Why Sheldon Pollock

Plates from Sheldon Pollock, "Ramayana and Political Imagination in India" The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 52, No. 2 (May, 1993), pp. 261-297
Plates from Sheldon Pollock, “Ramayana and Political Imagination in India” The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 52, No. 2 (May, 1993), pp. 261-297

The struggles at JNU are now reaching other institutions in India– the Lok Sabha, the courts, the media channels. Though, to be fair, the struggles at JNU were first troubles at University of Hyderabad, and before that at IIT Madras. Certainly, before that at Kashmir University. The world outside Delhi, Hyderabad, Madras, Srinagar has stood in solidarity with these struggles. Across South Asia, in UK, in America, hundreds of thousands have stood up, spoken, signed their names to be counted in the struggles. There are numerous vectors coinciding in this– anti-caste, pro-freedom of speech, pro-academy, anti-Modi and more. Sheldon Pollock, the Arvind Raghunathan Professor of South Asian Studies at Columbia University is one such supporter– having signed a petition for JNU. Presumably for this support, Pollock is now the target of a petition against him– demanding that he be removed from his editorial role at a series he founded. You can read about the petition here and a rebuttal from Dominic Wujastyk here.

Given that this petition is a publicity effort aimed at harassing a scholar, I was tempted to ignore it. However, as the news of this petition has circulated, I realized that people are largely unaware of both Pollock’s scholarship, and the history of why scholarship– such as his or Wendy Doniger’s– is consistently under attack by the Hindu Right parties. Unaware of either, I see the danger of people jumping to conclusions about the validity of the slur against Pollock or why it matters that we speak up for him. It is important, I think, that we properly contextualize the intellectual work of Pollock’s career but also the claims behind his detractors. This attack on Pollock has a genealogy, more precise and more general, than what is readily evident– the Hindutva Right has long targeted historical production on Indian past that was anti-caste, anti-communal or feminist, and it has long targeted Sheldon Pollock for articulating how political imagination frames historical thinking.

This is a struggle for the right to narrate–connecting JNU and Pollock. Pollock, too, is charged as an “anti-national” because slogans were reportedly chanted for Kashmir or Pakistan at JNU. The text of the petition requires that we see the Indian nationalist state as strictly Hindu, strictly masculine, and strictly aggrieved. The Petition’s effort to ask for “native” (read Hindu) Indologist has consumed Indian politics for a while now.

Today there is a call to #removemughalsfrombooks— and it perfectly encapsulates my contention. Books, written texts, need to be cleaned out; British histories, and colonial readings of Mughals eliminated; a Hindu history written in.

That history– written history– erased Hindu pasts is a long-standing argument of the Hindu right. M. S. Golwalkar, whom the Wikipedia notes is one of the inspirations for Modi and who was a founding member of Rashtriya Swayanmsevak Sangh (RSS), condemned textbooks in his 1938 pamphlet, “We, or Our Nationhood Defined”. The very first footnote begins:

It is interesting to note the colossal ignorance of Historians of the West, about ancient History. Every child in Hindustan knows that Ramayan is the work of the father of Sanskrit poetry Valmiki and the first piece of literature in Sanskrit. … Unfortunately such misconceptions are stuffed into the brains of our young ones through text books appointed by various Universities in the country. It is high time that we studied, understood, and wrote our history ourselves and discarded such designed or un-designed distortions

The child that naturally knows better than any “Historian of the West” is the child whose mind is later filled with distortions– distortions introduced by the same Historians via textbooks; textbooks taught in schools and universities.

I merely hint at the presence of this reading of textbooks at the heart of seminal RSS texts. The nationalist and anti-colonial struggles of those decades notwithstanding, textbooks became a primary site to war over the right to narrate in South Asia.1 In India, textbooks (and schools and universities and History) was a battlefield during the Ayodhya movement to replace Babri Masjid. At the forefront of that struggle were historians– Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib and many more– who published petitions, open letters, articles in defense of a better understanding of the past. Neeladri Bhattacharyya, who was himself involved with the NCERT, wrote a full account of this struggle in his “Teaching History in Schools: the Politics of Textbooks in India2:

The narratives of the Hindu right are constructed around two parallel, yet contradictory, claims: one, that Hindus have a pure Aryan descent, the other, that Hindus are the original inhabitants of India. Only through such claims could the Muslims be represented as outsiders, foreigners who came and imposed their oppressive rule in India. But such an argument could only be made through a series of other assertions. If Hindu descent was to be traced back to the Aryans, and if they were to be presented as the original inhabitants, then it was not possible to accept that Aryans came from outside, or that they were pastoralists, or that there were flourishing local cultures within India before the coming of the Aryans. Within this narrative, the Indus valley civilization (also termed Harappan civilization, from Harappa, the first of its cities to be excavated) could not be celebrated and seen as pre-Aryan at the same time. It had to be presented as contemporary with Vedic times (when the sacred Hindu texts were written), or, part of the Aryan culture.

As the Hindu right consolidated from the mid 1970s, the secular textbooks became a target of persistent attacks. The secular historians were condemned as anti-Hindu, keen on sanitizing Muslim wrongs, erasing their misdeeds. The newspaper columns of the Hindu right suggested that these secular historians should migrate to Pakistan, and settle in a Muslim country. Many of the authors regularly received anonymous letters and death threats. In 1977, after the emergency years, a coalition of parties came to power in New Delhi. Under pressure from the right within the coalition, one of the first measures of this government was to withdraw these NCERT school books from circulation – an act that led to widespread protests. In 1999, when the Hindu right came to power at the centre, the textbooks were once again the site of intense controversy. ‘Objectionable passages’ from the books (especially any that referred to beef-eating in Ancient India) were deleted as hurtful to Hindu sensibilities.7 Then the textbooks themselves were withdrawn and a new set of texts introduced – texts which for the first time actually contained many of the communal ideas that till now had only circulated in the popular press or been taught in communal schools.

Neeladri Bhattacharya, a Professor at JNU, has long been a member of this struggle and JNU a long-standing site where this struggle is enacted. In 2007, I remember Professor Bhattacharya’s visit to University of Chicago where he presented this paper. In attendance were Professor Muzaffar Alam, Wendy Doniger and others. The University of Chicago’s South Asian Languages and Civilizations department had also long been a site of struggle to write Indian pasts.

Sheldon Pollock was faculty at University of Chicago when he published, in 1993, his essay “Ramayana and the Political Imagination in India” (Journal of Asian Studies). Pollock’s essay was a direct response to BJP’s rathyātra in 1990 and the riots that followed. Led by Advani this journey through north India’s sacral sites had a distinct purpose of invoking a past to frame contemporary calls for the destruction of Babri Masjid. Pollock, a renowned philologist and Sanskritist, opened the essay with Advani to set forth his intellectual question3:

It is the symbology of these events that I want to examine in what follows. For whatever ideological cohesion the BJP secured, and the primary impetus for political mobilization– in the name of a Hindu theocratic politics and against the Muslim population– derived in large part from the invocation of specific set of symbols: the figure of the warrior-god Rāma, his birthplace temple in Ayodhyā, and the liberation of this sacred site. … There is a long history to the relationship between Rāmayaṇa and political symbology (p.262)

Pollock then provides precisely that history– of how the text and political imagination coalesce in the eleventh to fourteenth century around different imperial formations. The essay, truly a masterpiece in South Asian historiography, bears some attention here. I will skip Pollock’s recreation of how the past was remembered, and Rama interpellated, in those pasts, to concentrate on his last section where he brings us to why the struggle was on the domain of history itself. In that section– Historicist Intervention– he begins:

If the adoption of the Rāmāyaṇa to process the events of the eleventh to fourteenth centuries suggests a complex interplay of culture and political power, equally complex is the problem of the present with which I started, the reappropriation of this imaginary in contemporary India. And, indeed, all that I’ve recorded seems to have little directly to contribute to this question, to making sense of the display of cultural symbols in the pursuit of political objectives in contemporary India. There are at least two questions here, both difficult to answer: What possible relationships, if any, can be posited between the reemergence of Rāma– the Rāma of L.K. Advani of the BJP– and an earlier political semiotics of Rāma– the Rāma, say, of Pṛthvīrāja III? And what does it mean to seek to intervene in the present via an archeology such as I have presented; what is the role of history in the current contention? (p. 288)

The critique Pollock presents pivots on the foundations of objectivist history, Hegel’s “historical History”, which Pollock writes:

bears a substantial measure of responsibility for the reactionary politics and the romantic historicism driving them for the past century, in Europe as well as Asia. Ayodhyā would hardly have assumed the dimensions of the present problem were it not for the scientized historicity itself (objectified in such texts as the archaeological reports and colonial gazetteers constantly cited by the parties to the dispute) and the pursuit of origins it delusively inspires. (emphasis added, p. 292)

For Pollock to counter BJP’s utilization of sacral symbols, in 1993, was to present the construction and social function of history’s political imagination. Pollock followed up with influential texts, The Language of the Gods in the World of Men: Sanskrit, Culture and Power in Premodern India (2006), and set the agenda for a new historically situated world philology, “Future Philology? The Fate of a Soft Science in a Hard World” (2009).4.

Since 1993, Pollock has remained a target for the Hindu Right in the US, especially for Rajiv Malhotra and his Infinity Foundation. Malhotra, and his various foundations, target Wendy Doniger and Sheldon Pollock as being “Historians of the West” whose works introduce “distortions” into the minds of the “Hindu child”. Malhotra’s long effort to criminalize and ban Doniger for introducing “perversity” into Sanskrit is now moved into criticizing Pollock as a Swadeshi Orientalist.

Malhotra relies on a vast array of listserv-driven, twitter-fueled, IT-based Hindu diaspora community that writes petitions, emails, and denounces these scholars. In 2014, Malhotra began targeting Pollock over his efforts to strengthen the teaching of Sanskrit at Columbia.

On January 17, 2016, Malhotra published his call to arms, again, to target Pollock– on his blog, “Why Sheldon Pollock is a very important Indologist to engage“. Malhotra cites as a particular target, “the most prestigious feathers in his cap”, the Murty Classical Library. This attack is thus, by design and plan, and it is aimed to both boost Malhotra’s own books and rile the twitterati against a scholarly target. At his behest, and follow Malhotra’s twitter feed to see this in real action, the desh-bhakts take aim at Pollock’s position at the Murty Classical Library.

It bears stating, without too much exaggeration, that Harvard University Press’ Murty Classical Library is one of the most important and consequential projects for South Asian pasts. As Pollock was quoted in NYT’s cover on the launch last year, “The Murty will offer ‘something the world had never seen before, and something that India had never seen before: a series of reliable, accessible, accurate and beautiful books that really open up India’s precolonial past'”.

Pollock’s vision for the project is clear from that 1993 article itself. Why put new, scholarly secure, Indic texts in the hands of everyone who wishes for them? What effect does a direct access to critically edited and produced text, and its English translation have on contemporary reader? At its most basic, it reveals the space within which the political imagination operates. The MCL will, or does, have volumes from Buddhist, Sufi, Bhakti, Vedic, Courtly pasts from Tamil, Sindhi, Prakrit, Marathi, Apabhramsha, Sanskrit, Persian, Punjabi, Telegu, Pali, Old Hindi. These scripts, as they defuse through the social, will create a set of new readers who shall have the power to articulate their political as textually grounded not merely historicist. The valorization of Sanskrit as the language of Gods is precisely to remove it from our world– to envelop it in gloss.

The textbook is one particular gloss. A critical absence in education, visible to me from Pakistan and from United States, is the availability of primary Indic texts, available in English. For a student to understand the social function of a given text, it is incumbent that they articulate their way through that text– that they directly experience its structure, its texture, its illusions and its narrative. Pollock’s 1993 essay remains a classical example of such articulation. In my estimation, the greatest impact of Murty Classical Library will be felt precisely in the classroom.

I am a student of Sheldon Pollock and a graduate of University of Chicago. I am now a colleague of his at Columbia. While I was in Berlin, I worked, alongside other colleagues, to launch a project Zukunftsphilologie which built upon and situated Pollock’s work in German academy. I write today to support my teacher and colleague, and to acknowledge that his intellectual and institutional contributions have shaped the study of South Asia in this present century. No number of signatories to any petition can un-write that fact.

———
  1. In Pakistan, textbooks were sites of forgetting and erasures, whether of Hindus, Bengali, Baluchi or Sindhi. Some historians– mainly Mubarak Ali and K.K. Aziz– tried to combat such erasures but the state of Pakistan in the 1970s and 1980s carried out a whole scale erasure of history programs– and historians– and that battle was quickly over. []
  2. Neeladri Bhattacharya, “Teaching History in Schools: the Politics of Textbooks in India” History Workshop Journal(2009) 67 (1): 99-110 []
  3. I should note that Pollock was joining a large number of Indian social scientists and historians who had been writing on the issue of Babri Masjid since the mid 1980s. For an overview, see Gyanendra Pandey, “Modes of History Writing: New Hindu History of Ayodhya” Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 29, No. 25 (Jun. 18, 1994), pp. 1523-1528 []
  4. The project to understand the “pursuit of origins” remained unfinished; though I am hoping Cynthia Talbot’s new book The Last Hindu Emperor: Prithviraj Chauhan and the Indian Past, 1200-2000 and my forthcoming book re-starts that conversation []

University of Virginia’s Statement of Solidarity for JNU

We, the undersigned students and faculty at the University of Virginia, stand in solidarity with the staff, students, and faculty at Jawarharlal University (JNU), New Delhi. We share the outrage of citizens around the world who are aggrieved at the Modi government’s criminalization of student protest and dissent. Further, we are extremely concerned by the government’s cavalier suppression of dissent as ‘sedition’ and ‘anti-national’. Freedom of speech and expression are cornerstones in any democracy. Citizens’ rights to express a plurality of beliefs and contrary opinions are essential to enabling a free, tolerant, and just society. We thus condemn the arrest, detention, and prosecution of students, including Kanhaiya Kumar (President of JNU Students Union), who have exercised this fundamental right on the JNU campus.

We also condemn the state’s wanton use of police and legal powers to subdue the rights of students to gather peaceably and debate their political beliefs. We are concerned that the persecution of students at JNU is galvanized by the state’s general repression of minorities, most notably evidenced in the tragic suicide of the Dalit student Rohith Vemula at the University of Hyderabad and the controversial execution of Afzal Guru. We value the resilience of the members of the JNU community who are now in the midst of the struggle. We also recognize the ties between the crackdown at JNU and other similar virulent state actions against some of India’s most excellent institutions of higher education: Jadavpur University, Kolkata; the University of Hyderabad; Film and Television Institute of India; and others. JNU’s preeminent reputation in India as an institution that fosters path-breaking scholarship, social activism, and critical thought is truly global. It is our hope that this statement of solidarity, by reaching across boundaries, affirms the exalted regard with which JNU is held in the international community of scholars.

In order to ensure that JNU can carry on with its educational mission, we urge the Government of India to remedy the situation immediately. To this end, we ask that the students arrested under false charges of ‘sedition’ be released immediately, that all charges against them be dropped, and that police incursions into campus activities cease. We call on the Vice Chancellor of JNU to uphold the university’s global reputation for safeguarding free and independent thought by protecting its most vulnerable members and students.

Founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819, the University of Virginia aspires to extend universally the rights of equality, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness imagined by its founder. Even so, UVA continues to face its own struggles against discrimination based on race, class, religion, gender, and sex. It is in the name of these struggles on our own historic Grounds that members of this university find it urgent to speak out in solidarity with JNU and against the suppression of minority voices in India.
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Statement of Support with JNU from Colorado College

We, the undersigned at Colorado College, are writing to express our solidarity with the students, faculty and staff of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). We condemn the BJP government for ordering the police to suppress peaceful expressions of dissent by JNU students and for arresting the JNU Student Union President Kanhaiya Kumar on false charges of sedition and criminal conspiracy. Furthermore, we condemn the investigation of Umar Khalid and five other students in order to file similar charges. We believe that the charges against Mr. Kumar and the others are fraudulent and demand that they be dropped immediately. We also demand that the police withdraw from the university campus and desist from filing false charges against the other students.

It is apparent to us that the arrest of Mr. Kumar and the police actions on the JNU campus, including constant surveillance by plainclothes officers, are part of a broader campaign by the ruling party and organizations affiliated with it to take control of India’s public universities in order to suppress critical thought and political dissent on campuses all over India. Prior to the events at JNU, the government had suppressed student protests at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) and put pressure on the university administration at Hyderabad Central University to expel Mr. Rohit Vermula, a talented and thoughtful PhD scholar who was also active in the Ambedkar Students Association. As a result, Mr. Vermula committed suicide. Over the past week, student residences at JNU have been raided by the police and various student groups have been placed under surveillance. In addition to police violence, faculty and students of JNU have been subjected to a vicious campaign of slander and prejudice by the mass media. JNU students and faculty who had gone to attend Mr. Kumar’s hearing at the High Court were physically assaulted by lawyers and other individuals associated with the ruling party. From all accounts, the attacks were carried out with the connivance of the police. We not only condemn these attacks, we also demand that the Delhi police should withdraw from the JNU campus and that the Indian government desist from its campaign of harassment of students, faculty and staff at universities throughout the country.

Based on the accounts that we have read, it is clear that the legal case against Mr. Kumar is false and that the colonial era law of sedition is being used to silence students who are critical of the Hindu nationalist government and its idea of India as a Hindu nation. Indeed, we believe the use of the sedition law and the deployment of state machinery to suppress political dissent on university campuses and elsewhere in India is designed to normalize the ruling party’s commitment to Hindu majoritarianism. In other words, we believe that these actions by the government are but one part of a larger project to undermine the Indian Constitution’s commitment to equality and freedom.

As scholars and students, we believe that the right to freedom of speech and assembly and to dissent are essential to the pursuit of knowledge and contribute to a flourishing democracy and to a more just and equal society. Indeed, the JNU community and students and faculty of other Indian universities who have peacefully assembled and protested in solidarity embody the very qualities of citizenship that are essential to a vibrant democracy like India’s. We stand by the students and faculty who have been unjustly targeted in this vicious campaign against academic freedom and against their right to critically engage with problems of inequality and injustice in India and to protest against the Indian government’s policies. In this spirit, we urge the Vice Chancellor of JNU to support the students by keeping the police out of the campus and we demand that the government cease its campaign against the students.
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Statement of Solidarity from members of Cornell University in support of the JNU students’ movement

We, the undersigned members of Cornell University strongly condemn the arbitrary, unconstitutional, and anti-democratic actions which have been taken against the students of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in India. We demand an immediate end to all police action on campus, a withdrawal of all frivolous charges against the President of the JNU Students’ Union, Kanhaiya Kumar, and an end to the campaign of harassment and intimidation against students at the university.

That Kanhaiya Kumar is being held on account of sedition, a product of an archaic and colonial-era law (IPC 124A), is shocking and abhorrent. The existence and validity of this law in India has been called into question time and again. This incident reinforces the need to reconsider its continued existence in the Indian constitution.

The agenda of the present Indian government to create a homogeneous discourse of nationalism that privileges an upper caste, Hindu, male worldview is particularly worrisome. There has been a pattern of marginalization and suppression of minority views and dissent. The deliberate targeting of Umar Khalid, and other students as ‘anti-national Muslim terrorists’ is in keeping with the agenda of the state to create and fight false enemies. This is a dangerous trend and completely antithetical to the democratic and secular ethos that India stands for.

There has been an attempt to brand all students and faculty of JNU as anti-national. This is creating an environment of terror. People are getting arrested and beaten because they look like JNU students, and there is continuous presence of a violent mob at the JNU gates. There have been violent attacks on JNU faculty, reporters, and Kanhaiya Kumar inside the Patiala House court complex, not once but twice, with the police standing by as silent spectators. In addition, the sexual harassment of women protesters (both students and faculty) is repugnant and highly condemnable.

We believe that universities are places of debate, discussion, and dissent for people belonging to various backgrounds and ideologies. This attack on the students of JNU is an attempt to stop any kind of political discourse and discussion in university campuses and among students in India. This is in line with a pattern of state repression that has been visible in other Indian campuses like the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), University of Hyderabad, and most recently in Jadavpur University. We stand in solidarity with the ongoing students’ movement in JNU to protect campus democracy, autonomy, and the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression. We admire the teacher-student solidarity in JNU in the the wake of these protests, and are inspired by it. We extend our wholehearted support to this struggle against state repression in academic spaces.  Continue reading “Statement of Solidarity from members of Cornell University in support of the JNU students’ movement”

In Solidarity With The Dissenting Student Community In India: A Statement From Australia

As academics, students, writers, artists and activists from Australia, we condemn the use of oppressive power by the Indian state, its police, and Hindu fundamentalist groups to shut down voices of dissent emerging from within public universities in India.

We join the international community in extending our support to the students, faculty and staff at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Hyderabad Central University (HCU) and many other public universities, who have been courageously protesting the overreach of state power and brutal stifling of dissent, carried out in the guise of majoritarian Hindu nationalism (Hindutva).

Students at JNU and HCU have been targeted for opposing the death penalty awarded to Afzal Guru and Yakub Memon, convicted for “terrorism” by the Supreme Court of India. Students’ opposition to the death penalty – an act of violence carried out by the state to assert its sovereign might – has been manipulated by the state, university administrators, and irresponsible media reports, to be understood as their support for “terrorists”, and thus considered treasonous. The labelling of student activists as “anti-national” by invoking the draconian law on sedition (a legacy of British colonial rule), is a blatant attack on academic freedom. These attacks have been orchestrated by the BJP regime to strike fear among citizens who question its practices of anti-minority religious hate mongering and xenophobic propaganda. HCU student Rohith Vemula was suspended and driven to suicide because of the way the university administration and the state intimidated and threatened him. These attacks on students and free speech are not aberrations or sudden spurts of violence. Rather, they are part of a pattern of attacks on every idea and expression that does not pander to fascist Hindutva ideology.

We deplore the attack on journalists, students, academics and activists by the lawyers at the Patiala House Court premises. The silence and inaction of the police in controlling this situation only testify to the state’s complicity in these events. We are appalled by the jingoistic and prejudiced reporting by some media channels to vilify JNU student activists Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid.

We endorse the demands made by the protesting students, staff and faculty at JNU and HCU. We demand: a) the immediate release of the Kanhaiya Kumar, President of the JNU Student Union, and Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya; b) that the Bar Council of India enquiry into the attacks on journalists and protestors in Patiala House Court be carried out without political manipulation; c) that there should be no further intimidation and arrests of student activists for carrying out peaceful protests; d) the government must preserve the autonomy of universities and de-militarise campuses.

We acknowledge that our solidarity is being extended from territory occupied by a settler colonial state. We also acknowledge that the Indigenous peoples who have not ceded their sovereignty, own this land. This acknowledgement is a necessary precondition for building transnational solidarity against governments – like those in India and Australia – that use democracy and national security as alibis for legitimising their everyday violence.  Continue reading “In Solidarity With The Dissenting Student Community In India: A Statement From Australia”

Statement of Solidarity with JNU: from the community of New York University, New York

We, the signatories to this statement, stand in solidarity with the student and faculty protests at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Student liberties, as well as the right to free speech protected in the Indian Constitution, were irreparably damaged by the State-sanctioned police action on the JNU campus, and the unjustified arrest of the student union President, Kanhaiya Kumar on the grounds of sedition. This is a grave charge reserved only for the active incitement of organised violence against the State, and one that was entirely inappropriate in the present circumstances.

We condemn the rhetoric of hate that has labeled protesting students as “anti-national”, “parasites on public money” and “terrorists”. We believe that the State has been unwilling to accept dissent through dialogue and open discussion on issues that it has been unsuccessful and irresolute in handling with justice and dignity. We see the attack on JNU to be an integral part of the larger processes — both implicitly and now explicitly facilitated by the government — of threatening and attacking university campuses across the country, and attempting to establish an intolerant, casteist, and fundamentalist regime which brooks no debate nor dissent. The institutional harassment and death of the Dalit PhD Scholar, Rohith Vemula at the University of Hyderabad, the violent attacks on the students of the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune, the Maharaja Sayaji Rao University, Baroda and Jadavpur University, Kolkata (to name a few) have all been indicative of the rising intolerance for any kind of dissent against the Right-wing, Hindu fundamentalist government.

We are deeply disturbed at the opportunistic subversion of the judicial process following the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar, by the physical attacks on students and journalists conducted by lawyers, and by the public discourse surrounding the incident especially in certain television news channels and social media. The mass bloodlust present in the communal rhetoric against student leaders like Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid is shameful and erodes any semblance of progress that any civilised society should aim for. It is alarming how any efforts at changing how things work that do not emerge from within the government or its allies, is treated with suspicion and rendered illegitimate. As students, teachers and civil society members committed to ideas of social justice, we condemn the use of archaic laws that threaten the democratic space that universities must offer.

Recognising what is happening in India is not arising out of a socio-political vacuum, but is finding resonances all over the world, we oppose the growing intolerance for student liberties and stand against the systematic State-orchestrated persecution of free thinking students and their allies.

We, the students, faculty and members of the larger NYU community, stand by fellow students and colleagues at JNU in this immediate struggle and promise solidarity in the larger struggle against injustice and intolerance, and in upholding the ideals of a true democracy. Continue reading “Statement of Solidarity with JNU: from the community of New York University, New York”

Statement of Solidarity with JNU from members of Yale University

We, the undersigned members of Yale University, strongly condemn the recent actions of the Indian Government and the Delhi Police in curbing freedom of speech, violating civil rights and stifling dissent. We condemn the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar, a student at Jawaharlal Nehru University, on charges of sedition, and condemn the use of this archaic colonial law which has no place in a functioning democracy. We condemn the attempt of the State to restrict free speech, particularly on a university campus, and endorse the rights of all Indians to exercise their freedom of speech as protected under the Indian Constitution. Finally, we condemn the continuing inaction of the Delhi police with regard to the assaults on Indian citizens inside the premises of the Patiala House Court. Not only did they stand as mute witnesses while the assaults took place, but they have also failed to move against the perpetrators of the violence, including members of the bar, despite video and audio recordings of the events being in the public domain.

We noted with grief the suicide of Rohith Vemula, a Dalit student at the University of Hyderabad who was accused of being ‘anti-national’ and subsequently ostracised, and the repression of protests led by the students of the Film and Television Institute of India. As lawyers, students and scholars from India, the United States of America and other parts of the world, we stand with the students of Jawaharlal Nehru University, and support their right to an academic environment that is free of violence and enabling of dissent. We endorse the rights of all students and citizens to engage in political action and speech. We urge the Vice Chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University, the Government of India and the Delhi Police to take steps against those who have perpetrated acts of violence against students, journalists and bystanders in Delhi. We call on them to ensure that Indian citizens may exercise their freedom of speech and their right to disagree and agree with each other, without fear of arrest or assault. Continue reading “Statement of Solidarity with JNU from members of Yale University”