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Open letter from overseas historians and social scientists to Modi and Intolerance


Modi’s silence worrying us too: Open letter from overseas historians and social scientists

It is a sad commentary on proclaimed traditions of tolerance an individual can be lynched for an alleged social transgression.

On October 26, a group of distinguished Indian historians issued a statement of concern about the damage being done in the current political climate to the traditions of tolerance, and freedom of speech, belief and practices, for which India was long applauded. We – historians and social scientists engaged in researching and teaching about the richness of Indian history and society in different locations overseas – write to express our solidarity with their statement. We share the deep concern over recent happenings in India, which are affecting freedom of artistic expression and historical and social science inquiry, and serving to produce a dangerously pervasive atmosphere of narrowness, intolerance and bigotry.

Currently reigning political attitudes and actions have seriously harmed the tradition of critical inquiry into the condition of India’s past and present that undergirded the country’s reputation of tolerance and democracy. Irresponsible statements by political leaders, declaring that India is finally free from 800 or 1,000 years of slavery, and that the glory of the Hindu nation will shine anew, are creating a sense of fear among millions of citizens now being defined as outsiders. What the present regime seems to be promoting, as our colleagues in India note, is a legislated account of the past, glorifying a homogenised and inflexible “Hindu” tradition. This denies the very inheritance that made the tradition exceptional: ongoing debate, a remarkable range of accepted beliefs and practices, and the necessity of change over time. Such a monolithic and flattened view of India’s history is not supported by the sources, or by any serious historical inquiry.

It is a sad commentary on proclaimed traditions of tolerance and democracy that a family or individual can be lynched or burnt alive for an alleged social transgression (whether this be the eating of particular kinds of meat, or the forging of social relations across certain caste barriers) – without any formal charges being brought, let alone a trial being held in court. And that well-known and respected scholars can be killed for their intellectual opinions, research and writing because these do not fit with a particular political group’s view of the “real” history or condition of India.

What makes the situation worse is that the prime minister and leaders of government have not felt it necessary to speak out promptly and strongly against these acts of criminal violence. With our colleagues in India, we urge the president, prime minister and central government, the governors and ministers of different state governments, and the chief justice and other justices of the Supreme Court and high courts, to uphold the law and the Constitution, allowing free and fearless expression of views, ensuring security for all sections of society, and safeguarding the values and traditions of plurality that India has long cherished.


Aiyar, Sana – Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Ajantha Subramanian – Harvard University, MA

Alexander, Meena – City University of New York

Anand, Dibyesh – University of Westminster, UK

Appadurai, Arjun – New York University

Arondekar, Anjali – University of California, Santa Cruz

Baba, Norihisa – University of Tokyo

Bajpai, Rochana – School of Oriental and African Studies, London

Baker, J. Mark – Humboldt State University, CA

Basu, Amrita – Amherst College, Amherst, MA

Basu, Anustup – University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Basu, Manisha – University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Basu, Subho – Mcgill University, Canada

Bate, Bernard – Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut

Berger, Rachel – Concordia University, Canada

Bhabha, Homi Harvard University, Cambridge MA

Bhatia, Varuni – University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI

Bhattacharyya, Debjani – Drexel University, Philadelphia

Bilgrami, Akeel – Columbia University, New York

Bose, Neilesh – University of Victoria, Canada

Bove, Paul A.  – University of Pittsburgh, PA

Busch, Allison – Columbia University, New York

Chakravarti, Ananya – Georgetown University, Washington DC

Chakravartti, Paula – New York University

Chandra, Shefali – Washington University in St. Louis

Chandra, Sudhir – Nantes Institute for Advanced Study, France

Charusheela, S. – University of Washington, Bothell

Chatterjee, Partha – Columbia University, New York

Chatterji, Joya – University of Cambridge, UK

Chattopadhyay, Swati – University of California, Santa Barbara

Chopra, Rohit – Santa Clara University, CA

Cohen, Lawrence – University of California, Berkeley

Cole, Juan – University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI

Dalta, Kavita Saraswath – Mount Holyoke College, MA

Daruvala, Susan – University of Cambridge, UK

Das Gupta, Monisha – University of Hawaii, Honolulu

Das, Shinjini – University of Cambridge, UK

Datta, Antara – Royal Holloway College, London

De, Rohit – Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut

Denault, Leigh – University of Cambridge, UK

Doniger, Wendy – University of Chicago

Duara, Prasenjit – National University of Singapore

Fernandes, Leela – University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI

Fuller, Chris – London School of Economics, UK

Gandhi, Leela – Brown University, Providence RI

Ganguly, Debjani – Australian National University, Canberra

Ganti, Tejaswini – New York University

Ghose, Toorjo – University of Pennyslvania, Philadelphia

Ghosh, Bishnupriya – University of California, Santa Barbara

Ghosh, Durba – Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

Gill, Navyug – Hobart and William Smith Colleges, NY

Gold, Ann – Grodzins Syracuse University, NY

Goswami, Manu – New York University

Gottschalk, Peter – Wesleyan University, Connecticut

Govindrajan, Radhika – University of Washington, Seattle

Greenough, Paul R – University of Iowa

Grewal, Inderpal – Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut

Grey, Daniel – Plymouth University, UK

Guha, Sudeshna – University of Cambridge, UK

Gupta, Radhika – Gottingen University, Germany

Guyot-Rechard, Berenice – University of Cambridge, UK

Haider, Navina – Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Hardiman, David – University of Warwick, UK

Hyder, Syed Akbar – University of Texas at Austin

Ibrahim, Amrita – Georgetown University, Washington DC

Inoue, Aeka – Shujitsu University, Japan

Jeffrey, Patricia – University of Edinburgh, UK

Jeffrey, Roger – University of Edinburgh, UK

Jenkins, Laura – University of Cincinnatti

Jones, Arun Emory – University, Atlanta

Joshi, Sanjay – Northern Arizona University

Juneja, Monica – University of Heidelberg, Germany

Kahrs, Eivind – University of Cambridge, UK

Kaicker, Abhishek – University of California, Berkeley

Kaul, Suvir – University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

Keshavmurthy, Prashant – Mcgill University, Canada

Khan, Yasmin – University of Oxford, UK

Kia, Mana – Columbia University, NY

Kimura, Makiko – Tsuda College, Japan

Krishna, Sankaran – University of Hawaii, Honolulu

Lal, Ruby Emory – University, Atlanta

Lal, Vinay – University of California, Los Angeles

Lelyveld, David – William Paterson University, NJ

Loomba, Ania – University of Pennyslvania, Philadelphia

Lukose, Ritty – New York University

Mahadev, Neena – Max Planck Institute, Berlin

Maira, Sunaina – University of California, Davis

Mannathkkaren, Nissim – Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia, Canada

Mantena, Rama – University of Illinois, Chicago

Mathew, Johan – University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Matzner, Deborah – Wellesley College, Massachusetts

Mehta, Uday City – University of New York

Menon, Dilip – Univ of Witwatersrand, Johannesberg, South Africa

Menon, Minakshi – Max Planck Institute, Berlin

Metcalf, Barbara – University of California, Davis

Metcalf, Thomas – University of California, Berkeley

Mir, Raza – William Paterson University, NJ

Mistree, Dinsha – Stanford University, CA

Mitra, Durba – Fordham University, New York

Mohan, Sanal – Max Planck Institute, Gottingen

Mohanty, Satya – Cornell University, NY

Mukharji, Projit – University of Pennyslvania, Philadelphia

Muzaffar, Alam – University of Chicago

Nair, Savita – Furman University, South Carolina

Nakazato, Nariaki – University of Tokyo, Japan

Narayana Rao, V – Emory University, Atlanta

Newbigin, Eleanor – School of Oriental and African Studies, London

Pandey, Gyanendra – Emory University, Atlanta

Parthasarathi, Prasannan – Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts

Patel, Ian Sanjay – Goldsmiths College, University of London

Paterson, Marion – British Academy, London

Pernau, Margrit – Max Planck Institute, Berlin

Peterson, Indira – Mount Holyoke College, MA

Pollock, Sheldon – Columbia University, New York

Prakash, Gyan – Princeton University, Princeton, NJ

Prashad, Vijay – Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut

Purohit, Teena – Boston University, MA

Raheja, Gloria – University of Minnesota, Minneapolis

Rahman, Raisur – Wake Forest University, North Carolina

Raj, Kapil – École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris

Ramnath, Maia – Penn State University, PA

Randeria, Shalini – Institute for International Studies, Geneva, Switzerland

Rao, Anupama – Barnard College, New York

Rao, Rahul – School of Oriental and African Studies, London

Redding, Jeff – Saint Louis University School of Law, MO

Reddy, Sujani – SUNY, Old Westbury, NY

Rizvi, Sajjad – University of Exeter, UK

Robinson, Francis – Royal Holloway, University of London, UK

Roy, Haimanti – University of Dayton, Ohio

Roy, Rohan Deb – University of Reading, UK

Roy, Srirupa – University of Gottingen, Germany

Ryosuke, Furui – University of Tokyo, Japan

Sahota, G.S. – University of California, Santa Cruz

Saikia, Yasmin – Arizona State University

Saith, Ashwani – IISS, The Hague, Netherlands

Sanjam, Ahluwalia – Northern Arizona University

Sarkar, Aditya – University of Warwick, UK

Sarkar, Bhaskar – University of California, Santa Barbara

Sato, Hiroshi – Japan Association for South Asian Studies, Tokyo

Sen, Dwaipayan – Amherst College, Amherst, MA

Sen, Satadru – City University of New York

Sen, Uditi – Hampshire College, Amherst, MA

Seth, Sanjay – Goldsmiths, University of London

Sevea, Iqbal – University of North Carolina, Chapel-Hill

Shah, Alpa – London School of Economics, UK

Shankar, Subramanian – University of Hawaii, Honolulu

Sharafi, Mitra – University of Wisconsin, Madison

Sharma, Aradhana – Wesleyan University, Connecticut

Sharma, Jyotirmaya – Institute for Human Sciences, Vienna, Austria

Sharma, Shalini – Keele University, UK

Sheikh, Samira – Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN

Shingavi, Snehal – University of Texas at Austin

Shulman, David – Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel

Siegel, Benjamin – Boston University, Boston, MA

Singh, Amritjit – Ohio University, OH

Singh, Bhrigupati – Brown University, Providence RI

Singh, Prerna – Brown University, Providence RI

Sinha, Mishka – University of Cambridge, UK

Sinha, Mrinalini – University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI

Skaria, Akay – University of Minnesota, Minneapolis

Stewart, Tony – Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN

Subramaniam, Banu – University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Taneja, Anand – Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN

Tarlo, Emma – Goldsmiths College, University of London

Trivedi, Lisa – Hamilton College, Clinton, NY

Vaidhyanathan, Siva – University of Virginia

van der Veer, Peter – Max Planck Institute, Berlin

van Schendel, Willem – University of Amsterdam, Netherlands

Vazira, Zamindar – Brown University, Providence RI

Veeraraghavan, Rajesh – Brown University, Providence RI

Virmani-Boutier, Arundhati – ÉHESS, Marseille, France

Visweswaran, Kamala – University of California, San Diego

Wald, Erica – Goldsmiths College, University of London

Washbrook, David – University of Cambridge, UK

White, David – University of California, Santa Barbara

Zecchini, Laetitia – CNRS Paris

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