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Rebuttal to Removal of Sheldon Pollock as Mentor & Chief Editor of Murty Classical Library

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We note with sadness that a petition is being circulated to remove Prof. Sheldon Pollock as the Chief Editor of the Murty Classical Library. The petition has been signed by a large number of well-meaning people including several academics from the IITs and other prominent institutions. We the undersigned (please send us a note at pollock.rebuttal@gmail.com to be included here) believe that the petition is political, unfair to Prof. Pollock and without substance.

1. Political aspect of the petition: Prof. Pollock has been on the editorial board for the last six years and under his leadership the Murty Classical Library has already published 9 volumes of translations, only one of which is originally in Sanskrit (other languages include Punjabi, Urdu, Pali, Telugu, Old Hindi, and Avadhi). The scholarship underlying these translations is not being disputed in this petition. The petition has come into existence only after Prof. Pollock recently issued a statement in solidarity with the JNU students (see this article). There were no such petitions in 2009 when Prof. Pollock received President’s Award for Sanskrit and in 2010 when he received Padma Shri, both from the Government of India.

2. Unfairness: Prof. Pollock is a noted Sanskrit scholar who has devoted his career to the study of our ancient literature and culture. It is easy to misinterpret the titles of his articles if one does not read the article carefully (e.g., “Death of Sanskrit"). Some have cast him as a modern Macaulay in the petition when ironically he himself is so critical of Macaulay. Here is a quote from his 2012 lecture at the Heidelberg South Asia Institute titled “What is South Asian Knowledge Good For?”

A century before Weber, the English statesman Macaulay, author of the “Minute on Indian Education”—the longest minute in Indian history—denounced Indian languages as “useless,” with “no books on any subject which deserve to be compared to our own”; regarded as “exploded” all Indian sciences, “which, by universal confession, whenever they differ from those of Europe, differ for the worse”; spoke of India’s “false History, false Astronomy, false Medicine […] and false religion.”  If our understanding of “usefulness” and “truth” has grown substantially in the time since Macaulay and Weber; if we have learned that they are no longer to be judged by the metrics of colonialism and capitalist modernity, this is in no small measure thanks to centers like Heidelberg’s South Asian Institute."

Elsewhere in the same lecture he says: 

"If real education, as the sociologist Andrew Abbott once put it, consists in finding “many and diverse new meanings to attach to whatever events or phenomena we examine,” then to be educated at all we need, even desperately need, some awareness of the radically different meanings South Asians (and others of course) have offered to the world over the centuries and are still offering, real options in how people have lived and might yet live their lives: differences in social orders, political orders, aesthetic orders, even economic orders."

Do we no longer believe that scholarly points of view enrich our lives?

Petitioners seem not to have read the Heidelberg lecture; they supply a few sentences out of context. Had they spent more time they would have seen paragraphs such as the following that reflect Pollock's true gratitude to his field of study:

"I have been privileged to live my life amid this body of thought, and I have glimpsed, or thought I have glimpsed, a vast range of things I would otherwise never have known: relationships of culture and power, for example, that were nothing like those we know in the contemporary world of nationalism and imperialism; forms of vernacular life, such as language ideologies, that constituted, not a compulsion driven by ethnicity, but an accommodation to, literally, the particular ecologies of particular places; a cosmopolitanism that was voluntary rather than compulsory (like, say, Romanization), ethnicities that were fluid (if they existed at all), universalism that managed to co-exist with particularism."

3. Substance of the petition: We are unable to find any substantive points in the petition except an avowed desire to glorify the Indian past. The job of a scholar is not to glorify but remain true to the intent of the original texts.

Prof. Pollock is not a translator but the General Editor of the eminent board, that includes Monika Horstmann, Professor Emerita of Modern Indian Studies, Heidelberg University; Sunil Sharma, Associate Professor of Persianate and Comparative Literature, Boston University; and David Shulman, Renee Lang Professor of Humanistic Studies, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Each work of translation has separate translator(s) and Prof. Pollock is not among them. Some of the translators do come from an Indian origin.

What is further baffling to us is that the petitioners fail to understand that the Murty Classical Library is privately funded by Rohan Murty and it has already enriched our lives in a short time. No one is stopping other scholars, funded privately or by the Government of India, to publish alternative versions of these and other classics to further enrich our multilingual heritage.

It is saddening that this rebuttal has to be written in order to refute this petition.

Signed by:

Please send us a note at pollock.rebuttal@gmail.com to be included here.

  1. Arvind*, Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, MIT
  2. Gita Singh Mithal*, Arlington, MA
  3. Jayadev Misra*, Professor, University of Texas at Austin
  4. Mamata Misra*, Austin, TX
  5. Dev Goyal*, Arlington, MA
  6. Jitendra Malik, Professor of EECS, UC Berkeley

* Original author of petition

Other web resrouces: 

  1. The Wire - What the Petition against the Sanskritist Sheldon Pollock Is Really About.
  2. The Telegraph - Scholarly reply to Swadeshi - Citing JNU, academics target leader of landmark project.
  3. [Indology] Against the petition against Prof. Pollock
  4. How to really find a neutral person? Remember Positive Bias Is Dangerous, Too.

 

 



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Dev Goyal, IIT Kanpur India, MIT Cambridge USA needs your help with “Mr. Rohan Narayan Murty: Rebuttal to Removal of Sheldon Pollock as Mentor & Chief Editor of Murty Classical Library”. Join Dev Goyal, and 181 supporters today.