“Is it not amazing that in this day and age, serious scholars get death threats?” asks Notre Dame anthropologist Cynthia Mahmood in a shocking, graphic, account of how she “was assaulted, beaten and raped by a gang of hired thugs or rogue police in a north central Indian state during fieldwork in 1992.” I’ve heard many stories of death threats from academics in India who study the “wrong” topics, but this is the first account I’ve read of actual violence. Mahmood mentions some other scholars who have been threatened:
Wendy Doniger, Paul Courtright and David White have also been among those academics who have been targeted by the Hindu right because of their intellectual work on the religion. Doniger, a senior scholar of the Hindu tradition, regularly receives death threats; a letter-writing campaign tried to prevent another young scholar’s tenure at Rice University.
Certainly India needs to do more to preserve academic freedom, including ensuring that “that other actors [besides the state and the university], including the media, political parties and the citizenry do not by their actions undermine academic freedom.” And, as the example from Rice University shows, this issue is not confined to India. The US needs to protect academics from coordinated attacks of the sort William I. Robinson is facing from the ADL.