Over 250 Indian scholars and academicians on Tuesday expressed concern about Bharatiya Janata MP Harnath Singh Yadav’s question raised in Parliament about a Pakistani author’s book being taught in Indian educational institutes.

“Whether the Union government has taken cognisance of the fact that a book by [a] Pakistani author is being taught at Aligarh Muslim University, Jamia Millia Islamia or any other educational institution in the country and the language is derogatory to Indian citizens and also supports terrorism?” Yadav asked the Rajya Sabha last week. The question has been listed for Wednesday.

The Union government has directed the University Grants Commission to collect information on the matter, reported The Wire. The commission has written to all universities seeking details.

Question asked by BJP MP Harnath Singh Yadav in the Upper House. (Credit: Rajya Sabha website)

In a statement, the scholars and academicians said that the BJP MP’s questions can only be read as being “deliberately ambiguous”.

The signatories of the statement include Romila Thapar, Apoorvanand, Satish Deshpande, Partha Chatterjee, Ira Raja, Mary E John, Supriya Chaudhuri and Abha Dev Habib.

Noting that Yadav’s question does not name the author or the book, they wrote that this was not “simply an error”.

“For leaving the book unnamed allows the question to be read as suggesting that any book by any Pakistani author that might possibly be read as being ‘derogatory to Indian citizens’ and ‘supporting terrorism’ must not be taught in any Indian university; that teaching any such book will result in punitive action and perhaps criminal charges being lodged against teachers,” the statement said.

The signatories said that the letter by the University Grants Commission to all universities has turned the question “into a pretext to collect information on and place under suspicion all books by Pakistani writers discussed in Indian universities”.

The statement said that the “punitive threat” in the last part of the question seems to assume that the teachers who have assigned the book to students for reading agree with the text.

The academics stated that the teachers do not present texts, especially works of fiction or historical accounts, as if they were the gospel truth.

“It is more often the case that syllabi are made, especially in the humanities and the social sciences, to expose students to varied historical and cultural perspectives,” they said. “Our role as teachers is precisely to encourage students to discuss, question and learn about these perspectives, not to endorse or follow them uncritically.”

The statement said that cultural and historical texts in India contain images and references that various groups can find derogatory. But such content cannot be removed from texts used in teaching, they wrote.

“On the contrary, such images must be openly and critically discussed in the classroom, if only to think about them more seriously and hence avoid their habitual replication,” the statement added.

The scholars said that the students should be taught whatever seems insulting or derogatory. This, they suggested, should in turn be responded to with verbal argumentation rather than threats of censorship and violence.

“Any remark that is perceived by the listener as insulting or disparaging does not
necessarily constitute ‘terrorism’,” the statement said. “Making such connections automatically is precisely the kind of thoughtlessness that education tries to undo. In fact, any education worth the name must teach students to be constantly attentive to the specificity of concepts, ideas, and

The statement also said that attempts to link central universities that have identifiably Muslim associations, such as Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia, with terrorism must be resisted.

“We truly hope that Rajya Sabha members and everyone who understands the critical role of education in the future of a country will take some time to think about the issues we have raised above,” the academics said.