Mumbai university yanks Mistry book

The University of Mumbai has removed Rohinton Mistry's 1991 novel Such a Long Journey from its syllabus after student protests.

Students object to Such a Long Journey over profanity, political references

A 1991 book by Canadian novelist Rohinton Mistry has sparked an uproar in India after students at a Mumbai university burned copies and got the book removed from the syllabus.

Students were protesting profanity and what they see as unjust portrayals of right-wing politicians in the award-winning novel.

When the university's vice-chancellor used emergency powers to pull the book from the syllabus, it resulted in a counter-demonstration this week by faculty and students in support of Mistry's book, which is now at the centre of a fierce censorship controversy roiling in Mumbai.

Now, the state government has promised to look into the university's ban after faculty members issued a formal letter saying the book was dropped without the appropriate process.

The faculty says the university's Board of Studies should have been convened to discuss whether Such a Long Journey could be dropped. 

The Governor General's Award-winning book, made into a film in 1998, was added to the university reading list four years ago.  

Such a Long Journey concerns the political turmoil of India during the 1970s, told through the story of a Mumbai bank clerk.

At the centre of the book ban is Aditya Thackeray, the 20-year-old grandson of the man who founded India's nationalist party, Shiv Sena.

In the book, Shiv Sena is portrayed as a party that uses violent tactics, implying that it can hire goons to rough up opponents.

Thackeray reportedly discussed the book's objectionable elements with fellow students at St. Xavier's College, affiliated with the University of Mumbai, triggering the protest.

Thackeray and his supporters also claim parts of the book are offensive, including sections that talk about male erections, scenes in brothels and one statement concerning the dabbawallas, a class of delivery men who carry lunch boxes to city workers.

'Undemocratic' action by vice-chancellor

The book was scrapped from the syllabus by the university's vice-chancellor, Rajan Welukar, after a meeting with Thackeray and members of the party's student wing, Bharatiya Vidyarthi Sena. 

On Wednesday this week, two dozen English teachers protested outside Welukar's office.

They also published a letter by the Bombay University College Teachers Union (BUCTU) condemning him for his action.

"The book has received recognition, acclaim and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for its literary work, characterization, satire and humour. But what is shocking to the teaching community is that you as V-C have taken recourse to an undemocratic approach."

Mistry was born in India in 1952 and moved to Canada in 1975.  His other novels include A Fine Balance and Family Matters. Each of his works has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize. He has also won two Commonwealth Writers' Prizes as well as the $15,000 US Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize for Fiction in 2002.