The suppression of A.K. Ramanujan’s essay

Oh good god. I didn’t even know about this one until I saw a mention of it yesterday. It was more than two years ago, and it’s the same damn thing.

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“In addition, OUP India has, it appears, subsequently withdrawn from the market Ramanujan’s Collected Essays, in which 300 Ramayanas also appears, and has assured Delhi University that it will not keep the book in print, a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.

I see no sign that OUP undid the suppression.


  1. kevinalexander says

    Detractors of the idea of democracy who dismiss it as mere mob rule can point to India for justification. Taslima is right, politicians so desperate for votes that they can’t grasp the necessity of free speech to the process of democracy will doom the thing itself.

  2. Gordon Willis says

    What do we do? Do we stop buying OUPs and Penguins till poverty drives the shareholders to recant? Whatever happened to free speech and democracy? Whatever happened to academic research and discussion? Is it a good book or isn’t it? Does it say true things well said or is it just what the others would prefer us to read? However are OUP going to maintain serious academic credentials if they cave in to politics?

  3. Omar Puhleez says

    “…politicians so desperate for votes that they can’t grasp the necessity of free speech to the process of democracy will doom the thing itself.”

    This it seems to me is much the same sort of process or effect that took hold in the west as the Roman Empire contracted and the ‘Dark Ages’ of economic and cultural stagnation (5th-10th C AD) set in. Learning shrank to little pockets of light, which one by one went out. Then all that was left of the classical intellectual tradition was a few monasteries in Ireland.

    Barbarian invasions can take many forms. But destroying, burning, censoring and controlling are basic to them all.

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