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'English literature not gone unchallenged'

Mangalore, Sep 22, 2013, DHNS; 14:42 IST
Representations of women in western literature were responsible for creating the model of the liberated female subject for the bourgeois Indian woman, opined New York University Global Distinguished Professor Dr Rajeswari Sundar Rajan.

She was speaking after inaugurating, "All Write," a two-day UGC sponsored national workshop on English for specific purpose organised by Department of English of St Agnes College at the College PG Centre in Mangalore.

"The disciplinary literary studies in India has for the most part focused on canonical British literature. The connections between the study of English literature and feminism in India are not far to seek, and they are not limited to the academy. The literary representations of an Antigone, a Nora Helmer or a Jane Eyre have led to the rallying cries for the emergent new Indian woman," said Dr Rajan.

Speaking on the relevance of English Studies, Dr Rajan pointed out that the anomalous centrality of the academic study of English literature in independent India has not gone unchallenged, nor has it led to the abolition of English departments.

A phenomenon that began in the 1980s as a flurry of conferences organised by English departments and edited volumes arising from them, began to articulate questions about the relevance of English studies, explore the histories of colonial education, recommend alternative texts, syllabi and pedagogical methods, identify the institutional constraints to change, or simply gripe – a phenomenon that might in hindsight be called the “crisis in English studies in India”.

This movement was closely linked to a burgeoning feminist consciousness and an active politics that were also becoming evident in some Delhi University colleges in the early 1980s, she said. The ferment paralleled developments in other urban university contexts in India at the time, in Hyderabad, Calcutta, Bombay, among others. The Emergency (1975-77), the constitution of civil rights groups, the anti-Sikh riots in 1984, as well as the prolonged strikes by Delhi University Teachers’ Association in 1983 and again in 1987, were among the events that catalysed thinking about the content of the humanities and social sciences in undergraduate colleges, said Dr Rajan.

It is a noted fact that BA honors programme in English literature is popular in the university for women students.

"The reason for this is not its incipient feminist content, but rather the softness of the option it represents in terms of academic value and professional opportunities," she said.

Presiding over the programme, College Principal Dr Sr Prem D'Souza advised students to take up writing. She also stressed on the importance of reading and said that it will help in the flow of ideas.

Programme Convenor Dr Gerlyn Pinto presented an overview of the seminar. 'Echo Research, a multidisciplinary journal,' was released on the occasion.

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