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A K Ramanujan Essays For Scholarships

Hasan Saroor reports in the Hindu:

Oxford University Press is under growing pressure to explain its role in suppressing A.K. Ramanujan's essay, “Three Hundred Ramayanas,” as the renowned indologist Sheldon Pollock and a number of other leading academics on Saturday joined the mounting outrage over its decision to stop publishing and selling the essay in India following protests from a right-wing group.

In a strongly-worded joint letter to Nigel Portwood, Chief Executive, OUP, U.K., they conveyed their “shock and dismay” at OUP India's action which, they said, was compounded by its abject apology in court to a group which had claimed that the essay hurt Hindu sensitivities.

“In addition, OUP India has, it appears, subsequently withdrawn from the market Ramanujan's Collected Essays, in which 300 Ramayanas also appears, and has assured Delhi University that it will not keep the book in print, a pledge that enabled the university's Vice-Chancellor to overrule his own committee who had argued for retaining Ramanujan's essay on the syllabus of the History department,” the letter says, referring to the controversy over Delhi University's decision to drop the essay from its syllabus under pressure from Hindutva groups

Oxford University Press is under growing pressure to explain its role in suppressing A.K. Ramanujan's essay, “Three Hundred Ramayanas,” as the renowned indologist Sheldon Pollock and a number of other leading academics on Saturday joined the mounting outrage over its decision to stop publishing and selling the essay in India following protests from a right-wing group.

In a strongly-worded joint letter to Nigel Portwood, Chief Executive, OUP, U.K., they conveyed their “shock and dismay” at OUP India's action which, they said, was compounded by its abject apology in court to a group which had claimed that the essay hurt Hindu sensitivities.

“In addition, OUP India has, it appears, subsequently withdrawn from the market Ramanujan's Collected Essays, in which 300 Ramayanas also appears, and has assured Delhi University that it will not keep the book in print, a pledge that enabled the university's Vice-Chancellor to overrule his own committee who had argued for retaining Ramanujan's essay on the syllabus of the History department,” the letter says, referring to the controversy over Delhi University's decision to drop the essay from its syllabus under pressure from Hindutva groups

Besides Prof. Pollock, Ransford Professor of Sanskrit and Indian Studies at Columbia University, the letter is signed, among others, by American Indologists Wendy Doniger and David Shulman; and historians Muzaffar Alam and Dipesh Chakrabarty. Prof. Pollock said the signatories also included former colleagues or students of Ramanujan. Among them were authors who had published with OUP.

“Ready for dialogue”

An OUP spokesperson said: “OUP is aware of the recent debate regarding the removal of an essay by A.K. Ramanujan ‘Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation' from an undergraduate reading list at the University of Delhi. We have not received a copy of this letter from Professor Pollock or indeed any other scholars who are co-signatories. We would welcome a dialogue with Professor Pollock or his colleagues on any matters concerning scholarly freedom, which is of central importance to Oxford University Press.”

It is understood that the letter would be formally sent to Mr. Portwood on Monday with a copy to OUP Delhi.

Pointing out that the Ramanujan case is “only the most recent in a series of shocking acts on the part of OUP India — including the suppressing or pre-censoring of scholarly books — that are inimical to the open exchange of ideas, the lifeblood of scholarship,” it says: “This situation cannot go unchallenged.”

The letter calls for the OUP to withdraw its court apology, publicly state that it is committed to the right of scholars to publish their work without fear of suppression or censorship, and demonstrate this commitment by reprinting Ramanujan's “Collected Essays.”

“If you are unwilling to do these things, and thereby effectively attempt to bury Ramanujan's book, we demand that you publicly relinquish all rights to his work and return them to the original copyright holders, so that this scholarship can be published by another press that understands the importance of freedom of expression, to say nothing of courage in the face of fanaticism,” it concludes.

Students' campaign

Meanwhile, Oxford University students have launched a campaign to press OUP to clarify its position arguing that OUP India's actions “run counter to the ethos of dissemination, debate and freedom of expression that are the hallmark of institutions of academic excellence around the world.”

They have been given to understand that the decision to stop publishing and distributing the essay was taken on “standard commercial” grounds as its sale had fallen to “negligible levels” and had nothing to do with external pressures.

Prominent South Asian academics including Ramachandra Guha, Philippe Roman Professor in History and International Affairs, London School of Economics, will speak on the politics and culture of non-state censorship in India in the context of the Ramanujan essay row at Oxford University next week.

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