2016 petition to remove Sheldon Pollock from Murty Classical Library
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A petition initiated by Indian scholars demanded that Sheldon Pollock be removed from the editorship of the Murty Classical Library of India. In a response, Rohan Murty made clear that Sheldon Pollock will continue his position for years to come.
Course of events
The Battle for Sanskrit
In his 2016 The Battle for Sanskrit Rajiv Malhotra refers to the Murty Classical Library as an example of Indians collaborating with and funding American scholars, thereby aiding the spread of a secularized and critical approach to the Indian traditions.Template:Sfn Malhotra criticizes Pollock for his critical scholarly methodologies, which are not being lead by a religious point of view, and uses a political philologyTemplate:Refn which unearths "social abuses in the texts (against dalits, women, Muslims) as the predominant quality of those texts". According to Malhotra, Pollock takes an activist stance, calling "his peers to expunge the Sanskrit tradition of its inbuilt oppressiveness." Malhotra rejects these approaches, regarding them as a "bias" which threaten traditional approaches of Sanskrit texts, although most Hindus, even scholars, are "largely unaware of what he has written." Although Malhotra did not read any of the translations of the Murty Classical Library, he supposes that the MCL incorporates the same critical scholarly approaches.
After the publication of The Battle for Sanskrit a petition initiated by 132 Indian scholars and signed by 16,000 people from all around the workd, demanded that Pollock be removed from the editorship of the Murty Classical Library of India.Template:Refn The petitioners include Madhu Kishwar (CSDS, Delhi), V Kutumba Sastry (President, International Association of Sanskrit Studies), Makarand Paranjape (Department of English, JNU), N Gopalaswami (former Chief Election Commissioner), K. Ramasubramanian from Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, Ramesh C. Bhardwaj, Head, Department of Sanskrit of University of Delhi, Kapil Kapoor, former Pro Vice Chancellor, JNU, New Delhi, Ganesh Ramakrishnan, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay. According to the petitioners, the project should be carried out by people who are "deeply rooted and steeped in the intellectual traditions of India" and they should also be "imbued with a sense of respect and empathy for the greatness of Indian civilization."
In contrast, the petitioners claimed that Sheldon Pollock Template:Quote
The petitioners further stated that Sheldon Pollock is not politically neutral, being a "prominent signatory of several statements which are of a purely political nature and devoid of any academic merit." According to them, "those statements have condemned various policies and actions of the Government of India. He has shown utter indifference and disrespect for democratic values and even the international norms of non-interference in the internal functioning of constitutional representative institutions in other countries." In particular, Sheldon Pollock is also Template:Quote
The statements in question were raised against the arrest of the JNU Students' Union President Kanhaiya Kumar in the 2016 JNU sedition controversy, on charges of sedition after allegedly raising anti-national slogans. The petitioners find it therefore Template:Quote
The petitioners further raised concerns that "the sentiments and understanding of the millions of Indians who practice these traditions" should not be violated, and therefore the translators should be "deeply rooted and steeped in the intellectual traditions of India," and "also need to be imbued with a sense of respect and empathy for the greatness of Indian civilization."
The petitioners also ask for a "written set of standards and policies for the entire project, pertaining to the translation methodologies, historical assumptions and philosophical interpretations that would be used consistently in all volumes." These historical assumptions include "the posture adopted towards the "Foreign Aryan Theory" and other such controversial theories including chronologies."
The petitioners quoted from Pollock's speech What is South Asian Knowledge Good For?.Template:Refn According to Indologist Dominik Wujastyk from University of Alberta, Pollock in this speech argued the opposite of what the petitioners implied. He defended the relevance of these knowledge systems, rhetorically asking if there were "any decision makers" who did not deem Asian knowledge systems to have lost their relevance.
According to Rohan Murty the petition "distorted" Sheldon Pollock's stance on the relevance of India's "unique knowledge systems" and implied that he had a "deep antipathy" for India. Murty reportedly forwarded the full text of the 2012 lecture to The Telegraph, according to which Pollock argues that "the special, unique knowledge systems developed in India, mainly recorded in Sanskrit, are of great value, and that this fact is not recognised by "universities and foundations" who, like Macauley and Weber, think that Indian knowledge systems have been superseded by Western ones." Pollock, on the contrary, thinks that Template:Quote
Rohan Murty made clear that Sheldon Pollock will continue his position, saying that the library will commission the "best possible scholar for that particular language. We will not judge on nationality, gender, race, creed or colour." He further questioned the intentions of the petitioners, noting that none of the petitioners had tried to contact him for the past six years. Template:Quote He challenged the petitioners to point out any problem in a "single book we published," "in which line or page," "in what context," and "why."
In a further Op-Ed in The Times of India, Murty called Sheldon Pollock an "extraordinary scholar" who "works tirelessly to create the most exacting scholarship possible." He also pointed out that Pollock had trained under several Indian scholars and he was well-qualified to produce high quality and faithful translations. He disagreed that the classical Indian scholarship should be the sole purview of Indians.
In an email-response at the Indology Discussion Forum to Wujastyk, K Ramasubramanian from Indian Institute of Technology Bombay and M. D. Srinivas from ICHR wrote that Wujastyk remained silent on their main concern, namely the signing by Sheldon Pollock of two statements which "do not condemn the protesters who called for the dismemberment of India and abused the Supreme Court of India for "judical killing"." According to them, Pollock and the other signatories had "no respect for the unity and integrity of India which has been won after a long struggle of the Indian people against colonial rule."
Ramasubramanian and Srinivas state that Pollock's 2012 speech did not really condemn the prevalent view in western academia on South Asian knowledge systems, noting that they "do not even see Prof. Pollock expressing his deep shock or strong condemnation that such a Western supremacist view is prevalent in the exalted circles of Western academia."Template:Refn They maintain that Pollock does not really see a role for studying Indian knowledge except as a way to study "South Asian modes of making sense of the world".Template:Refn
They conclude their response stating that Wujastyk's "insinuation" that many signatories signed the petition presumably without having read and understood Pollock's work for themselves "borders almost on racial prejudice."
University of Heidelberg response
Scholars and friends of the South Asia Institute of the University of Heidelberg, where Pollock delivered the original lecture, signed a declaration expressing shock at the "deliberate misrepresenting" of Pollock's speech. The declaration stated that Pollock's speech highlighted the "importance and value of Indian traditions and knowledge systems," in contradiction to the claims made by the authors of the petition. "We regard it as our duty ... to work cooperatively with our Indian colleagues towards better understandings of each other," the declaration said.
Response by Rajiv Malhotra
According to Rajiv Malhotra, his book The Battle for Sanskrit played a crucial role in the petition, stating that "my recent book tour has been very successful and many who could not penetrate Pollock’s difficult-to-read works now have a door open to delve into his writings." Malhotra acknowledges that "the IITB petitioners made a technical error by citing one Pollock quote erroneously," stating that "they have my book, and it contains 100s of quotes they might have considered instead."
- thebattleforsanskrit.com, Rajiv Malhotra’s responses to questions from a Journalist
- '132 Indian academicians call for removal of Sheldon Pollock as general editor of Murthy Classical Library
- "Campaign for removal of Pollock from Murthy Library stepped up". http://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/campaign-for-removal-of-pollock-from-murthy-library-stepped-up-116030301248_1.html.
- Pro-JNU Statement Spawns Petition For Ouster Of Sheldon Pollock As Editor Of Murty Classical Library, Huffington Post, 1 March 2016.
- "JNU student leader held on ‘sedition’ charges over Afzal Guru event". The Indian Express. 13 February 2016. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/afzal-guru-film-screening-jnu-student-leader-held-for-sedition/.
- Mridula Chari, Make in India and remove Sheldon Pollock from Murty Classical Library, demand 132 intellectuals, Scroll.in
- Nandini Majumdar, What the Petition against the Sanskritist Sheldon Pollock Is Really About, The Wire, 2 March 2016.
- Indrani Basu, Rohan Murty Has A Brilliant Response To Those Seeking Sheldon Pollock's Removal, The Huffington Post, 3 March 2016
- Basant Kumar Mohanty and K.M. Rakesh, Scholarly reply to Swadeshi - Citing JNU, academics target leader of landmark project, The Telegraph, India
- Newscrunch, Petitioners angry after Sheldon Pollock gets Rohan Murty support – may stay on as Murty Classic Library editor
- Divya Shekhar & Indulekha Aravind, Rohan Murty says American Indologist Sheldon Pollock to stay, The Economic Times, 3 March 2016.
- Sudha Pillai, It is always nice to disagree, but don't be disagreeable, Bangalore Mirror, 3 March 2016.
- "The classics belong to the world, and no one has exclusive rights - The Times of India". http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/sunday-times/all-that-matters/The-classics-belong-to-the-world-and-no-one-has-exclusive-rights/articleshow/51271000.cms?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=TOI.
- "[INDOLOGY [mullaikramas at gmail.com: Fwd: Against the petition against Prof. Pollock]"]. http://list.indology.info/pipermail/indology_list.indology.info/2016-March/042884.html.
- Declaration by members and friends of the South Asia Institute, Heidelberg University, University of Heidelberg, 1 March 2016.
- Malhotra, Rajiv (2016), The Battle For Sanskrit. Is Sanskrit political or sacred, oppressive or liberating, dead or alive?, HarperCollins India, https://books.google.com/books?id=4LOSCwAAQBAJ
- Pollock, Sheldon (2008), "Towards a Political Philology: D.D. Kosambi and Sanskrit", Economic & Political Weekly, JULY 26, 2008, http://www.columbia.edu/cu/mesaas/faculty/directory/pollock_pub/political_philology.pdf