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US students petition against University of Columbia chairs for alleged ties with "rightwing" Hindu groups

By Our Representative
In a significant development that has gone unnoticed, the USA’s prestigious University of California, Irvine's (UCI's) History Graduate Student Association has floated an online petition objecting to the formation of two chairs in South Asian studies, being instituted by the Dharma Civilization Foundation, declaring the organization has “ties to rightwing Hindu nationalist groups in India.”
One of the two is the Thakkar Family - Dharma Civilization Foundation Presidential Chair in Vedic and Indic Civilization Studies, which requires the chair have “the equivalent of native proficiency in Sanskrit and in at least one contemporary Indian language and deep familiarity with India, and Indian tradition.”
The second one is the Swami Vivekananda-DCF Presidential Chair in Modern India Studies, with the holder of the chair required to have “a brilliant academic record.... along with a significant record of publications in modern Indian intellectual, literary, and cultural traditions.”
Pointing out that “UCI Humanities has received/will receive 8 million dollars +), the agenda, the petition says, is to "create an academic and intellectual infrastructure for the systematic study of 'Dharma', 'Sanatana Dharma', 'Hindu Studies' and 'Indic Civilizational Studies'" and to "free" it from the "rubric of South Asian studies."
The issues raised in the petition include “threats, implicit or explicit, to faculty, staff and the academic community at large, compromising academic freedom and integrity in order to promote the agendas of a donor”, and “the silencing of Marxist, Feminist, Postcolonial, and Subaltern traditions in South Asian Studies.”
Signed by 362 persons, mainly students and faculty, the signatories said “public education must not be beholden to religious interests” (Kerri McCanna of Irvine, US), “gifts that are given for politically and ideologically, not to say, religiously, motivated reasons do not generally foster the university's mission to promote open, free discourse on opposing views and perspectives” (Lyle Massey, also of Irvine).
Then, Jyotsa Kapur of Carbondale, US, thanks the UCI faculty and students “for resisting the dangerous wave of selling education to the most moneyed and violent”, and Javed Majeed of UK underlines, “Indian civilisation is too valuable to be hijacked by religious ideologies distorting and denying its complexity.”
A local newspaper, “The Orange Country Register”, reports, “Critics worry that the Dharma Civilization Foundation seeks to place true believers in the Hindu faith into academia, might be trying to exert too much influence over hiring, and may be pressuring professors.”
The daily, however, says, “UCI is not the only American university to receive such gifts. At the University of Southern California, the Foundation funded a two-year Swami Vivekananda Visiting faculty in Hindu Studies position, costing $120,000 per year. It was filled by Rita Sherma, who the foundation describes as a ‘scholar-practitioner’.”
It adds, “It also funded the ‘Center for Dharma Studies’ at Claremont Lincoln University, which published the first online ‘International Journal of Dharma Studies’. And it is raising $3.3 million to establish a Swami Dayananda Saraswati Chair in Sanatan Dharma Studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.”
The Dharma Civilization Foundation website, pointing towards the “need” for setting up such chairs across the US, states, “very high majority of the professors and scholars who study Hinduism academically are non-Hindus and non-practitioners of Hinduism. This has resulted in widespread incidence of misrepresentations of Hinduism, and mischaracterization of the traditions and practices within the Hindu fold.”
Examples cited by the Foundation include the application of Freudian analytical techniques to Hindu gods, goddesses and gurus, as well as Wendy Doniger’s book, “The Hindus – An Alternate History,” against which the RSS-outfit Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti sued publisher Penguin complaining that it was written “with a Christian Missionary Zeal and hidden agenda to denigrate Hindus” by “a woman hungry of sex.”
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Click HERE to download agreement between UCI and Dharma Civilization Foundation

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