‘Nehru Museum Must Protect Space for Democratic Discussion and Dissent’

Teen Murti Bhavan, where the Nehru Memorial Library is located

Teen Murti Bhavan, where the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library is located

The following is an open letter released by a group of scholars, academics, writers and journalists calling for the protection of spaces for democratic discussion, dissent and minority views:

We, university teachers, research scholars, students and concerned academics who have used the resources of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML), commend the outgoing director Dr Mahesh Rangarajan for his outstanding work at this institution over the last four years. Dr Rangarajan belongs to that breed of institutional heads who function as great facilitators. They allow a diverse range of people with a plurality of perspectives to inhabit a space of academic research and intellectual exchange, expand the resources available to them, and give them full scope to re-work disciplinary boundaries. As the Director of NMML, Dr Rangarajan was easily accessible to all; he was a man to whom trees, birds, buildings, sanitation and many other little details mattered as much as books, papers, and high quality academic interaction. His was a rare, hands-on yet self-effacing leadership, which revitalised NMML’s connection with university teachers and young scholars and opened up its activities to a wider public, while respecting the mandate governing the functioning of this institution.

At the outset, a widespread, and sometimes deliberate misconception has to be corrected. It is unjustified to assume that if a research institution is named after a particular individual – in this case Jawaharlal Nehru – the entire body of research and public activity around it is meant only to preserve his legacy. NMML’s collections and activities are not limited to Nehru’s legacy: in fact, the collection of papers, letters and interviews preserved there embraces an array of distinguished personalities across the spectrum of public life. Acquisitions stepped up rapidly over the last four years to include eminent figures such as the mathematician and historian D. D. Kosambi, scholar Amrita Rangaswamy, the Hindi journalist Ved Pratap Vaidik, the Hindi novelist and dramatist Upendranath ‘Ashk’, scientists such as Professor Yash Pal and Dr S. Varadarajan, the naturalist M. Krishnan, diplomats such as Rikhy Jaipal, Rashid Ali Baig and Subimal Dutt, the industrialist Rahul Bajaj, economists such as Professor S. Guhan and Arun Bose, the literary scholar and activist G. N. Devy, political figures like Hardwari Lal, and the marine archaeologist S. R. Rao.

The lecture series, organised with clockwork efficiency by NMML staff over the last four years, has invited scholars to reflect on the dramatic changes taking place around us. There is a vibrant Hindi series, ‘Samaj, Itihas aur Sahitya’; young scholars have presented impressive research under ‘Histories of the North-East, New Perspectives’ and ‘Interrogating Social Justice’; and the ‘Cities in History’ lectures have tapped interest in the urban as a vital site for democratic transformation. The ‘Science and Heritage’ series and exhibitions such as the ongoing one titled ‘New India and the First IIT’ will, one hopes, help in breaking down the wall between the sciences and the social sciences. Mahesh Rangarajan’s own passionate investment in environmental issues encouraged historical discussion on a theme of pressing contemporary concern. Finally, the library today stands thoroughly updated, a pleasure to read and work in.

We recognise that the bid to control and regulate the autonomy of cultural and political institutions, to substitute one kind of orthodoxy for another, can emerge from different sites of power. An independent-minded academy must justify itself by professional protocols. At the same time, it is also being called upon to find innovative ways to engage with the production and use of history taking place at other sites. These are histories in which the minorities, lower castes, ‘tribals’ and marginalised border communities find distinctive ways of evoking their experience. However, there are also other histories, increasingly strengthened by the power of institutional and social hierarchy, which seek to embed a narrative of majoritarian triumphalism in our educational system and cultural institutions. This is a narrative that excludes diversity and dissent and violates the constitutional right of citizens to representation in these forums, irrespective of class, caste, religion or political affiliation.

We strongly feel that Nehru Memorial Museum and Library should not be paralysed by one such bid just when its activities are establishing a stronger connection between professional academic life and wider discourses about history and society. It is not by replacing one set of political luminaries by another that lower castes, tribals, women, young people, restive urban populations, minorities and border populations will find room for representation in curricula, museums, public archives, exhibition spaces and film and television programmes.

We call upon all concerned citizens to urge executive bodies of autonomous cultural and academic institutions such as NMML to protect the space for democratic discussion, dissent and minority views at these sites which exist for the of exchange of ideas. Equally, those who are appointed to run these institutions must have independent standing and sound credentials in their field and be given the room to work creatively while keeping their intellectual and professional dignity intact.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the statement belong to the signatories, and do not represent the position of their institutions.

Signatories (in alphabetical order):

  1. Ravi Ahuja, Centre for Modern Indian Studies, Goettingen University
  2. G. Arunima, Centre for Women’s Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  3. Pulapre Balakrishnan, Economics, Ashoka University
  4. Prathama Banerjee, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi
  5. Rana Behal, Association of Indian Labour Historians, New Delhi
  6. Rustom Bharucha, School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  7. Ira Bhaskar, School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  8. Neeladri Bhattacharya, Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  9. Uma Chakravarti, Department of History, Miranda House, Delhi University(retd.)
  10. Paula Chakravarty, Gallatin School & Department of Media, Culture and Communication, New York University
  11. Partha Chatterjee, Columbia University, New York
  12. Sukanta Chaudhuri, Department of English, Jadavpur University
  13. Supriya Chaudhuri, Department of English, Jadavpur University
  14. Prem Chowdhry, Department of History, Delhi University (retd.)
  15. Francis Cody, Asian Institute and Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto.
  16. Kavita Datla, Department of History, Mount Holyoke College
  17. Pradip K. Datta, Department of Political Science, Delhi University
  18. Rohit De, Department of History, Yale University
  19. Harald Fischer-Tiné, Modern Global History, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich
  20. Will Glover, Department of History, University of Michigan
  21. Tapati Guha-Thakurta, History, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences Calcutta
  22. Charu Gupta, Department of History, Delhi University
  23. Stephen Hughes, Department of Anthropology and Sociology, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
  24. Kajri Jain, Art History/Visual Studies, University of Toronto
  25. Chitra Joshi, Department of History, Indraprastha college, Delhi University
  26. Sudipta Kaviraj, Indian Politics and Intellectual History, Columbia University
  27. Malavika Kasturi, Department of History, University of Toronto
  28. Udaya Kumar, Centre for English Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  29. Mukul Mangalik, Ramjas College, University opf Delhi
  30. Franson Davis Manjali, Centre for Linguistics, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  31. Karuna Mantena, Political Science and South Asian Studies Council, Yale University
  32. Rama Mantena,Department of History,University of Illinois at Chicago
  33. Nayanika Mathur, University of Cambridge, UK
  34. Rakhee Kalita Moral, Department of English, Cotton College, Guwahati
  35. Venugopal Maddipati, School of Design, Ambedkar University Delhi
  36. Ranjani Mazumdar, School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  37. Prabhu Mohapatra, Department of History, Delhi University
  38. Janaki Nair, Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  39. Anil Nauriya, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court, New Delhi
  40. Joy Pachau, Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  41. Prasannan Parthasarathi, Department of History, Boston College
  42. Ginu Zacharia Oommen, India Centre for Migration, New Delhi
  43. Francesca Orsini, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
  44. Vasudha Pande, Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University
  45. Rashmi Pant, Department of History, Indraprastha College, Delhi University
  46. Madhava Prasad, Department of Cultural Studies, English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad
  47. Teena Purohit, Department of Religion, Boston University
  48. Alok Rai, Department of English, Delhi University (retd.)
  49. Bhavani Raman, Department of History, University of Toronto
  50. Vijaya Ramaswamy, Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  51. Srirupa Roy, Professor of State and Democracy in Modern India, Goettingen University
  52. Tanika Sarkar, Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University (retd.)
  53. Sumit Sarkar, Former Professor, History, University of Delhi (retd.)
  54. Sambudha Sen, English Department, Shiv Nadar University
  55. Mitra Sharafi, Law School, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  56. Jayeeta Sharma, Department of History, University of Toronto
  57. Benjamin Siegel, Department of History, Boston University.
  58. Mrinalini Sinha, Department of History, University of Michigan
  59. Srimanjari, Department of History, Miranda House, Delhi University
  60. Lakshmi Subramanian, History, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences Calcutta
  61. Nandini Sundar, Department of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics
  62. Ravi Sundaram, Centre for Studies in Developing Societies, Delhi
  63. Rajeswari Sunder Rajan, Department of English, New York University
  64. Stefan Tetzlaff, Centre for Modern Indian Studies, Goettingen University/CEIAS, Paris
  65. Rosie Thomas, University of Westminster, London
  66. A. R. Vasavi, independent scholar, Bangalore
  67. Ravi S Vasudevan, Centre for Studies in Developing Societies, Delhi
  68. A. R. Venkatachalapathy, Madras Institute of Development Studies
  69. Susan Visvanathan, Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  70. Rohit Wanchoo, St Stephen’s College, Delhi University
  71. Jon E Wilson, Department of History, King’s College, London

And 215 additional endorsements 

Chitra Joshi Department of History Indraprastha College University of Delhi

Rina Ramdev

Rohan D’Souza, Kyoto University

Kiran Keshavamurthy, Assistant Professor, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta

Rosinka Chaudhuri, Professor, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta

Sibaji Bandyopadhyay

Dr Subir Sinha, School of Oriental and African Studies, London

Ritajyoti Bandyopadhyay

Premesh Lalu, Director, CENTRE FOR HUMANITIES RESEARCH, University of the Western Cape, South Africa

Sanjay Srivastava, JNU

Satish Poduval (Dept. of Cultural Studies, EFL University–Hyderabad)

Deepak Naorem, University of Delhi

Amita Baviskar, Institute of Economic Growth

Sugita Katyal, Journalist

Iqbal Sevea, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

A. Jacob, (Ramjas College, University of Delhi)

Varunika Saraf, artist and research scholar

Bharati Jagannathan, Miranda House

Manjari Katju, Department of Political Science, University of Hyderabad

Ratna Raman, Associate Professor..English…Sri Venkateswara.College.Delhi University

Varsha Patel, student

Arti Minocha Dept of English, Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University

Saumyajit Bhattacharya, Kirori Mal College, Delhi University

Ellora Puri, Dept. of Political Science, University of Jammu.

Priya Sangameswaran, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta, Kolkata

Aparna Balachandran Department of History University of Delhi

Geeta, University of Delhi, Delhi

J Devika, Associate Professor, Centre for Development Studies, Kerala

Rajeev Kinra, Dept of History, Director of Asian Studies Program, Northwestern University

Subarno Chattarji, Department of English, University of Delhi

Ruchi Chaturvedi, Department of Sociology, University of Cape Town

Charusheela, University of Washington, Bothell

Arindam Banerjee, AUD

Justin Mathew, Centre for Modern Indian Studies, Gottingen, Germany

Rohit Negi, School of Human Ecology, Ambedkar University Delhi

Neepa Majumdar (University of Pittsburgh)

Nilanjana Bhattacharjya, Arizona State University

Suryasikha Pathak Assam university

Usha Iyer, Assistant Professor, Clark University

Prasenjit Duara, Raffles Professor, National University of Singapore

Amrita Dhar, University of Michigan

Denys P. Leighton, School of Liberal Studies, Ambedkar University Delhi

Naveen Gaur, Dyal Singh College, University of Delhi

Debaditya Bhattacharya, University of Calcutta

Lalit Vachani

Samira Sheikh, Department of History, Vanderbilt University.

Deeptha Achar, Department of English, Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda

Sankaran Krishna, University of Hawai`i at Manoa

Nita Mishra UCC

Ninad Pandit, LSE Cities, London School of Economics and Political Science

Radhika Mongia, York University, Toronto

Arupjyoti Saikia, Historian, Guwahati

Chirashree Das Gupta, Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Natalie Z. Davis, Princeton University and University of Toronto

Chandler Davis, Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto (Canada)

Saikat Ghosh, Asst. Professor, SGTB Khalsa College, Delhi University

Nissim Mannathukkaren, Dalhousie University, Canada

Gopalji Pradhan, AUD

Ravikant, historian

Rukmini Sen, Ambedkar University Delhi

Susie Tharu

Ayesha Kidwai, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Achyutanand Mishra, Research scholar

Chitra Padmanabhan

Yogesh Snehi, Ambedkar University Delhi

Gyan Prakash, Princeton University

G N Saibaba, Ram Lal Anand College, University of Delhi

Bikramjit De, National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata

Anwesha Sengupta, CRG, kolkata.

Baidik Bhattacharya, Department of English, University of Delhi


Pratyush Prashant

Maroona Murmu, Department of History, Jadavpur University, Kolkata

Moushumi Basu, Centre for International Politics, Organization and Disarmament, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Gitanjali Surendran, Jindal Global Law School

Aparna Vaidik, Ashoka University, historian

Simona Sawhney, IIT-Delhi

Nilima Sheikh Artist

Dwijen Rangnekar, Warwick University (UK)

Papori Bora, Centre for Women’s Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Gilles Verniers, Ashoka University

Rudrangshu Mukherjee, Ashoka University

Ravindran Sriramachandran, Ashoka University

Mamata karade (PhD Student, CWS,JNU,New Delhi )

Sangeeta Dasgupta, Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Sanal Mohan Mahatma Gandhi University and Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Gottingen, Germany

Malini Sur, National University of Singapore

Saagar Tewari

Rohan Deb Roy, Department of History, University of Reading

Seema Arora-Jonsson, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

Eleanor Newbigin, Department of History, SOAS, University of London

Ankita Pandey I.P. College, DU

Supriya Varma, Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

Dhirendra Dangwal, Ambedkar University, Delhi

Dr Alpa Shah, London School of Economics

Deborah Sutton, Lancaster University

Gautam Kumar (Research Scholar at JNU)

Sucharita Sen, Centre for the Study of Regional Development, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Gunnel Cederlöf, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden

Jayati Ghosh Professor

Shinjini Das, Postodoctoral Research Fellow, University of Cambridge

Satyanarayana, Professor, EFL University, Hyderabad

Swati Shresth

Rama Melkote

Tarangini Sriraman, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies

Sanjukta Das Gupta, University of Rome

Ania Loomba Professor

Dwaipayan Bhattacharyya, Centre for Political Studies, JNU

Sabeena Gadihoke Associate Professor AJK MCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia

Tony K Stewart, Professor of South Asian Religions, Vanderbilt University

Anuradha Dingwaney Needham, Oberlin College

Amrapali Basumatary

Tapan Basu, Associate Professor, Department of English, University of Delhi

Akshaya Tankha, PhD candidate, University of Toronto

Subir Dey,Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

Harsh Dobhal, Doon University

Selvyn Jussy, University of Calcutta

Ritoo M. Jerath JNU

Angelie Multani

Vebhuti Duggal

Madhavi Menon, Ashoka University

Rashmi Sawhney, Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore

Rajendran Narayanan, Ashoka University

Bindu Menon, Lady Shri Ram College for Women, University of Delhi

Amit S. Rai, Lecturer, Postcolonial Media Studies

Shalini Sharma, Keele University

Prashant Kidambi, University of Leicester

Niharika Yadav, Department of History, University of Delhi

Kriti Budhiraja, JNU

Indira Chowdhury, Historian

Nikhil Menon, PhD Candidate in History, Princeton University

Dr. Lucia King, University of Winchester

Mridu Rai, Presidency University, Kolkata

Githa Hariharan, Writer

Heeral Chhabra, Doctoral Candidate, University of Delhi

Stuti Khanna, IIT Delhi

Farhana Ibrahim IIT Delhi

Anand Pandian, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore

Snigdha Kumar, Department of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics

Radhika Gupta Centre for Modern Indian Studies Goettingen University

Durba Chattaraj, Ashoka University

Rahul De

Jayanti Ray-Mukherjee, Assistant Professor, Azim Premji University

Barbara Metcalf, University of California, Davis

Vinita Chandra, Associate Professor, Ramjas College, Delhi University

Blessy Abraham, Department of History, Delhi University

Tharakeshwar V.B. The English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad

Manjusha Nair

Dr Stephen Legg, University of Nottingham

Heike Liebau, ZMO Berlin

Ujjayan Bhattacharya, Department of History, Vidyasagar University

Heather Goodall, Adjunct Professor of History, University of Technology Sydney

Rudolf Heredia, Independent researcher, Mumbai

Rashmi Varma, University of Warwick

Niyati Sharma, Department of English, University of Oxford

Sunandan K N Assistant Professor

Kade Finnoff University of Massachusetts Boston

Saeed Ahmad, MPhil Student, Delhi University

Alex Thomas, Azim Premji University

Padmanabh Samarendra, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi

Nandan Nawn, Department of Policy Studies, TERI University, New Delhi, India

Simin Patel,

Shomen Mukherjee (Azim Premji University)

Eric Hynniewta

Anand Vivek Taneja, Vanderbilt University

Rohith P, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya College, DU.

David C. Engerman, Brandeis University

Rochana Bajpai

Shilpa Phadke, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

Monica Sakhrani, TISS

Bindhulakshmi Pattadath, Advanced Centre for Women’s Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences

G M Sheikh

Amar Farooqui, Department of History, University of Delhi

Nandini Manjrekar, Teacher

Supratik Chakraborty, Professor, IIT Bombay

Uma M. Bhrugubanda, EFL University, Hyderabad

Meera Visvanathan, Assistant Professor,Shiv Nadar University

Abdul Rahman, I P College, DU

Toral Gajarawala, English, New York University

Aarti Kawlra Former Fellow NMML

Sachin N. Dyal Singh College

Rudrashish Chakraborty, Assistant Professor, Dept of English, Kirori Mal College, University of Delhi.

Harriet Raghunathan, formerly JMC

Dr D. Sengupta, IP College

Biswajit Mohanty, Deshbandhu College

Benu Mohanlal, Department of English, Ramjas College

Vibhas Verma, Deshbandhu College

Rajendra Parihar, Ramjas College

Nivedita Sen, Hans Raj College

Madhvi Zutshi, English, SGTB Khalsa College

A. Jacob, Ramjas College, University of Delhi

Saikat Ghosh, SGTB Khalsa College

Sanam Khanna, Kamala Nehru college, University of Delhi

Mihir Pandey, Economics, Ramjas College

Roopa Dhawan, Ramjas College

Hari Sen, Department of History, Ramjas College.

Debraj Mookerjee, Associate Prof, Ramjas College

Dr Surabhi Ranganathan, Fellow of King’s College, University of Cambridge, UK

Arunabh Ghosh, Assistant Professor, History Department, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA

Nandita Narain, St.Stephen’s College, Delhi University

Dilip Simeon, Historian

Nilofer Kaul, Hansraj College, DU

Nandini Dutta, Miranda House, DU

Christine Gledhill,Cinema Studies,University of Sunderland, UK

Thomas Blom Hansen, Stanford University

Rajeev Kinra, Asian Studies Program Northwestern University

Gopinath Ravindran, Dept of History, Jamia Millia Islamia

Neshat Quaiser, Associate Professor Department of Sociology Jamia, Millia Islamia

Vinita Chandra, Ramjas College, DU

Sandhya D Nambiar, JMC

Meenakshi Malhotra, Hansraj College

Thomas R. Metcalf, Professor Emeritus of History, University of California, Berkeley

Michael Hutt, SOAS London University

Nalini Nayak

  • Supriya Guha

    The name is not Rashid Ali Bey but Rashid Ali Baig.