Thursday, April 2, 2020

In India, intellectuals muzzled by Hindu nationalists

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Posted today at 1:03 p.m., updated at 1:25 p.m.

The letter arrived on July 12, 2019. The recipient is not not just anyone. It’s Romila Thapar, 88, considered India’s greatest historian and archaeologist, the author of more than 20 books. Globally recognized, she received the title of Professor Emeritus from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi in 1993, two years after her retirement. At the origin of the missive, the administration of this same university, asking him for his curriculum vitae so that a committee can "Assess his work and decide on the maintenance of his status as professor emeritus".

The historian refused. In her response to management, she explains that this status was awarded to her for life and in an honorary capacity on the basis of her past work. "Merit is not written on CVs, and it cannot be undone with a pencil stroke, she comments today, eight months after the injunction, sitting on the terrace of her New Delhi home. This story has no meaning, it just shows what current power thinks of intellectuals. " Professor emeritus of theoretical physics Ramamurti Rajaraman, 80, has received an identical request: Jawaharlal Nehru University has decided to abruptly change the rules and introduce a procedure for evaluating any emeritus professor aged over 75 years old.

Graffiti expressing the student revolt on the walls of Jawaharlal Nehru University, in New Delhi, December 16, 2019. Ishan Tankha

Since coming to power in 2014, Narendra Modi and Hindu nationalists have waged a relentless war against Indian intellectuals, academics, writers, journalists, activists and artists. The purge started precisely at the JNU, where Romila Thapar taught. The establishment, located on a huge campus in the south of the Indian capital, was founded in the 1960s by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. A place of elite training, reputed to be on the left, this university has long represented a model enjoying an international aura: a space for debate, freedom of expression and a center of excellence in the humanities.

"Destroy the humanities"

“Students were taught to think for themselves, independently. This is what is intolerable for the ruling party and the nationalists, says Mme Thapar. And that’s why they’re doing everything to dismantle the JNU. " " As a matter of fact, she continues, it’s not so much the JNU that they want to destroy as the social sciences and the humanities. The target is students, teachers and researchers in these disciplines. Because in India, there are no right-wing intellectuals: this is a specificity of this country. "

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