[Sent to the Library of Congress and released to the Press on 17 May 2003]
We are shocked at the letter of protest that is circulating in on the Internet against the appointment of Professor Romila Thapar as First Holder of the Kluge Chair in Countries and Cultures of the South at the Library of Congress, USA. Professor Thapar has been undoubtedly one of the most eminent Indian historians, whose prolific scholarly contribution has opened up new ways of looking at India’s past.
The petition shows an amazing lack of familiarity with Professor Thapar’s writings. Since the 1960s Professor Thapar has written powerfully against the colonial stereotypes that India had no past, no sense of time, and no historical consciousness. The petitioners attribute to her precisely those ideas that she has spent a lifetime battling against.
But clearly the problem is that Professor Thapar’s conception of Indian past is different from that of the petitioners. Professor Thapar has looked at a variety of cultural traditions in the making of ancient India. To the petitioners Indian past is monolithic, unified and unmistakably only Hindu. Those who disagree with this notion are accused of committing cultural genocide.
This is a not just a shocking intolerance of perceptual differences. It is a politics that seeks to silence critique, and battles for a notion of the past that is homogeneously Hindu. It is part of a wider attack that we are witnessing in India today against intellectual and artistic freedom, and against cultural plurality. In a political milieu where dissent is being regularly repressed through intimidation, this petition against Professor Thapar and the hate mails that accompany it, become particular cause of concern.
We strongly protest against this attack on Professor Thapar.
Professor T.N. Madan, Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi 110 007
Professor Sumit Sarkar, Dept of History, University of Delhi
Professor Partha Chatterjee, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta
Sheldon Pollock, Professor of Sanskrit and Indic Studies, University of Chicago
Dr Sudipta Kaviraj, School of Oriental and Afrcian Studies, London
Professor Gyanendra Pandey, Dept of Anthropology and History, John Hopkins University
Professor David Washbrook, St Antony’s College, University of Oxford
Professor Jayati Ghosh, Centre for Economic Studies, JNU, New Delhi
Professor Abhijit Sen, Centre for Economic Studies, JNU, New Delhi
Profesor Chandrashekhar, Centre for Economic Studies, JNU, New Delhi
Professor Madhura Swaminathan, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, India
Professor V. K. Ramachandran, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, India
Rashmi Paliwal, Ekalavya, Bhopal, Madhaya Pradesh
Shohini Ghosh, Reader, MCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi
JAVED ANAND, Bombay
Praful Bidwai, Journalist, New Delhi
Indira Arjun Dev
Jean Dreze, India
Tejaswini Niranjana, Centre for the Study of Culture and Society, Bangalore
Ashish Rajadhyaksha, Centre for the Study of Culture and Society, Bangalore
I. Mohan Krishna, Independent film-maker, Hyderabad
Dr David Hardiman, Dept of History, University of Warwick.
Dr. Satish Deshpande, Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi University
Professor Bina Agarwal Institute of Economic Growth,
Professor Patricia Uberoi, Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi 110 007
Dr Francesca Orsini, University Lecturer in Hindi, University of Cambridge
Dr Lata Mani, Independent Scholar. USA
Ahmer Nadeem Anwar, Sri Venkateswara College
Bhaswati Chakravorty, Senior Assistant Editor, The Telegraph
Professpor Dhruv Raina, JNU, New Delhi
Paromita Kar, Sr Sub-editor-cum-reporter, The Statesman, Kolkata
Dr Vijay Prasad, Trinity College, Hartford, CT, USA
Professor Rajeev Bhargava, Dept of Political Science, University of Delhi
Mala Dayal, Ravi Dayal, Ravi Dayal Publishers
and thousands of others. For the complete list, see South Asia Citizens Wire 3 June, 2003.