Axing Mahasweta Devi and Others

Barun Khote

On August 24, 2021, ‘Draupadi’, the short story by Mahasweta Devi, two poems by Sukirtharani and selections from Bama’s Sangati were deleted from the syllabus for students of English Literature by Delhi University. Mahasweta Devi has been part of the syllabus for a while now, while Sukirtharani and Bama have been added later in a continuous explora-tion and expansion of the rich terrain of Indian literature of marginalised lives.

‘Draupadi’ is the story of Dopdi Mejhen, a twenty-seven years old Adivasi woman who acts against systemic oppression against landless share-croppers. ‘Draupadi’ brings alive the long tradition of Adivasi fight against oppression of feudal, imperial and capitalist systems of colonial and decolonial India. ‘Draupadi’ shows that poverty is a socially constructed state and thus open to transformation. Draupadi is also a woman. She is the namesake of an epic protagonist who is disrobed in the presence of all her kinsmen during a game of dice. The Draupadis, across centuries, help splinter the sabha, the family or the state as not quite the promised safe haven for women. Not yet.

Mahasweta Devi, a canonised author in the post-colonial world especially after Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s English translation of 1981, and awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award, Jnanpith Award and Ramon Magsaysay Award along with India's civilian awards Padma Shri and Padma Vibhushan, is not the only one who is being axed from the syllabus on the ground of hurt sentiment. The Tamil Dalit feminist writers, Sukirtharani and Bama—whose acclaimed and awarded writings would have added a new and much needed dimension to the understanding of caste-gendered lives in India—have also been dropped from the same paper.

The deleted texts are seminally important as they help realise the systemic oppressions of the Dalit and Adivasi communities that was prevalent, especially in gendered terms, and provide a better appreciation of our contemporary ethos and polity. Is this not something that the young men and women of independent India need to know and engage with? How else will a better and equal world be shaped? Or are we to relegate the protesting woman and the Adivasi to the peripheries of the syllabus of Delhi University 2021? What are we afraid of?

Decades after 1947, Indian literatures in translation and in English were allowed entry into the colonised precinct of English syllabus of Delhi University. Is the process to be halted in terms of caste, class and gender contours of authors and the worlds that they bring alive?

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Vol. 54, No. 12, Sep 19 - 25, 2021