OUP vows to reprint the controversial works of Indian scholar

Oxford University Press has begun reprinting The collected essays of A.K. Ramanujan, a poet and scholar of Indian literature, in response to a letter of protest from scholars who claim the work was becoming increasingly unavailable.

OUP came under heavy criticism in November from over 450 intellectuals worldwide for its apparent role in censorship of the book, which includes the controversial essay “Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation.” The protest came in the form of a petition against the non-publishing of Ramanujan’s book and essay.

The Press commented: “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.” The book will now be available from the OUP India website.

The essay in question, written in 1991, charts the development of many different forms of the Ramayana, a Sanskrit text which is central to Hinduisim, throughout Asian history. Controversy has surrounded the inclusion of some versions of the epic, which portray Rama and Sita as brother and sister, as opposed to Hindu tradition which views them as husband and wife.

In October, the University of Delhi removed the essay from the reading list of its undergraduate history degree after complaints from conservative Hindus had led to an extended court case. This defied the recommendations made by the Delhi History Department, as well as an academic expert committee which was established on the recommendation of the High Court, who both voted in favour of retaining the work.

In response to the OUP’s decision to reprint the book, the organisers of the international petition issued a joint statement:  “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.”

OUP also wished to add that it “does not and never has apologised for publishing any work by Ramanujan,” despite reports of a letter sent by OUP India in 2008 to the High Court, which stated regret for having offended Hindu sentiments and said that OUP had no intention of reissuing the publication of The Collected Essays.

“Any previous communications from OUP India that have given the impression of such an apology have been misinterpreted,” the Press clarified.