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

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

The perpetual millennial quest for self-expression just got another boost

Making adulting in the new millennium easier, one step at a time.

Having come of age in the Age of the Internet, millennials had a rocky start to self-expression. Indeed, the internet allowed us to personalise things in unprecedented fashion and we really rose to the occasion. The learning curve to a straightforward firstname.surname@___mail.com email address was a long one, routed through cringeworthy e-mail ids like coolgal1234@hotmail.com. You know you had one - making a personalised e-mail id was a rite of passage for millennials after all.

Declaring yourself to be cool, a star, a princess or a hunk boy was a given (for how else would the world know?!). Those with eclectic tastes (read: juvenile groupies) would flaunt their artistic preferences with an elitist flair. You could take for granted that bitbybeatlemania@hotmail.com and hpfan@yahoo.com would listen to Bollywood music or read Archie comics only in private. The emo kids, meanwhile, had to learn the hard way that employers probably don’t trust candidates with e-mail ids such as depressingdystopian@gmail.com.

Created using Imgflip
Created using Imgflip

And with chat rooms, early millennials had found a way to communicate, with...interesting results. The oldest crop of millennials (30+ year olds) learnt to deal with the realities of adolescent life hunched behind anonymous accounts, spewing their teenage hormone-laden angst, passion and idealism to other anonymous accounts. Skater_chick could hide her ineptitude for skating behind a convincing username and a skateboard-peddling red-haired avatar, and you could declare your fantasies of world domination, armed with the assurance that no one would take you seriously.

With the rise of blogging, millennial individualism found a way to express itself to millions of people across the world. The verbosity of ‘intellectual’ millennials even shone through in their blog URLs and names. GirlWhoTravels could now opine on her adventures on the road to those who actually cared about such things. The blogger behind scentofpetunia.blogspot.com could choose to totally ignore petunias and no one would question why. It’s a tradition still being staunchly upheld on Tumblr. You’re not really a Tumblr(er?) if you haven’t been inspired to test your creative limits while crafting your blog URL. Fantasy literature and anime fandoms to pop-culture fanatics and pizza lovers- it’s where people of all leanings go to let their alter ego thrive.

Created using Imgflip
Created using Imgflip

Then of course social media became the new front of self-expression on the Internet. Back when social media was too much of a millennial thing for anyone to meddle with, avatars and usernames were a window into your personality and fantasies. Suddenly, it was cool to post emo quotes of Meredith Grey on Facebook and update the world on the picturesque breakfast you had (or not). Twitter upped the pressure by limiting expression to 140 characters (now 280-have you heard?) and the brevity translated to the Twitter handles as well. The trend of sarcasm-and-wit-laden handles is still alive well and has only gotten more sophisticated with time. The blogging platform Medium makes the best of Twitter intellect in longform. It’s here that even businesses have cool account names!

Self-expression on the Internet and the millennials’ love for the personalised and customised has indeed seen an interesting trajectory. Most millennial adolescents of yore though are now grownups, navigating an adulting crisis of mammoth proportions. How to wake up in time for classes, how to keep the boss happy, how to keep from going broke every month, how to deal with the new F-word – Finances! Don’t judge, finances can be stressful at the beginning of a career. Forget investments, loans and debts, even matters of simple money transactions are riddled with scary terms like beneficiaries, NEFT, IMPS, RTGS and more. Then there’s the quadruple checking to make sure you input the correct card, IFSC or account number. If this wasn’t stressful enough, there’s the long wait while the cheque is cleared or the fund transfer is credited. Doesn’t it make you wish there was a simpler way to deal with it all? If life could just be like…

Created using Imgflip
Created using Imgflip

Lo and behold, millennial prayers have been heard! Airtel Payments Bank, India’s first, has now integrated UPI on its digital platform, making banking over the phone easier than ever. Airtel Payments Bank UPI, or Unified Payment Interface, allows you to transfer funds and shop and pay bills instantly to anyone any time without the hassles of inputting any bank details – all through a unique Virtual Payment Address. In true millennial fashion, you can even create your own personalised UPI ID or Virtual Payment Address (VPA) with your name or number- like rhea@airtel or 9990011122@airtel. It’s the smartest, easiest and coolest way to pay, frankly, because you’re going to be the first person to actually make instant, costless payments, rather than claiming to do that and making people wait for hours.

To make life even simpler, with the My Airtel app, you can make digital payments both online and offline (using the Scan and Pay feature that uses a UPI QR code). Imagine, no more running to the ATM at the last minute when you accidentally opt for COD or don’t have exact change to pay for a cab or coffee! Opening an account takes less than three minutes and remembering your VPA requires you to literally remember your own name. Get started with a more customised banking experience here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Airtel Payments Bank and not by the Scroll editorial team.