide statistical evidence an epilogue was added having data of violence by security personnel over women. Like Udaipur, a section of students who are members of ABVP and the sympathizers made video clips of the performance and choosing some clips which suited their nefarious designs made them viral. This has also led to a lot of violent demonstration of political power both by BJP and Congress. The Mahendergarh district where the University is situated abounds in ex-servicemen. The hooligans have succeeded through their loud propaganda that the play was an intrigue and well planned design to insult the armed forces. Unfortunate part is that the Vice Chancellor who took a bold and impartial stand initially , is not well now and the rest of the people cannot take the pressure of local politicians and ex- servicemen. As a result the members of the department of English are intimated. Particularly Dr. Snehsata and Dr. Manoj Vidyalankar are facing a tough time since they were the coordinators of the programme. Although the HOD Dr. Sanjiv says that they have tendered an unconditional apology if the play has hurt any body's feelings, the witch hunt is going on. Even after ten days the series of politically motivated demonstrations have not ceased. The confidence of teachers and sincere students is shaken. The Vice Chancellor R.C. Kuhad has formed a committee to examine the matter which is likely to meet and hear the version of all concerned on Tuesday. Dr. Snehsata told that an Intelligence Bureau official has been calling her personally and enquiring about her schooling, education and personal life. They have reached up to her village and are enquiring about her father's professional and personal life. They have also highlighted her inter-caste marriage to prove her as an anti-social element." Have I done such a big crime by highlighting the marginalized women's issues that I am being questioned as a terrorist? I don't know what would happen in the coming times but I do know that I haven't done anything wrong," she says.

By enacting a play based on Mahashweta Devi's story the department has done precisely the duty which is enshrined in the Central Universities Act 2009. The objectives of the Central Universities as stated in the Act are, " the objective of University shall be to disseminate and advance knowledge by providing instructional and research facilities in such branches of learning as it may deem fit; to make special provisions for integrated work in humanities, social sciences, science and technology & in its educational programmes; to take appropriate measuures for promoting innovations in teaching-learning process and interdisciplinary studies and research; to educate and train manpower for the development of the country."

Enacting a play is an innovative form of providing instruction. The content of the play is based on social reality of some part of India at a particular point of time. The text forms the part of syllabus and the whole programme was approved by the university administration and Rs. Ten thousand was sanctioned for the purpose. Even after the play there was no eyebrow raised. In fact the authorities congratulated the coordinators for a nice performance. Only after the hooligans raised the ruckus, the problem was caused. Central University of Haryana grew up in a liberal atmosphere when the founder Vice Chancellor Prof. M.C. Sharma created opportunities of such open debates on the campus and encouraged students to participate in them. I have been the Dean of School of Language, Linguistics, Cilture and Heritage of the university and Dr. Snehsata is the first scholar to get a Ph.D. from the school. She has been bred on liberal human values. Therefore nothing that she does can attract any doubt.
It is good that the FEDCUTA has supported the teachers in a statement," The FEDCUTA notes with concern the ugly row brewing over the staging of the play Draupadi at the Central University Haryana, Mahendragarh. The play was based on a story written by the world renowned author Mahashweta Devi. From all accounts the play was staged by the English literature department in memory of the late Mahashweta Devi and has attracted adverse reactions and protests in the name of nationalism from the local ABVP outfit, some ex-servicemen and some local community leaders. In response the university administration has constituted an enquiry committee to look in to the matter.
The main objection to the play is to the scene where two soldiers engage in the horrific act of rape of the protagonist for not revealing some information. This has been construed as an attempt to malign the Indian soldiers who were martyred at Uri in a terrorist attack recently. The FEDCUTA condemns such a construction on a story placed in the context of the 1970s and the attempt to play chauvinistic nationalist politics with it. Indeed as the well known scholar Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak had pointed out many years ago that through this story Mahashweta Devi was giving an anti- colonialist message. She was in fact opposing the terrible legacy of the colonial mindset which inevitably used rape as a weapon of war and as a 'theory and practice of most efficient information retrieval' as depicted in the story. Mahashweta Devi herself had forewarned in this context that she was working for a change in the social system and did not believe in 'mere party politics'. FEDCUTA believes that such a deeply humanist message should be upheld and certainly no party politics should be encouraged over the play. Indeed this kind of politics demeans the martyrdom of the soldiers who fell prey to forces of terror created by imperialism and colonialism in the first place.
The FEDCUTA believes that the politics over the play are an attempt to stifle the freedom of expression and creativity of a young English department at a young university."

Similar feelings have been expressed by Prof. R.N.Vyas , former Dean of the University College of Social Sciences and Humanities, M.L.Sukhadia University, Udaipur who is now teaching at Malaysia. He remarks very categorically, " At first I completely agree with the event organised by the scholars of the CUH. I salute the coordinator, indicated exclusively by the administration for the epilogue, Dr. Snehsata for befitting response to authorities, not only bravely replying, explaining and clarifying the background, happenings, and raisons d'être of staging the chosen play, but also gone further to restrengthen the cause of academic institutions and their expressive freedom along with giving eye opening evidence of the selective attack and atrocities committed against women in general and by the university administration in particular.
The theme of the play is an appropriate example of growing atrocities of a section of armed personals against the marginalised citizens, mainly playing in the hands of ruling class consisting of national and multinational capitalists and corporates to appropriate
resources of people, long pushed into the present habitat, through the process of displacement in the name of development, which is nothing but a collaborative loot of neoliberalism even using the corrupt notions of religion, culture, nationalism and manipulated history. The play written by one of the socially conscious and concerned scholar writer narrates part of the whole game. If universities fraternity are not allowed then which section of the society will be able to raise their voice against these atrocities."

The government of Rajasthan, time and again issues notifications in its circulars suggesting the colleges to buy books written by the right wing writers. The Union HRD Minister had earlier declared the Christmas Day as a working day to commemorate the birthday of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpai. In Rajasthan, the holiday of Eid was cancelled last year in government colleges to commemorate Deen Dayal Upadhyay's anniversary and hold blood donation camps.

The posts of Vice Chancellors have become political posts which are to be filled by politically connected professors. The Vice Chancellor of University of Rajasthan is an example. In Udaipur, the post of the Vice Chancellor of M.L.Sukhadia University is lying vacant and often there are news paper stories about the prospective candidates who are all linked with BJP. Not even for the same of eye wash, do the ruling party people say that the VC will be appointed on merit.
The chain of events at Central University of Haryana is very unfortunate. Having been a part of the department, I am sure that there is no political intrigue in enacting the play. It has been done in the right academic spirit and the political mud - slinging on the University and the upcoming department must stop immediately.


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