TN university removes Arundhati Roy’s book after ABVP calls it ‘anti-national’

Many political leaders including DMK MP Kanimozhi condemned the university’s decision to drop the book, saying a society’s pluralism will be destroyed.
Arundathi Roy book Walking with the Comrades
Arundathi Roy book Walking with the Comrades
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Tamil Nadu’s Manonmaniam Sundaranar University has removed Arundhati Roy’s book ‘Walking with Comrades’ from its syllabus based on a request from the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), RSS’s student wing. The announcement came out on Wednesday, around a week after the ABVP submitted a petition seeking the removal of the book.

‘Walking with Comrades’ by Arundhati Roy forms part of the additional reading material for students studying in the third semester in MA English Literature at Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, Tirunelveli. It is recommended under the ‘Commonwealth Literature’ elective and has been a part of the university’s syllabus since 2017. The book, according to its publishers Penguin Random House, is a non-fiction account of ‘a little-known rebel movement in India’. “Deep in the forests, under the pretense of battling Maoist guerillas, the Indian government is waging a vicious total war against its own citizens-a war undocumented by a weak domestic press and fostered by corporations eager to exploit the rare minerals buried in tribal lands. Roy takes readers to the unseen front lines of this ongoing battle, chronicling her months spent living with the rebel guerillas in the forests. In documenting their local struggles, Roy addresses the much larger question of whether global capitalism will tolerate any societies existing outside of its colossal control,” the Penguin Random House website added.

The letter sent to the university’s Vice Chancellor by ABVP alleged that the book openly encourages the armed revolutions of Maoists against the nation. “It is saddening that this book has been in the syllabus for the last three years. For the past three years, Naxal and Maoist ideas were directly imposed on the students. The teachers also taught anti-national ideas as lessons to students. Since the book kindles hatred towards the nation in the minds of students, many students were subjected to stress,” the petition alleged.

Condemning the university management for adding this book ‘which promotes anti-national ideas’, the ABVP demanded an apology from the university and to remove the book from its syllabus. “ABVP will take this to the attention of the Ministry of Human Resource Development (now Ministry of Education) and organise several large protests if there is any delay in this,” the petition added.

Speaking to TNM about this, ABVP’s State Organising Secretary L Muthuramalingam alleged, “It was brought to our attention last week. We gave a petition to the university to remove the book from the list. We felt that it portrays the armed forces in a bad light, alleging that they are the reason for all the problems faced by the tribal people. We also felt that the book sows anti-national thoughts into the minds of the students and hence sought a ban on the book from the university syllabus.”

As soon as the VC received the complaint, a committee consisting of the Dean, the Board of Studies Chairman (who framed the syllabus with this book), the present Chairman of the Board of Studies and the Director of Academic Affairs was formed to examine the matter. “We had also received some oral complaints from a few members of the University Syndicate. The committee studied the matter and recommended that this book be removed from the syllabus since it has some objectionable content,” K Pitchumani, the VC of the university told TNM. He added that since the paper is an elective for students in the third semester of MA English Literature programme, it was not brought to the university’s attention for the last three years. “It has now been replaced with another book by Padma Shri-winning Naturalist Krishnan and these changes will come into effect immediately,” he said. 

The action by the university has sparked criticisms from political leaders too. Madurai Lok Sabha MP and CPI (M) leader Su Venkatesan, who is also a writer, condemned the university’s decision to drop the book from the syllabus. DMK MP Thamizhachi Thangapandian, who is a poet, also tweeted that this act of removing the book from the syllabus shows the authoritarianism of those in power. “If those in power decide what students should study, social justice, plurality and freedom of expression will become a question mark,” she said.

DMK MP Kanimozhi, a poet, also tweeted her opposition to the university’s decision. “When ruling power and politics decide what is art, literature and what students should study, a society’s pluralism will be destroyed,” she tweeted. 

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