A letter of protest

Published : Jun 20, 2003 00:00 IST

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 KulkeChair of Asian HistoryKiel University, GermanyDr. Philip LutgendorfAssociate Professor ofReligion and of Asian Languagesand LiteraturesUniversity of IowaProfessor Sumit SarkarDepartment of HistoryUniversity of DelhiProfessor Gyanendra PandeyDepartment of Anthropologyand HistoryJohns Hopkins UniversityFrancis RobinsonProfessor of the History ofSouth Asia in the Universityof LondonRoyal HollowayProfessor David WashbrookSt. Antony's CollegeUniversity of OxfordProfessor Jayati GhoshCentre for Economic StudiesJawaharlal Nehru UniversityNew DelhiProfessor Abhijit SenCentre for Economic StudiesJawaharlal Nehru UniversityNew DelhiProfessor C.P. ChandrashekharCentre for Economic StudiesJawaharlal Nehru UniversityNew DelhiProfessor V.K. RamachandranIndian Statistical InstituteKolkata, IndiaDr. David HardimanDepartment of HistoryUniversity of WarwickDr. Vijay PrashadProfessor Barbara Harriss-WhiteQueen Elizabeth HouseOxfordProfessor Neeladri BhattacharyaCentre for Historical StudiesJawaharlal Nehru UniversityNew DelhiProfessor Mushirul HasanDepartment of HistoryJamia Milia IslamiaNew DelhiProfessor R. ChampakalakshmiChennaiProfessor Sudharshan SeneviratneSri Lankaand more than 200 others

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

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