In what looks increasingly like a campaign to put Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) into an ideological straitjacket, its administration is scaling new heights of absurdity. In the latest instance, the varsity has asked eminent historian Romila Thapar, a professor emeritus at JNU’s Centre for Historical Studies, to submit her updated curriculum vitae (CV) to help the institution evaluate if she deserves to continue in the honorary position.
The emeritus position at a university carries no pecuniary benefits, and is offered for life to academics who have made a notable contribution to their field of specialization. Thapar, 87, is considered an authority on India’s ancient history. She has authored several rigorously-researched books, including the ever-popular History Of Early India From The Origins To AD 1300. Thapar, who has refused to share her CV with JNU, is also a winner of the prestigious Kluge Prize of the US Library of Congress, which honours lifetime achievements in disciplines not covered by the Nobel Prize. In short, Thapar’s credentials as a scholar are beyond doubt in the world of academia.
Thapar is regarded highly for a rational approach to history, one that puts all available evidence to scrutiny before offering a view of the past. Given the tortured relationship that many Indians share with the subcontinent’s history, especially the medieval era characterized by Muslim rule, her telling of what happened long before we were born does not always find popular favour. She is despised by rightists, for example, who refuse to accept her nuanced analysis of those days. This is a pity. Like her students, and others, they have much to learn from her research work and scholarship.