University bans Rohinton Mistry’s Such a Long Journey

I am the planet’s most lackadaisical blogger, but this made me angry enough to dash off a post NOW. The University of Mumbai has removed Rohinton Mistry‘s Such a Long Journey from its syllabus because of complaints that the book portrayed the Shiv Sena (a right-wing Indian political group) in a poor light. The originators of the complaint? The student wing of the Shiv Sena.

“Following complaints from some BA students about ‘anti-Shiv Sena passages’ in Rohinton Mistry’s 1990 Booker-nominated novel, Such A Long Journey, Aditya [grandson of Shiv Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray] convened a meeting of the students wing of his party at Sena Bhavan […]

Copies of the novel were burnt and a 24-hour notice was given to vice chancellor Dr Rajan Welukar to drop the novel from the second year syllabus.

The very next day the university cravenly bowed down to this demand and issued notices to all colleges dropping the novel from the syllabus, regardless of the fact that it was mid-term, and papers for the first semester were being set.” (From Mumbai Mirror) 

I don’t know where to begin.  Mistry is one of the foremost authors of our generation, notable as much for his humanity as his writing, and to have his work held to ransom by a group of ill-informed,  ill-opined thugs is as almost as maddening as the University’s decision to buckle. I don’t doubt for a minute that the concerned authorities were threatened and bullied into submission, but we are talking about a respected institution of learning here.  From their site: “The University of Mumbai (known earlier as University of Bombay) is one of the oldest and premier Universities in India. It was established in 1857 […]  and it is one amongst the first three Universities in India.” If they do not have the will or ability to resist, who does?

As a reader, as a writer, as a Mumbai-lover, as someone who respects the book and admires the author (who, incidentally, lives in a neighboring city), as someone who believes education is (or ought to be) fatal to bigotry, I am upset on more counts than I can keep track of. Damn. Just…damn.

UPDATE: Here’s Mistry’s response to the ban, including a gracious thank you to all those stood up for the book.

12 responses to “University bans Rohinton Mistry’s Such a Long Journey

  1. Such a shame. But then nothing the Shiv Sena or its breakaway organiation does surprises me any more.

  2. This is such a disgrace. I abhor any kind of censorship and in this case all I can hope for is that this will have the opposite effect of what was intended, and that at least some students will be curious enough to seek out the book and make decisions for themselves. I love Rohinton Mistry’s books, and so am particularly appalled that his book was picked for this.
    And oh, don’t worry, Niranjana – there is an even more lackadaisical blogger than you – me!!

  3. Wow, that is sad to hear of! I can’t believe that a university would capitulate like that. I hope they change their decision and keep the book.

  4. I have to plead a little ignorance here and wonder about the level of freedom of speech in India. I know I want the university to have reacted differently, but I’m in a different country. Could they have done more? Has there been further reaction to the book or to the author?

  5. @ Rayna: I sometimes think moving away from India has got to me reacting to stuff that’d be BAU there.

    @Kamini: Yes! I’m extra irritated because it is Mistry.
    And maybe we should give each other a lackadaisical blogger award🙂

    @Amy: I really doubt they’ll recant. It seems to be a fait accompli as far as I can see…

    @Edi: Not much more reaction that I’ve heard. I think one of the problems is that there are so many sensational issues dominating the news in a country like India that this sort of thing doesn’t get much media attention. A concerted and sustained outcry might have helped the University hold its ground.
    Re: freedom of speech–it’s guaranteed by law, but implemented selectively. I’d say in most cases, limiting access to books/ideas is seen as a necessary evil, for protests by aggrieved groups often turn violent. All very depressing to be sure.

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  7. wow kamini

    Don’t you think we should have satanic verses too in the syllabus as one of the landmark works on parallel reality?

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