educational politics

Writers hit out at 'ill-motivated' attempt to remove Sheldon Pollock as editor of Sanskrit series

Attaching ethnic origins to the acquisition of knowledge is divisive, reads statement signed by Romila Thapar, Nayantara Sahgal, Kiran Nagarkar and others.

Renowned writers and historians including Nayantara Sahgal, Romila Thapar, and Kiran Nagarkar on Thursday hit out at what they described a campaign by self-styled scholars and academics to have American Indologist Sheldon Pollock removed as editor of the Murty Classical Library of India.

The Murty Classical Library of India plans to translate ancient texts in several languages including Sanskrit, Telugu, Hindi, Bangla and Pali into English to make them accessible to a wider audience.

On February 26, a petition signed by 132 scholars and intellectuals, including professors from several Indian Institutes of Technology and government officials, had asked that Pollock be removed as general editor as he was not qualified for the job because he is not "deeply rooted and steeped in the intellectual traditions of India". The petition deemed Pollock's past lectures as being anti-India, and also criticised him for signing public letters that spoke against the Indian government in the ongoing Jawaharlal Nehru University row. More than 10,000 people have supported the petition.

Rohan Murty, the funder of the project, had earlier in the day taken a strong stand against the petitioners and insisted that Pollock would remain in the job.

A statement released by the The Indian Writers Forum, a public charitable trust started to safeguard and celebrate Indian cultural diversity, called the petition an ill-motivated attack. It said that attaching ethnic origins to the acquisition of knowledge was divisive and detrimental to the idea of scholarship.

Here is the full text of the statement:

We are worried and angered by the campaign by some self-styled scholars and academics to remove Sheldon Pollock, the well-known scholar on South Asian studies, as the General Editor of the Murty Classical Library of India Series. The academics in question seem to have misunderstood (or deliberately misrepresented) Pollock’s criticism of Western Universities that ignore South Asian knowledge traditions as a criticism of South Asian traditions.

Pollock has established himself as one of the finest Sanskritists and philologists, and his department in Columbia University has enhanced its reputation through its association with him. The petitioners say he is "culturally not rooted in the Indian tradition" as if those who are born in India are naturally endowed with an understanding of Indian knowledge systems and knowledge of Indian texts, and as if such knowledge cannot be acquired by someone who is not born here. 

We have examples of any number of scholars from the West who are among the tallest in their fields, whether it be the study of Kabir and Bhakti traditions, the Ramayanas, Kalidasa and Bhasa, Buddhism, the Vedas and Upanishads, or Indian poetics. Attaching ethnic origins to the acquisition of knowledge is divisive; it is also detrimental to the very idea of scholarship.

The petitioning academics complain that Pollock has signed certain petitions and statements “against the Government of India”. Such an argument – that showing solidarity with large numbers of intellectuals and academics in India in their criticism of a particular government action would make a person anti-Indian – would mean diminishing the support of world scholars including Noam Chomsky to the support of democracy in the JNU campus to being "anti-Indian". We condemn this ill-motivated attack on Sheldon Pollock and appeal to all concerned to ignore a protest orchestrated by vested interests.

K Satchidanandan

Romila Thapar

Nayantara Sahgal

Shashi Deshpande

Kiran Nagarkar

Shyam B. Menon

Githa Hariharan

Anuradha Kapur

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Tracing the formation of Al Qaeda and its path to 9/11

A new show looks at some of the crucial moments leading up to the attack.

“The end of the world war had bought America victory but not security” - this quote from Lawrence Wright’s Pulitzer-Prize winning book, ‘The Looming Tower’, gives a sense of the growing threat to America from Al Qaeda and the series of events that led to 9/11. Based on extensive interviews, including with Bin Laden’s best friend in college and the former White House counterterrorism chief, ‘The Looming Tower’ provides an intimate perspective of the 9/11 attack.

Lawrence Wright chronicles the formative years of Al Qaeda, giving an insight in to Bin Laden’s war against America. The book covers in detail, the radicalisation of Osama Bin Laden and his association with Ayman Al Zawahri, an Egyptian doctor who preached that only violence could change history. In an interview with Amazon, Wright shared, “I talked to 600-something people, but many of those people I talked to again and again for a period of five years, some of them dozens of times.” Wright’s book was selected by TIME as one of the all-time 100 best nonfiction books for its “thoroughly researched and incisively written” account of the road to 9/11 and is considered an essential read for understanding Islam’s war on the West as it developed in the Middle East.

‘The Looming Tower’ also dwells on the response of key US officials to the rising Al Qaeda threat, particularly exploring the turf wars between the FBI and the CIA. This has now been dramatized in a 10-part mini-series of the same name. Adapted by Dan Futterman (of Foxcatcher fame), the series mainly focuses on the hostilities between the FBI and the CIA. Some major characters are based on real people - such as John O’ Neill (FBI’s foul-mouthed counterterrorism chief played by Jeff Daniels) and Ali Soufan (O’ Neill’s Arabic-speaking mentee who successfully interrogated captured Islamic terrorists after 9/11, played by Tahar Rahim). Some are composite characters, such as Martin Schmidt (O’Neill’s CIA counterpart, played by Peter Sarsgaard).

The series, most crucially, captures just how close US intelligence agencies had come to foiling Al Qaeda’s plans, just to come up short due to internal turf wars. It follows the FBI and the CIA as they independently follow intelligence leads in the crises leading up to 9/11 – the US Embassy bombings in East Africa and the attack on US warship USS Cole in Yemen – but fail to update each other. The most glaring example is of how the CIA withheld critical information – Al Qaeda operatives being hunted by the FBI had entered the United States - under the misguided notion that the CIA was the only government agency authorised to deal with terrorism threats.

The depth of information in the book has translated into a realistic recreation of the pre-9/11 years on screen. The drama is even interspersed with actual footage from the 9/11 conspiracy, attack and the 2004 Commission Hearing, linking together the myriad developments leading up to 9/11 with chilling hindsight. Watch the trailer of this gripping show below.

Play

The Looming Tower is available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video, along with a host of Amazon originals and popular movies and TV shows. To enjoy unlimited ad free streaming anytime, anywhere, subscribe to Amazon Prime Video.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Amazon Prime Video and not by the Scroll editorial team.