Engaged Anthropology and Academic Freedom

“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.

3 thoughts on “Engaged Anthropology and Academic Freedom

  1. “Do more”? “Not undermine”? Are you really so ignorant of the long history of violence by Hindu nationalists against academics and artists, carried out with the full support and complicity of the police and judiciary? Why exactly are western academics and media so invested in disguising the sheer scale and variety of violence in India and why is it done so glibly and with such practised ease? And yes despite all your pretensions Savage Minds falls squarely in this category.
    The latest is the acquittal of the Hindu nationalist student leaders who beat to death Professor Sabharwal in 2006 (http://sabharwalmemorial4action.org/). Of course, it finds no mention in any western discourses on India. As an Indian anthropologist, let me tell you that you are NOT doing us any favours in letting us get away with murder.

  2. India also has a long history of persecuting adivasis, the latest being disguised as fighting Maoists. The hill tribes of Orissa and neighboring areas are fighting for their lives and lands against invading international extractive industries. These capital intensive indsutries arebeing suppoerted by both state and central government. As usual, adivasi women are special targets for rape and death.

    See this article by anthropologist Nandini Sundar in Outlook India: http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?263777
    The article is titled, “Chhattisgarh–
    An Anthropologist In A Police State.”

  3. I notice that nothing has been posted under this topic of South Asia since last year. Like the place doesn’t exist for anthros anymore?

    Today’s Guardian newspaper published an article by Bianca Jagger on the fight for their lives and culture by the Dongria Khondhs of Orissa. At this point all Indian government agencies except for the Forest and Lands have given consent to Vedanta, a global mostly UK-owned but partly Indian-owned as well, bauxite mining corp., to bulldoze the Khondh’s Niyamgiri Mountain.

    Survival International made a short film about these people’s struggle, and updates have appeared on their site:
    Their film, “Mine” can be viewed on this website.
    The Guardian link for the Khondh story is here:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/jun/13/mining- aluminium-tribes-india-jagger

    The situation has been complicated by the fact that Maoist Naxal groups have been fighting police and special forces on behalf of the tribals in Orissa, Jharkand and West Bengal, as well as a government supported fake tribal group operating to destroy tribal settlements and people.
    The stakes are huge profits for multinational mining companies. Vedanta is not the only one.

    Suggest that anthropologists on this blog who are concerned by the march of global capitalism against the peoples and cultures that we presume to study should take note and see if they can help. If you are inclined, check with Survival International on their website.

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