Letter of Protest by Scholars and Intellectuals Against the Attack on Romila Thapar

[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.


Ranajit Guha

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



Janaki Nair

Praful Bidwai, Journalist, New Delhi

Arjun Dev,

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.