Skip to main content

Will JNU 'reassess' Romila Thapar's Kluge Prize in history, equivalent to Nobel?

Romila Thapar, Prabhat Patnaik 
Counterview Desk
In an open letter, well-known economist, Prof Prabhat Patnaik, a long-time colleague to top veteran historian Romila Thapar, has questioned the manner in which the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) administration is trying to treat a person whose scholarship has been recognized worldwide – she was awarded the Kluge Prize in History in 2008, which is regarded as equivalent to the Nobel and is given specifically in disciplines not covered by the Nobel Prize.
Prof Patnaik says, while JNU authorities are trying to “reassess” her work in order to decide if she can continue as emeritus professor, the American Philosophical Society (APS) has just informed her that she has been selected for membership of the oldest US society with a restricted membership selected on the basis of intellectual achievement.

Text:

Professor Romila Thapar, the well-known historian and my long-time colleague at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), received a letter from the Registrar of JNU in July 2019, asking her to submit her curriculum vitae (CV) so that a committee appointed by the university could evaluate her work and decide whether she should continue as professor emerita of the JNU. Thapar retired in 1991 and was made emeritus soon after.
The current Executive Council of the JNU seems to be unaware of even the meaning of an emeritus professorship. It seems to think that it is an appointment against a post for which there are multiple applications. An emeritus position is completely different.
There are no posts and nobody ever applies for it. It is an honour conferred for life by the university on a retiring or retired professor in appreciation of their outstanding past work. This is true of every university in the world. This current action of the JNU contradicts the very basis on which the status of professor emeritus was conferred on retired faculty in the JNU.
It needs to be reiterated that in the letter conferring the title of professor emeritus/emerita, it is described as honorary and is for life. It is clearly stated that it is in recognition of the outstanding contribution in teaching and research of the professor so honoured, and as an esteemed faculty member for outstanding academic achievements.
The current Executive Council and administration of JNU have either not understood, or have chosen to overlook, the import of this. Hence it needs to be explained for their benefit.
That the emeritus professorship is honorary means just that. The university does not have to make any special arrangements, financial or otherwise, to accommodate such professors. It is only a status that is conferred by the university on the retirement of a selected faculty member. So the question of making positions available for other potential candidates does not arise. It costs the university nothing.
The choice of professor emeritus is a comment on the academic values of the university. There can be any number of such professors. It is quite clearly an honour that is given for life; therefore any periodic reassessment is out of the question.
The honour is not conferred for work in the future, work that is yet to be done, but for the work that the faculty member has done before retirement. This means that it is based on the work that the professor has done before the award was conferred. It is a lifetime achievement award as well; therefore any assessment of work subsequent to the award is not required. The continuity of the award is not dependent on future work.
When a university confers this honour, there is no question of any prior submission of an application for it nor of a CV. Detailed information about the academic achievements and activities of its faculty should in any case be known to the university from its own website and records, provided these are properly maintained by the administration. There should be no need to ask for CVs. Nor is there any need for testimonials and peer group views since it is conferred.
JNU Executive Council seems to be unaware of even the meaning of emeritus professorship. It seems to think that it is an appointment against a post
In her response to the registrar, Thapar has reminded the university administration that they should be aware of what it means to confer an emeritus professorship, as has been explained above. Furthermore, she has quite rightly asked, what exactly is the committee going to assess and how?
Is it going to give a grade to the books that she has published since becoming a professor emerita, the major one, “The Past before Us”, being a pioneering study of historiography in early India? Is it going to evaluate the fact that she was awarded the Kluge Prize in History in 2008, which is regarded as equivalent to the Nobel and is given specifically in disciplines not covered by the Nobel Prize? How is the committee going to grade the other publications and the other awards?
Ironically, just prior to receiving this letter from the registrar of JNU, Thapar received a letter from the American Philosophical Society (APS), informing her that she has been selected for membership of the society. The APS is the oldest scholarly society in the United States with a restricted membership selected on the basis of intellectual achievement.
The contrast in the treatment of a reputed Indian scholar by a foreign learned society, and the university that the scholar has served for decades and of which she was among the founding professors, is too stark to be missed.
The Centre for Historical Studies of the JNU has also objected to this attempt to reconsider the status of emeritus for Thapar. There is much talk these days about improving the quality of our higher education. This would remain a chimera if our outstanding scholars are treated in this manner by their own universities.

Comments

TRENDING

Rescind Gates Foundation award to Modi, demand three Nobel Peace laureates

Counterview Desk
In a major boost to those opposing the award to the Gates Foundation’s proposed to be awarded to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his Swacch Bharat Abhiyan, three Nobel Peace Prize laureates, Mairead Maguire (1976), Tawakkol Abdel-Salam Karman (2011) and Shirin Ebadi (2003), have in an open letter called upon Milinda and Bill Gates to withdraw their decision, stating Modi is allegedly involved in human rights violations.

Gujarat's incomplete canals: Narmada dam filled up, yet benefits 'won't reach' farmers

By Our Representative
Even as the Gujarat government is making all out efforts to fill up the Sardar Sarovar dam on Narmada river up to the full reservoir level (FRL), a senior farmer rights leader has said the huge reservoir, as of today, remains a “mirage for the farmers of Gujarat”.
In a statement, Sagar Rabari of the Khedut Ekta Manch (KEM), has said that though the dam’s reservoir is being filled up, the canal network remains complete. Quoting latest government figures, he says, meanwhile, the command area of the dam has been reduced from 18,45,000 hectares (ha) to 17,92,000 ha.
“According to the website of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd, which was last updated on Friday, while the main canal, of 458 km long, has been completed, 144 km of ranch canals out of the proposed length of 2731 km remain incomplete.
Then, as against the targeted 4,569 km distributaries, 4,347 km have been constructed, suggesting work for 222 km is still pending. And of the 15,670 km of minor canal…

Report on "torture" in Kashmir jails: 44% detainees stripped naked, 29% electrocuted

Counterview Desk
A recent report titled “Torture: Indian State’s Instrument of Control in Indian-administered Jammu & Kashmir”, published by the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), has claimed to build “on the body of human rights documentation on torture” in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) through an examination of 432 case studies. It seeks to focus on "the trends and patterns, targets, perpetrators, contexts and impact of torture" in the state.

Ceramic worker dies: 20,000 workers in Thangadh, Gujarat, 'risk' deadly silicosis

By Our Representative
Even as the country was busy preparing for the Janmashtami festival on Saturday, Hareshbhai, a 46-year-old ceramic worker from suffering from the fatal lung disease silicosis, passed away. He worked in a ceramic unit in Thangadh in Surendranagar district of Gujarat from 2000 to 2016.
Hareshbhai was diagnosed with the disease by the GCS Medical College, Naroda Road, Ahmedabad in 2014. He was found to be suffering from progressive massive fibrosis. He is left behind by his wife Rekha sister and two sons Deepak (18) and Umesh (12),
The death of Hareshbhai, says Jagdish Patel of the health rights group Peoples Training and Research Centre (PTRC), suggests that silicosis, an occupational disease, can be prevented but not cured, and the Factory Act has sufficient provisions to prevent this.
According to Patel, the pottery industry in the industrial town of Thangadh has evolved for a long time and locals as well as migrant workers are employed here. There are abou…

Bullet train impact report Japan agency property: Govt of India tells Gujarat NGO

The National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL) has told Gujarat-based environmental organization, Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS) that the detailed report of Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) representatives on their visit to Gujarat and Maharashtra assess the impact of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project on farmers is not its property, but that of JICA.

NHSRCL letter to PSS, signed by activists Rohit Prajapati, Krishnakant and Swati Desai, comes following the latter’s request to it on June 10 for the report. PSS was one of the NGOs that represented JICA on the project, saying, if implemented, it would adversely impact farmers, even as pointing towards the fact that the project itself is unviable and Indian Railways needs to invest, instead, more on upgrading the present railway infrastructure.
Following the NHSRCL reply, PSS has shot a second letter to JICA, insisting that the latter should share a copy of the report, even as providing details of the …

Karma tribal festival an occasional to campaign for tribal rights: IPMSDL

By Our Representative
The International Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL), in a solidarity statement has suggested that the current Karam festival of Central India -- which seeks to promote sisterhood, friendship, cultural unity, and closer link to nature -- should be the occasion to campaign against alleged efforts to violently drive away forest dwelling communities from their forest homes.
"Millions are threatened to lose lands and livelihood under the implementation of Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006", the statement States, adding, "As corporate interests continues to enter tribal territories and extract profit from its natural resources, indigenous people are pushed to further marginalization and discrimination."
Asserting that indigenous movement in India "remains steadfast in keeping their culture, deeply linked to their lands alive by carrying out their heritage and struggles", IPMSDL, even as extending "…

Allow international human rights observers, media to access Kashmir: US lawmakers

Counterview Desk
In a letter to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, two members of the American Congress, Pramila Jayapal and James McGovern, raising "significant concerns" about what they call "humanitarian and human rights crisis in Jammu & Kashmir”, quoting "credible reports" from journalists and advocates on the ground" have said that "the Indian government has detained thousands of people with no recourse, imposed de facto curfews on residents' and cut off internet and telephone access in the region.”

Amidst Modi celebrations, thousands protest 'massive' submergence in Narmada Valley

By Our Representative
Thousands of women and men gathered on at the Shaheed Stambh in Badwani, Madhya Pradesh, to raise their voice against what they called "the destruction of the Narmada Valley", protesting against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Gujarat BJP rulers for celebrating the Sardar Sarovar dam being filled up to the full reservoir level (FRL) on September 17, which also happens to be Modi's birthday.
Calling it a black day for the people of the Valley, whose villages and farms got submerged because of highest-ever water level having been achieved in the dam, the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), which organised the parallel rally across the border with Gujarat, regretted in a statement that Modi's celebration at the dam took place amidst " martyrdom of the Valley".
The demonstration in Badwani was preceded by a vehicles rally, which took rounds of the city streets. They were joined by people from several villages of Dhar district. They gather…

Kandla Port Trust activities 'destroyed' mangroves, affecting rare camel species: NGT

By Rajiv Shah
Taking serious note of large-scale destruction of mangroves on about 750 acres in Bhachau taluka of Kutch district, the National Green Tribunal (NGT), Delhi, has “directed” the Gujarat government, its forest department, and the Gujarat Coastal Zone Management Authority (GSZMA), to “jointly inspect the area” and fix responsibility as to who is “responsible for obstruction of the creeks” next to the Kandla Port Trust (KPT), leading to the damage to the plantations in the area.

Narmada valley: SC notice to Gujarat, MP, M'rashtra on submergence sans rehabilitation

By Our Representative
Thr Supreme Court has issued notice to Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra governments following a Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA)-backed petition seeking the explanation as to whether large areas of Narmada Valley have gone into submergence by filling up the Sardar Sarovar dam up to the full reservoir level (FRL) without rehabilitating the project affected families (PAFs).