Statement from the Indian Writers Forum on Sheldon Pollock

Sheldon Pollock (Right) with T. V. Venkatachala Sastry
Photo courtesy

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 editor of the Murthy 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 of 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
- Gulammohammed Sheikh
- Uday Prakash
- Ranjit Hoskote

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