Malak Bhatt 0

Petition against OUP India's role in the Ramanujan Essay Controversy by Members of University of Oxford

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To, Chief Executive Officer, Oxford University Press Great Clarendon Street Oxford OX2 6DP Dear Sir, We are members of Oxford University who are troubled by Oxford University Press-India's rather dubious role in the controversy surrounding Delhi University’s recent decision to drop A.K. Ramanujan's essay on the Ramayana, titled ‘Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation’. Ramanujan, an eminent scholar and poet, was the William E. Colvin Professor at the University of Chicago at the time of his death in 1993 and had a distinguished academic career which spanned many of the most prestigious universities in the United States of America. His contributions in a variety of fields relating to Indian literatures and cultures were recognised by the Indian government in awarding him the Padma Shri as early as 1976. The decision to drop his essay, which has led to significant debate in India on academic freedom, was taken by the academic council of Delhi University in opposition to the majority opinion of its own expert committee and, in the last analysis, in response to the potential for violent action among groups that consider the contents of the essay objectionable on religious and cultural grounds. OUP India is an independent regional branch of Oxford University Press, and consequently a department of this University. This fact is advertised prominently on its home page OUP India was named as one of the potential respondents in a legal case against the inclusion of this essay in the Delhi University syllabus. Before the beginning of any actual proceedings, OUP India voluntarily undertook to stop any further publication of the essay, writing to the group that threatened legal action, “neither are we selling the book nor there are any plans to reissue it.” In short, prior to any actual legal or political censure, let alone scholarly critique, OUP India has seemingly chosen to ignore its own standards for commissioned publications and abandon one of its better selling titles merely to pacify a group of individuals with questionable academic credentials who claim to be offended by the content of the essay. In the absence of demonstrable inaccuracies, out-dated research, inelegant writing or any such academic or editorial criteria, it is difficult to see the code of publishing ethics that dictated such proscription. One is left with the uncomfortable conclusion that the removal of the title was simply an attempt to “play it safe” by OUP-India. As a university press OUP India claims to be committed to the goal of “...[furthering] excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide.” Their actions as outlined above, however, run counter to the ethos of dissemination, debate and engagement with ideas of the highest quality that are the hallmark of institutions of academic excellence around the world, and the University of Oxford in particular. Indeed, rather than defending these values, basic to independent and academically thorough scholarship in any discipline, OUP India has effectively undertaken to block engagement with the work of one of the world's most respected scholars of Indian cultural traditions, for seemingly cowardly reasons. As a press charged with playing a role supportive of a vibrant academic atmosphere this is a particularly egregious violation of ethics on its part. Moreover, the silence of OUP-India through the debate about academic freedom that the essay has generated, including when it has been held culpable in some measure by distinguished scholars, has been deafening. As members of the University of which OUP forms a department, we wish to register our protest against OUP India's actions in this matter and insist on a clarification of its stand. We condemn any attempt to block publication of the essay by A.K. Ramanujan. We ask its parent body, OUP here in Oxford, to publicly mirror these sentiments at the actions of its Indian branch which run counter to its own stated goals. We further ask them to energetically pursue, through all avenues open to them, the possibility of getting OUP-India to clarify its position on the publication of the essay and to ensure that the Press and the University are not guilty of watering down their own standards of excellence in the face of opposition from fringe groups. Yours sincerely


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