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Sena scion gets book withdrawn from syllabus, sparking protests

Meena Menon

“Book's withdrawal is political, not academic”

Mistry is an alumnus of St. Xaviers, Mumbai

MUMBAI: Even before young Aditya Thackeray launches his new party for the youth, the ‘Yuva Sena,' on the day of Dassera, October 17, the city has got a measure of what he intends to do with it.

Shiv Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray's son Aditya, a final-year Arts student at St. Xavier's College here, has managed to get Rohinton Mistry's novel Such A Long Journey withdrawn from the syllabus.

The book was prescribed for the second year Bachelor of Arts (English) in 2007-08 as an optional text, according to University sources. It was also confirmed that Rajan Welukar, University of Mumbai's Vice-Chancellor (V-C) used the emergency powers under Section 14 (7) of the Maharashtra Universities Act, 1994, to withdraw the book from the syllabus. Based on a complaint, the Board of Studies (English), which had recommended the book in the first place, resolved that it must be withdrawn with effect from September 15.

The University maintains that only 15 or 16 colleges opted for this book. On September 14, the Bharatiya Vidyarthi Sena (BVS), the Sena's student wing, burnt copies of the book in front of the University gates and demanded that it be withdrawn within 24 hours. President of the BVS Abhijit Panse said that the book contained foul language and derogatory references to the Shiv Sena. Subsequent to a meeting called by Mr. Aditya to discuss the matter, the BVS issued an ultimatum to Mr. Welukar and demanded that those members of the Board of Studies (BOS) who had recommended this book should not be involved with any decisions in future.

Mr. Panse feels the book is offensive to the people in Maharashtra and has abusive references to dabbawalahs, the mentality of the ‘Marathi manoos' and Pandit Nehru. Much to the consternation of students and professors, the University sent a circular dropping the book from its syllabus just before the first-term examinations.

The 1990 Booker Prize-shortlisted novel is about the fortunes of Gustad Noble, his family and their neighbours, in the backdrop of the 1971 war and has some brief references to the Sena.

Last week, a triumphant BVS sent out a congratulatory press note to Mr. Welukar for his prompt action. However, Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan has said that he will look into this issue, and already protests and petitions have been launched. The manner in which the book was withdrawn has led to criticism. Senior journalist and writer Aroon Tikekar said the issue was how a 20 year-old could go up to the VC and give him a 24-hour ultimatum to withdraw a book? He questioned the use of the emergency powers in the taking of this decision and asked if the issue merited this, adding that what would happen to the book in other Universities in the State remains unanswered.

There is outrage that the VC has taken a hasty decision. This was, in any case, the last year for the current syllabus. Vispi Balaporia, former chairperson of the BOS and former English Literature professor, emphasises that the book has not been withdrawn for academic reasons, saying that political parties have made a demand which has nothing to do with academics. This book has been studied at the Masters level and in the BA third year for 20 years.

According to Ms. Balaporia, Mr. Welukar has acted in a high-handed manner without giving thought to the academic qualities of the book. The BOS was at liberty to frame syllabi by giving thought to what is being prescribed“The book, which is so obviously based on the Parsi community, is a superb portrayal of the community with all its eccentricities. I don't see the Parsis going up in arms,” she pointed out. “The book is based on an actual event — the Nagarwala case — where he impersonated Indira Gandhi to withdraw sums of money from a bank. This is a work of fiction and you have to be true to the characters you portray. It reflects what the characters think and not what the author thinks. Why can't the protesters understand the difference,” she asked.

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