Central Uni of Kerala drops Dalit studies, after Arundhati Roy, Kancha Ilaiah added in syllabus

The new syllabus was to be introduced in the academic year 2019-2021 at the Central University of Kerala in Kasaragod.
Central Uni of Kerala drops Dalit studies, after Arundhati Roy, Kancha Ilaiah added in syllabus
Central Uni of Kerala drops Dalit studies, after Arundhati Roy, Kancha Ilaiah added in syllabus

In a controversial move, the Central University of Kerala in Kasaragod has dropped their two-year old Dalit Studies elective course for the academic year 2019-21, allegedly after a syllabus change that included texts by several authors who have vocally the criticised the government. 

The revised syllabus which was to be introduced in 2019 included works of powerful voices such as Arundhati Roy, Gopal Guru, DR Nagaraj, Anand Teltumbde, Gail Omvedt and Kancha Iliah Shepherd among others. Among the works listed under the syllabus includes Arundhati Roy’s text The Doctor and the saint - which is the prefix to Dr BR Ambedkar’s work Annihilation of Caste. Maharashtrian scholar, writer and civil rights activist Anand Teltumbde’s book - Caste: A Historical Outline has also been added in the revised syllabus. Teltumbde is a vocal critic of the BJP government and one of the civil rights activists who was arrested over the Bhima-Koregaon violence in 2018.

Between April and June 2019, the list of texts for the new syllabus were collectively picked and consolidated by an expert committee under the Board of Studies (the body which decides syllabus changes) over 4 meetings. This was later approved by the management of the university. 

However, on December 10, prior to the start of the second semester when the course was to be offered, the particular  elective  found no mention in a faculty meeting convened by Dr Vellikkal Raghavan, HOD-in-charge of the English and Comparative Studies department. In a timetable which specified course allocations to faculty members, the freshly revised course was entirely omitted. Instead, Disapora Studies, an older course which had not been revised since 2016 was offered to students, according to sources within the university. 

“The HOD-in-charge also announced through a circular in the notice board that students could opt for 3 courses - Diaspora Studies, Post Secular Feminism and another subject related to Mythology as electives. This is a bizarre move as there is no reason to exclude a new syllabus and offer an older syllabus in its place,” a student from the University told TNM. 

On November 29, 2019, Dr Raghavan had reportedly mailed faculty members in the department asking for the courses they would like to offer students. Faculty members were required to pick one compulsory or core course and one elective which they would offer for the semester. Among them, Dalit Studies had been picked by former Head of the Department Professor Prasad Pannian, who had earlier too offered the same course to students. On Monday, December 2, Professor Pannian had mailed the HOD-in charge with his subject preferences. 

However, claiming that there had a been a 2-day delay in receiving Professor Pannian’s mail, the HOD-in charge withheld offering the course altogether. 

According to sources, this is not the first time that the university, which is the only university in Kerala under the Centre, had taken arbitrary action against students and professors who questioned the administration. 

Regarding the latest move by the department to remain non-inclusive in its choice of offered courses, Professor Pannian has written to the Vice Chancellor, Dean and Registrar of the university urging them to take action against the unfair and unwarranted exclusion of the said elective. 

“We have at least 13 students who had opted for Dalit Studies as an elective via mail and several others who had expressed an interest in the course verbally. Now they are being denied the course and offered some other course, which they do not wish to study, in its place,” another source within the university told TNM. 

Incidentally Dr Pannian himself had been suspended by the University in 2018, for condemning the treatment meted to a Dalit activist and Research Scholar in the Linguistics department in 2018. In a Facebook post on August 11, 2018, Prof Pannian had written in defence of Dalit Scholar and PHD student Ganthoti Nagaraju who had been arrested by the police for breaking the glass pane of a false alarm cabinet in the in the University hostel. 

Following the post, the university had issued a show cause notice to the professor, based on a complaint by current HOD-in charge Professor Raghavan. A suspension order was also given to Professor Pannian citing that his social media post ‘violated the university’s CCS Conduct Rules 1964 which warranted disciplinary proceedings against him’. The suspension order was later repealed by the university following a directive by the Kerala High Court. 

in March 2019, two Board members of CUK Dr Meena T Pillai and Dr PM Radhamany resigned after the university released a controversial circular which restricted PhD's students reasearch areas to those which have 'national prioriites'. The circular gained widespread flak from academic, public and political circles following which the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) stated that they had not issued any such guidelines to restrict PhD research areas. Speaking to TNM, Dr Radhamany had stated, "“Students should be given a free atmosphere to engage in their works genuinely, this unfortunately is not there in Central University of Kerala. Though my resignation was sparked by the circular which denied opportunity for students to do research freely, this is also against the general intervention of some ideologies in the higher education system of the country,” she said.

Speaking to TNM, HOD-in-charge Dr Vellikkal Raghavan stated that the univeristy's English and Comparitive Studies department already teaches 16 Dalit texts as part of core courses for the 2nd and 4th semesters. 

"CUK is the university with the highest number of Dalit texts being offered within the country. Our department is very inclusive of all dalit and alternative discourses and we do not have savarna faculty members in our department. The texts we teach as part of core courses range from Dalit activist Meena Kandasamy's works, Poykayil Appachan's poems, BR Ambedkar's Annihilation of Caste etc. Besides this, as HOD there are certain time-bound procedures we need to follow while allotting courses to professors. The said professor had delayed writing in his preferences by more than 2 days," Dr Raghavan told TNM. 

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