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Hey Ram: Thoughts on Ramayana and Ramanujan*

Prachi Sharma

The Delhi University Academic Council's decision to remove A.K. Ramanujan's essay on the 'tellings' of the Ramayana from the B.A. (Honours) concurrent course has invited protests from academia once again, raising the issue of freedom of expression. In order to provide a platform to dissenting voices among students and teachers against this action of the Academic Council and to try and understand the essence and importance of A.K. Ramanujan's work, a discussion was held in the Department of History, University of Delhi. The speakers included Professor Kumkum Roy (Department of History, JNU), Professor Udaya Kumar (Department of English, DU), and Professor Kesavan Veluthat (Department of History, DU). The discussion was chaired by Professor Upinder Singh (Department of History, DU). Upinder Singh initiated the discussion by briefly summarizing the  background to the controversy around Ramanujan's essay. She informed the audience about the course in which Ramanujan's essay was included in 2006. It was a concurrent course on ancient Indian culture for non-History Honours students which was prepared to highlight the richness and diversity of the cultural heritage of ancient India. According to Singh, in January 2008 'complaints' about the essay in the form of countless legal notices were sent by certain individuals and organizations. Their grudge was against some words in the essay which had offended the religious sentiments of Hindus. This was followed by the shocking episode of the vandalization of the History Department on 25th February, 2008, when a group of students affiliated to a certain group attacked the Head of the History Department. The response of the History Department to the University administration on the Ramanujan essay was to emphasize the sound reasons to retain the essay, most important being the academic credentials of Ramanujan as a scholar and the spirit in which the course was framed and taught.  Singh further added that the University administration sent the essay to four experts for their advice. In July 2010, the Supreme Court asked the University to submit a report to the Academic Council. Finally in October 2011, the essay was removed following a hasty decision in the Academic Council. Only 9 out of 120 members of the Academic Council dissented.   Kumkum Roy recounted another 'telling'of the Ramayana, Lakkhaner Shaktishela, a Bengali composition for children written by Sukumar Ray (Satyajit Ray's father) around 1906. The year 1906 is crucial as the preceding years had seen the demise of many stalwarts of Bengali literature. This was also ...

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