Harvard University has dismissed an Indian Hindu professor who wrote a controversial article that appeared to disparage Muslims.
In a July op-ed piece for an English-language Indian publication, Subramanian Swamy implied that the only Muslims in India who should be allowed to vote are those that “acknowledge that their ancestors were Hindus.” He also recommended demolishing hundreds of mosques in India and banning religious conversions.
The op-ed came on the heels of a series of bombings in Mumbai that killed almost two dozen people in mid-July.
In that article, Swamy wrote: “The first lesson to be learnt from the recent history of Islamic terrorism against India and for tackling terrorism in India is that the Hindu is the target and that Muslims of India are being programmed by a slow reactive process to become radical and thus slide into suicide against Hindus.”
Swamy, an economist, lecturer, who also happens to be president of the Janata Party, was condemned by Harvard officials for his reprehensible views.
According to reports, the faculty members of Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted by an overwhelming majority to eliminate two economics courses that Swamy was scheduled to teach in Cambridge this summer – which would essentially remove him from the teaching faculty.
Diana L. Eck, professor of comparative religion and Indian studies at Harvard, was apparently outraged by Swamy’s views. According to the Harvard Crimson newspaper, she said his op-ed clearly crosses the line by demonizing an entire religious community and calling for violence against their sacred places. There is a distinction between unpopular and unwelcome political views.”
However, Harvard initially stood by Swamy, citing the principles of free speech.
Donald Pfister, dean of the summer school, initially told local media: I find [Swamy's] position reprehensible, but on the other hand, it is our duty to support departments and their offerings.”
Subsequently, a petition by more than 400 students demanding Swamy’s removal seemed to have turned the tide against him.
The petition stated: “Swamy has exploited this event not only to promote a vision of Indian society based on Hindu supremacy, but to disparage and cast suspicion on the entire Muslim community in India.”
Umang Kumar, a student at Harvard Divinity School, told the Crimson: “These are statements you’d expect a demagogue on the extreme right to say, but a professor who comes here, who got his Ph.D. from Harvard?”
Similarly, Sanjay J. Pinto, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology and social policy, told the Crimson: “[Swamy’s] comments are wrong on many levels. They put forth a vision of Indian society in which not all religious groups are welcome, which is very different from the India that both of us know.”
Pinto added: “Swamy draws a lot of prestige and legitimacy from his position at Harvard. If the Hindu right were to come into power in India, he could very well be someone who takes up a position in government, so I think it’s important for members of this community to play a part in discrediting him and saying, ‘No, he does not represent us.’”
Kumar and Pinto (who are both from India) initiated the petition.
Harvard Philosophy Department Chair Sean Kelly, who originally defended Swamy, later switched sides.
I was persuaded ... that the views expressed in Dr Swamy's op-ed piece amounted to incitement of violence instead of protected political speech, he said, according to Crimson.
Similarly, Harvard history Professor Sugata Bose (who is himself an Indian Hindu), told media: [Swamy's] position on disenfranchisement] is like saying Jewish Americans and African Americans should not be allowed to vote unless they acknowledge the supremacy of white Anglo Saxon Protestants.”
Pinto also told the Crimson: “Not allowing Hindus to convert to any other religion, not allowing other groups to vote unless they proudly declare their Hindu ancestry—it’s honestly kind of absurd. They stereotype an entire population of people. How can this man who expresses these views, who’s basically saying that India should only be for Hindus and not for other people, and denigrating all Muslims, how can he teach students at Harvard?”
Swamy himself believes Harvard should reconsider its decision to essentially fire him from campus and charged they did not follow proper procedure.
He told Indian media: The article was written for a Mumbai newspaper and I teach economics in Harvard. I would assume that they would have sent their petition to me asking for my comments, which is a normal procedure. But they have not done that.”
He added that Harvard (which is considered one of the best universities in the world) may have established a dangerous precedent.
If tomorrow anyone writes on India and writes rubbish about India, they come here, then they can be punished here for what they write in America. That would be a dangerous principle. Harvard should look at it, he said.
Swamy also defended his views on religion, telling the Crimson: “I can’t condemn all Muslims. I’m not against them. I never said Muslims as a whole are terrorists.”