“My Discussion of Yoga Was Threatening to Its RSS-Linked Administration”: Patricia Sauthoff On the Cancellation of Her Course At Nalanda

20 September 2017
Courtesy Patricia Sauthoff
Courtesy Patricia Sauthoff

Patricia Sauthoff is an American PhD scholar at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and a former faculty member at Nalanda University in Bihar. From August 2016 to 28 July this year, Sauthoff was employed as a teaching fellow at the university’s School of Buddhist Studies, Philosophy and Comparative Religions. In her second term at Nalanda, which started in January this year, she taught two courses, including a course titled the “History and Politics of Yoga.” It explored the “history of Yoga in India as religious, social, and political practice.”

On 13 June, the university’s administration sent Sauthoff a letter informing her that her contract would soon expire and requesting her to communicate her “willingness for further continuance in the University.” Six days later, she received another letter, which informed her that the previous one “may be treated as cancelled and withdrawn.” Sauthoff’s employment contract was never renewed, and her course was subsequently discontinued—she later said that she was not given any official reason for this decision.

On 9 September, Ram Madhav, the national general secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party and a director of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-affiliated think-tank India Foundation, criticised the course. He tweeted: “Stunned to hear dat Amartya Sen’s Nalanda Univ regime had a course on ‘Politics of Yoga’ taught by a foreigner. Now course abolished.” Madhav’s reference to Sen was odd—the economist resigned from his position as Nalanda’s chancellor over a year before Sauthoff’s course on yoga began.

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    Sagar is a staff writer at The Caravan.

    Keywords: RSS Bihar academia education Amartya Sen Bharatiya Janata Party Nalanda University academic freedom yoga Ram Madhav universities Sonia Singh India Foundation