The Telegraph - February 3, 2008
PM daughter in Ramayan row
New Delhi, Feb. 2: Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayavati has asked the Prime Minister to ban a text recommended for Delhi University history students that allegedly contains objectionable references to characters in the Ramayan.
Mayavati made the written request to Manmohan Singh after the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the BJP’s student wing, protested in Delhi and Lucknow, claiming the contentious text was part of a book compiled by the Prime Minister’s daughter Upinder Singh.
Upinder Singh, a professor of ancient Indian history at DU, has, however, denied she had compiled the piece or recommended it to her students.
“I have absolutely nothing to do with this text. The contentious article is not written by me. Nor is there any book of mine which contains the article. I fail to understand why I am being linked to the text,” she told The Telegraph.
Sources close to Mayavati confirmed that the chief minister had not yet seen the “book”, but said her letter to the Prime Minister was motivated by concerns over law and order in her state.
The article — Three hundred Ramayanas: Five examples and three thoughts on translation — was written by the late scholar Attipat Krishnaswami Ramanujan in 1987.
The famous text — later used by several historians as reference — compares various versions of the Ramayan and the roles played by the main characters in the stories.
It has some references to Hanuman which the ABVP says are offensive. “This is a deliberate attempt to hurt the sentiments of the Hindu community,” said Niharika Sharma, the ABVP’s Delhi general secretary.
Asked why the ABVP was seeking a ban instead of allowing college students to debate the contents of a research publication, Sharma said the organisation was worried students would feel pressured to replicate Ramanujan’s version in their exam.
“If the article is taught, students will be expected to reproduce it in exams as well. In our education system, unless you write what is taught in class, you do not get marks. Hindu students will be forced to write something they do not believe in,” she said.
The ABVP has already sent memoranda to the DU vice-chancellor and the head of the history department seeking deletion of Ramanujan’s essay from the course.
“Upinder Singh has most definitely compiled a book with the objectionable text as a chapter. The book has not yet been published but we have a copy,” Sharma said.
The Prime Minister’s Office said there had been a misunderstanding as Upinder Singh’s name had been found in one copy of the text.
In Lucknow, Mayavati addressed reporters earlier in the day. “If it is true that the book contains distorted material, I am with the protesters.”
But a Mayavati aide sounded baffled by her reaction. “Mere apprehension of law and order getting out of hand cannot become the reason to seek a ban. We could have easily controlled the situation,” the aide said.
Political sources said Mayavati was afraid the BJP would use the text to whip up Hindu sentiments and resurrect memories of the Ram temple era.
“She is aware of the sentimental import the Ramayan has for Brahmins. Having weaned away Brahmin votes assiduously from the BJP, she doesn’t want to risk losing them so soon,” said a source.