“Most academicians at Delhi University are feeling betrayed by their own fraternity, the reason — the Academic Council's recent decision to drop from the history syllabus a celebrated essay by the late scholar and linguist A. K. Ramanujan on the Ramayana, despite intense opposition from the history department.
“The essay, ‘Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five examples and three thoughts on translations,’ which forms part of the B.A. History (Honours) course, had attracted the ire of Hindutva activists because it talks about 300 different versions of the Ramayana that abound in our country and beyond. And when the decision to scrap the course was put to vote at the Academic Council meeting this past Sunday, only nine of the 120 members present dissented.
“‘This is definitely not an academic decision but a glaring example of an academic institution succumbing to pressure from the Right wing. The council has severely compromised on its standards and has conveyed to our students the message that only the ideology that is supported by the majority will be accepted,’ said AC member Rakesh Kumar, who was one among the nine to express a dissenting opinion against scrapping of the essay.”
On the Ramayanas Affair by Mukul Dube (Mainstream, November 5, 2011):
“It is a fact that there are hundreds of versions of the Rama-Sita-Ravana story. In some, Rama and Sita are not a married couple but are siblings. In others, Ravana is not an evil demon but a pious scholar-king. Folklorists know that stories are often modified in the course of geographical dispersion. For example, a folk tale of Delhi featuring a frog and a crocodile, might in Agra or Aligarh be the very same but with a rabbit and a wolf as its chief characters.”
“Are the Rama-Sita-Ravana chronicles stories spun and re-spun by human beings or do they represent historical fact?”
Silencing Ramanujan (Akhond of Swat blog, October 12, 2011)
“The real problem lies in the way Ramanujan began his essay: ‘How many Ramayanas? Three hundred? Three thousand? At the end of some Ramayanas, a question is sometimes asked: How many Ramayanas have there been?’
“It took me some time to understand why this idea might be so threatening, because the way we were taught to deal with books or essays or ideas we didn’t like was the way put forward in the great epics: the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are filled with debate, with digressions into discussions of what exactly dharma might be. Most of us are intrigued by the multiple versions of the Ramayana—the feminist version, the rough, bawdy village versions, Nina Paley’s elegant cartoon version, they all have their place.
“But if you live in a climate of intolerance, a book that questions the tenets of faith and offers a provocative re-imagining of a religious text might be considered so blasphemous that its author will be persecuted for years (The Satanic Verses). A novel that highlights an inconvenient part of the history of contemporary India, speaking openly of corruption in the Prime Minister’s office and the slow stirrings of narrow-mindedness in a once-great city will be erased from the college syllabus [Rohinton Mistry’s] (Such a Long Journey). Ramanujan’s great essay on the tradition of many Ramayanas threatens those who would prefer one version, their version, and so it is removed, and his voice is silenced.”
And see this interview with historian Romila Thapar:
The richness of the Ramayana, the poverty of a University (The Hindu, October 28, 2011)