DU English Department Proposes to Replace ‘IndianWriting in English’ with ‘Caste and Literature’ in UG English Honours Course Core Papers

By: Prerna Malhotra

There apparently seems no academic rationale in scrapping the compulsory paper Indian Writing in English altogether from the core papers of curriculum of BA Hons. (English) of the Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) and replacing it with Caste in Literature. This proposal has been made by the syllabi revision sub-committees of the Department, which is going to place it before the GB of English teachers for approval on the 23rd May 2018.

It is to be noted here thatthe Department of English of the University had constituted some sub-committees for revision of the Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) syllabi of English being taught at under graduate level in various Colleges of the University.  The criteria of formation of such sub-committees raises questions on transparency of the inclusion of members. The selection of content and its extent to be scrapped or revised too is arbitrary.

The Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) was introduced by the UGC in 2015 for undergraduate courses throughout the universities of the country. The main objective was to provide choice and mobility to students in terms of courses and institutions and to bring about uniformity in the course structure across the Universities of the country. Another feature of the CBCS structured syllabi has been that it was mandated to be ‘learner-centric’ as it had criticised the pre-CBCS systems of being ‘teacher-centric’. A model syllabus was framed and individual universities were given freedom torevise and restructure their courses upto thirty percent of the course syllabi once in three years, if so required.

With reference to the same flexibility provided in the guidelines of the CBCS, the Department of English of the University Delhi has initiated the process of revision of the undergraduate syllabi of BA Honours (English) and BA/B.Com./ B.Sc. (Prog)/ (Hons) papersbeing taught by the Departments of English across various Colleges of the University.

The details of the proposed revised syllabus, to be put before the Governing Body of the teachers of English scheduled for 23rd May 2018, have shocked some teachers and students of English.‘Indian Writing in English’ has been one of the standard papers of the curriculum of the undergraduate course in English literature in the University of Delhi in the annual and semester mode of teaching and examination.  This paper covers the range of the entire gamut of writing in English by Indian writers and translation of Indian writers’ works in English. RK Narayan, Nobel laureate Rabindra Nath Tagore, Raja Rao, Anita Desai, Kamala Das, Nisim Ezekiel, Mulk Raj Anand, Salman Rushdie, Shashi Deshpande, Amitabh Ghosh, BR Ambedkar, Meenakshi Mukherjee and other names have been there in the syllabi in the pre- andpost-semester mode of this core paper of English Honours course.  Indian English, Indian English literature and its readership, themes and contexts of Indian English poetry, modernism in Indian English literature, etc. have been some of the suggested topics for background prose readings for class presentations required in the paper.

In a way, the content of the paper has been vast enough to provide students an overall idea of Indian English literature (Colonial and post-Colonial literature) as it tried to touch upon the entire spectrum.

However, in the proposed revised syllabus for the undergraduate courses, as shared by the Department, the above paper has been completely scrapped and proposed to be replaced with a completely new paper ‘Literature and Caste’. The revised core paper will have entirely explicit focus on only one undercurrent of hierarchical social stratification and structural inequalities.

The course aims at facilitating deeper understanding of caste and its inter-sectionalities in the classroom. With this objective, the literature related to caste from all parts of the country has been included in the course curriculum of the proposed compulsory paper, Literature and Caste.

Apparently, the proposed revised paper is too skewed and narrow and does not cover the richness of the body of English literature in India as compared to the paper which it proposes to replace. If the revision is accepted by the competent bodies of the University, it will deprive students of English literature of the understanding of vastness of Indian English Literature as they would study just a skewed and inadequate aspect of Indian English literature.

The CBCS is the mother of student-centric educational reforms in higher education. It mandated the curriculum to be learner-centric but the learner seems to be at the receiving end in thesyllabus structuring process. No review of the ongoing syllabus has been done,specifically, no feedback taken from the real stakeholders, the students. It seems that, by making the process of revision of courses completely teacher-centric (as has been the case in the pre-CBCS system), the idea and spirit of the CBCS has been completely defeated.

As per the UGC document on the CBCS, a University can revise and restructure up to 30% of the syllabus. What criteria of measurement of the percentage in revising syllabi has been followed by the Department of English in UG syllabus revision?

Moreover, students of English literature study caste, along with race, gender and other specific units in another paper, which includes writings by BR Ambedkar and JyotiraoPhule.

The Department of English of the University should also avoid changing nomenclature of some language based papers, like the Ability Enhancement Compulsory Course (AECC) without taking feedback from the stakeholders.

If the proposed revision of curriculum is approved, the English literature graduates will have no idea of English Literature in India. Already there has been less literature and insufficient focus on Indian literature, with the proposed revision, it will altogether be gone. It would prove to be an undesirable and diminutive effort to cut short and twist the extensiveness of the Indian English and the University must not let happen so by approving it.

(The writer teaches English at Ram Lal Anand College, University of Delhi.)

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