Responding to protests from academics, the Oxford University Press (OUP) has decided to reprint “immediately” The Collected Essays of A.K. Ramanujan, and Paula Richman's Many Ramayanas: The Diversity of a Narrative Tradition in South Asia, featuring Ramanujan's controversial work, Three Hundred Ramayanas, dropped by Delhi University from its undergraduate curriculum over claims that it hurt Hindu sentiments.
This brings to an end a bitter row that saw arguably the world's most respected academic publishing house being accused of censorship by leading academics, including its own authors, over its role in suppressing the two books in what they alleged was an attempt to buy peace with fundamentalist groups.
In a statement, OUP (India) said: “Given the current concern expressed by members of the scholarly community about the availability of The Collected Essays and Many Ramayanas, we have taken the decision to reprint both titles immediately and make them available in India and beyond. We are also making Questioning Ramayanas available again. All three titles are available to order from the OUP India website and bookshops across India.''
Rejecting allegations of censorship, OUP insisted that it remained committed to academic freedom. It also denied ever apologising to a right-wing group that had sued it for publishing Three Hundred Ramayanas and said that its position in court had been “misinterpreted”.
The statement, sent to more than 450 scholars who had signed a letter of protest written by Sheldon Pollock, professor of Sanskrit and Indian studies at Columbia University, said: “OUP has an important role to play in ensuring that the best scholarship is disseminated freely, and we hope the reprinting of these three important works will demonstrate our commitment in this regard. We also wish to restate the fact that OUP does not and never has apologised for publishing any work by Ramanujan. Any previous communications from OUP India that have given the impression of such an apology have been misinterpreted. We recognise that it is not in the best interests of the scholarly community of which we are a part for such a misinterpretation to remain, which is why we are clarifying our position once again.”
Academics welcome move
The move was greeted with “deep satisfaction” by academics.
“We wholeheartedly support this affirmation of OUP's longstanding commitment to excellence in scholarship, to the broadest possible dissemination of knowledge, and to the right of scholars, writers, and artists to freedom of thought and expression everywhere,” campaigners said in a statement published on the website of Washington-based academic newspaper The Chronicle of Higher Education.
It quoted Professor Pollock as saying that he and his fellow signatories were “pleased with OUP's statement and believe it has addressed all our concerns.”
Student campaigners at Oxford University said they were “extremely glad that OUP recognised the importance of reprinting these books''.