Indian academics demand removal of American scholar from Harvard Sanskrit project – Rishi Iyengar

Rohan Narayana Murty & Sheldon Pollock

Rishi IyengarThe petition cites, as another reason for his removal, Pollock’s signature on two statements condemning the Indian government’s recent handling of a controversy at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, where students were charged with sedition under a colonial-era law for allegedly shouting ‘anti-India’ slogans.” – Rishi Iyengar

Sanskrit Palm LeavesA renowned American scholar on India and its ancient language Sanskrit has become the target of dozens of the South Asian country’s academics, with over a hundred of them floating an online petition to remove him as editor of a prestigious Harvard University Press book series on Indian languages.

Sheldon Pollock, the current Arvind Raghunathan Professor of South Asian Studies at Columbia University, should be barred from helming the Murty Classical Library of India—an ambitious effort to translate works in ancient Indian languages into English—due to his opposition to Hindu nationalist perspectives, the petition argues.

It has been authored and endorsed by 132 Indian professors, and so far has been signed more than 13,000 times.

In what many say is a disconcerting sign of India’s increasing Hindu nationalism under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the petition also cites, as another reason for his removal, Pollock’s signature on two statements condemning the Indian government’s recent handling of a controversy at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, where students were charged with sedition under a colonial-era law for allegedly shouting “anti-India” slogans.

“It is crystal clear that Pollock has shown disrespect for the unity and integrity of India,” the petition claims.

The Indian academics also take offense to the fact that Pollock is an American, referencing Modi’s “Make in India” campaign (an effort to increase homegrown manufacturing) as a justification.

“The project must be part of the “Make in India” ethos and not outsourced wholesale to American Ivy Leagues,” the petition says.

Several academics expressed consternation at the petition but also fear speaking out against it within the current environment, Washington D.C.-based education website Inside Higher Ed reported.

“I deplore these attacks on my colleague,” Wendy Doninger, a prominent Hinduism expert at the University of Chicago, whose work has been similarly attacked in the past, was quoted as saying.

“The whole situation both in India and among the American Hindu diaspora worries me greatly,” she added. – Time, 2 March 2016

» Rishi Iyengar is a reporter for Time magazine in Pune.

Murty Classical Library of India

8 Responses

  1. Infosys money is made with usa contracts. that’s why he is lobbying for them. Being a brahmin he should be the custodian of our great knowledge wealth. He will be cursed. his generations will be cursed.


  2. Both Pollock and Wendy Doniger are white racist, anti-Hindu devils.


  3. Top U.S. Scholar Embroiled in India’s Battle for Tolerance – Rishi Iyengar – Time – 3 March 2016

    Top American scholar Sheldon Pollock will continue to lead a prestigious Harvard University project that translates Indian classical texts into English, despite an online petition calling for his ouster, the project’s sponsor Rohan Murty said Wednesday.

    Murty, a Harvard alumnus who donated $5.2 million to his alma mater to set up the Murty Classical Library of India in 2010, said Pollock — an eminent India expert and scholar of the ancient Sanskrit language — will continue to oversee the library for “many years to come,” the Economic Times newspaper reported.

    “It is quite rich to sit in the peanut gallery, pass comments and throw empty shells at those who are actually rolling their sleeves up and working on the ground,” Murty, 33, told the Times.

    The petition — endorsed by 132 Indian professors and signed by more than 13,000 people — was addressed to Murty and his father, Infosys founder N.R. Narayana Murthy, and called for Pollock’s removal. It cited the scholar’s opposition to Hindu nationalist ideas and his recent criticism of the Indian government as reasons.

    Many say the petition is emblematic of growing intolerance under Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, an issue in the limelight after students at Jawaharlal Nehru University, a top Indian university, were charged with sedition for allegedly shouting “antinational” slogans.

    The petition cited Pollock’s signature of a statement of support for JNU as justification for his ouster, leading Murty to question its timing since the Columbia University professor has been in charge of the library for six years.

    “What stopped any of these people from getting in touch with me [earlier]? Not one single person came forward, which is incredible,” he said.


  4. First thing that an Indologist or a western sanskrit scholar should know is Indian psyche.We keep politics separate from religion and our daily chores. That is how Indians could work in offices having different castes, cultures, ethnics and races comfortably. The mughals and the british administer India smoothly because of that. An academician should not involve in political matters unnecessarily. Politics is a serious matter and it takes lot of time and energy. So an academician cannot devote his time to scholarly studies. But our Universities have become a safe haven for part time politicians who comment on anything and anybody hiding under FoE. This should change. Please remove that politician masquerading as a sanskrit scholar. Now a days we see lots of moles helping our opposition by lending a voice from foreign shores. It is pathetic.


  5. I have heard the gentleman during the Jaipur Literature Festival. Also heard another gentleman who had translated the RamCharitraManas as part of the Murthy efforts. Both are great. Foreign or Indian if it helps expand the Horizon it ought to be welcomed.


  6. Don’t be so dumb, BT!

    The article is copied from Time magazine. We cannot change the wording or content of the original author Rishi Iyengar.


  7. your written “Wendy Doninger, a prominent Hinduism expert….” plz note she is a Anti Hindu and read her books and activities how both of them systematically destroying the Hindu Traditions. So plz don’t write she is a Hindu Expert, we have better expert then her in Villages.


  8. Hermeneutics of suspicion (from Wikipedia)

    “Regarding Sanskrit, Pollock has been described as pointing ‘an accusatory finger at the language, highlighting its function as a purveyor of forms of authority that are culturally and ethnically exclusive, benefiting the few at the expense of the many.’ Thus Pollock is described as ‘contributing to the hermeneutics of suspicion that has become influential in Hindu Studies.'”

    Pollock belongs to the “Sanskrit is a dead language” school. He is not a sympathetic or fit person to mentor and edit the Murty Classical Library of India.

    But the root problem lies with the Murt(h)ys themselves. They have made their billions in India using Indian labour and talent, but then they donate millions abroad to foreign universities and employ hostile, Hinduphobic foreign scholars for their projects. Very unfortunate for India that it produces such deracinated unpatriotic industrialists!

    The Murty Classical Library project would have been an ideal project for the revival of Sanskrit studies in some Indian university.


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