A letter of protest

Print edition : June 20, 2003

Following is the text of a letter of protest by scholars and intellectuals against the Hindu right-wing attack on Romila Thapar [17 May 2003]:

We are shocked at the letter of protest that is circulating 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 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 a particular cause of concern.

We strongly protest against this attack on Professor Thapar.

Signatories: Professor Hermann Kulke Chair of Asian History Kiel University, Germany Dr. Philip Lutgendorf Associate Professor of Religion and of Asian Languages and Literatures University of Iowa Professor Sumit Sarkar Department of History University of Delhi Professor Gyanendra Pandey Department of Anthropology and History Johns Hopkins University Francis Robinson Professor of the History of South Asia in the University of London Royal Holloway Professor David Washbrook St. Antony's College University of Oxford Professor Jayati Ghosh Centre for Economic Studies Jawaharlal Nehru University New Delhi Professor Abhijit Sen Centre for Economic Studies Jawaharlal Nehru University New Delhi Professor C.P. Chandrashekhar Centre for Economic Studies Jawaharlal Nehru University New Delhi Professor V.K. Ramachandran Indian Statistical Institute Kolkata, India Dr. David Hardiman Department of History University of Warwick Dr. Vijay Prashad Professor Barbara Harriss-White Queen Elizabeth House Oxford Professor Neeladri Bhattacharya Centre for Historical Studies Jawaharlal Nehru University New Delhi Professor Mushirul Hasan Department of History Jamia Milia Islamia New Delhi Professor R. Champakalakshmi Chennai Professor Sudharshan Seneviratne Sri Lanka and more than 200 others

(For more details on the Hindu right-wing campaign against Professor Thapar's appointment to the Kluge Chair, see

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor