Academics Criticize Euphoria Over Modi’s’ Visit to Silicon Valley

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Scores of academics, mostly of Indian descent, teaching at American universities around the country, exhorted U.S. high tech industry leaders in Silicon Valley to follow standards of freedom of expression and right to privacy when and if they strike any partnerships with India’s Prime Minister and the ruling government on ground that the regime was vitiating these rights and freedoms. It also chastised the Indian-American community over what it saw as euphoria over the Prime Minister’s Sept. 27 visit to California.

The critique comes a month before Prime Minister Modi is expected to arrive Sept. 25, in New York for the United Nations General Assembly meetings. He then proceeds to Silicon Valley for a meeting with tech leaders and the Indian-American community in San Francisco and Stanford University, before rushing back for a one-on-one with President Obama.

The “Faculty Statement on Narendra Modi Visit to Silicon Valley,” dated Sept. 27, posted on the blog of Academe Magazine, had 123 signatures by Aug. 30. The professors said they were concerned about the “uncritical fanfare” being generated over Modi’s visit to Silicon Valley to promote “Digital India.”

While his visit highlights the role Indians have played in developing Silicon Valley industries and hopes to build partnerships, the letter exhorted entrepreneurs in the Valley to be responsible about what forms of e-governance Modi’s Digital India program seeks to bring about.

“We are concerned that the project’s potential for increased transparency in bureaucratic dealings with people is threatened by its lack of safeguards about privacy of information, and thus its potential for abuse,” said the professors among whom was University of Chicago Professor of Religious Studies Wendy Doniger, whose book, An Alternative History of India, was pulled off shelves by publishers Penguin India when challenged by a school teacher for hurting religious sentiments.

“As it stands, “Digital India” seems to ignore key questions raised in India by critics concerned about the collection of personal information and the near certainty that such digital systems will be used to enhance surveillance and repress the constitutionally- protected rights of citizens,” the letter said, issues that need to be discussed openly in India and abroad. But “Those who live and work in Silicon Valley have a particular responsibility to demand that the government of India factor these critical concerns into its planning for digital futures.”

Modi has the right to visit and look for business partnerships in the Valley, they say, “However, as educators who pay particular attention to history, we remind Mr. Modi’s audiences of the powerful reasons for him being denied the right to enter the U.S. from 2005-2014, for there is still an active case in Indian courts that questions his role in the Gujarat violence of 2002 when 1,000 died,” the letter says.

“Modi’s first year in office as the Prime Minister of India includes well publicized episodes of censorship and harassment of those critical of his policies, bans and restrictions on NGOs leading to a constriction of the space of civic engagement, ongoing violations of religious freedom, and a steady impingement on the independence of the judiciary,” the letter added.

Signatories warned of a risk to academic freedom in India where “foreign scholars have been denied entry to India to attend international conferences, there has been interference with the governance of top Indian universities and academic institutions such as the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, the Indian Institutes of Technology and Nalanda University; as well as underqualified or incompetent key appointments made to the Indian Council of Historical Research, the Film and Television Institute of India, and the National Book Trust,” the letter said.

“We urge those who lead Silicon Valley technology enterprises to be mindful of not violating their own codes of corporate responsibility when conducting business with a government which has, on several occasions already, demonstrated its disregard for human rights and civil liberties, as well as the autonomy of educational and cultural institutions,” the letter concluded.

As of Aug. 30, the signatories to the letter included:
1. Meena Alexander, Distinguished Professor of English, Hunter College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York
2. Arjun Appadurai, Paulette Goddard Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication, New York University
3. Anjali Arondekar, Associate Professor of Women’s Studies, UC Santa Cruz
4. Fredrick Asher, Professor of Art History and South Asian Studies, University of Minnesota
5. Paola Bacchetta, Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies University of California, Berkeley
6. Sarada Balagopalan, Associate Professor of Childhood Studies, Rutgers University, Camden
7. Radhika Balakrishnan, Prof of Women’s and Gender Studies, Rutgers University
8. Shahzad Bashir, Professor of Religious Studies, Stanford University
9. Manu Bhagavan, Professor of History and Human Rights, Hunter College and the Graduate Center, The City University of New York
10. Mona Bhan Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology DePauw University
11. Srimati Basu, Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies, University of Kentucky
12. Prashant Bharadwaj, Associate Professor of Economics, University of California, San Diego
13. Nilanjana Bhattacharjya, Faculty Fellow, Barrett Honors College, Arizona State University
14. Nandini Bhattacharya, Professor of English, Texas A &M University, College- Station
15. Tithi Bhattacharya, Associate Professor of South Asian History, Purdue University
16. Amit R. Baishya, Assistant Professor of English, University of Oklahoma
17. Akeel Bilgrami, Sidney Morgenbesser Professor of Philosophy and Director, South Asian Institute, Columbia University
18. Purnima Bose, Associate Professor, English and International Studies, Indiana University-Bloomington
19. Christopher Candland, Associate Professor of Political Science, Wellesley College
20. Paula Chakravartty, Associate Professor, Gallatin School, & Department of Media, Culture and Communication, New York University
21. Shefali Chandra, Associate Professor of South Asian History Washington University, St. Louis
22. S. Charusheela, Associate Professor, School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, University of Washington, Bothell
23. Partha Chatterjee, Professor of Anthropology and South Asian Studies, Columbia University
24. Indrani Chatterjee Professor of History and South Asian Studies, University of Texas, Austin
25. Swati Chattopadhyay Professor History of Art and Architecture, University of California, Santa Barbara
26. Marty Chen, School of Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School and Affiliated Professor, Harvard Graduate School of Design
27. Rohit Chopra, Associate Professor of Communication, Santa Clara University
28. Elora Chowdhury Associate Professor & Chair, Women’s and Gender Studies, University of Massachusetts, Boston
29. E. Valentine Daniel, Professor of Anthropology, Colombia University
30. Monisha Das Gupta, Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies and Women’s Studies, University of Hawaii, Manoa
31. Jigna Desai, Professor of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies, University of Minnesota
32. Pawan Dhingra, Professor of Sociology, Tufts University
33. Wendy Doniger, Professor of the History of Religions, University of Chicago
34. Richard Falk, Professor of International Law Emeritus, Princeton University
35. Bishnupriya Ghosh, Professor of English University of California, Santa Barbara
36. Huma Ahmed-Ghosh, Professor and Chair of Women’s Studies, San Diego State University
37. Durba Ghosh, Associate Professor of History, Cornell University
38. Sumanth Gopinath, Associate Professor of Music Theory, School of Music, University of Minnesota
39. Nitin Govil, Associate Professor of Cinema & Media Studies, University of Southern California
40. Paul Greenough, Professor of History and Community and Behavioral Health and Director, South Asian Studies Program, University of Iowa
41. Inderpal Grewal, Professor of South Asian Studies, Yale University
42. Sumit Guha, Frances Higginbotham Nalle Centennial Professor of History, University of Texas, Austin
43. Thomas Blom Hansen, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Center for South Asia, Stanford University
44. Syed Akbar Hyder, Associate Professor of South Asian Studies, University of Texas, Austin
45. Nalini Iyer, Professor of English, Seattle University
45.Priya Jaikumar, Associate Professor of Cinema and Media Studies, University of Southern California
46. Pranav Jani, Associate Professor of English, Ohio State University
47. Sheila Jasanoff, Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government
48. Arun W. Jones, Associate Professor, Candler School of Theology, Emory University
49. May Joseph, Professor of Social Science, Pratt Institute
50. Priya Joshi, Associate Professor of English and Associate Director, Center for the Humanities, Temple University
51. Sampath Kannan, Henry Salvatore Professor of Computer and Information Science, University of Pennsylvania
52. Suvir Kaul, A.M. Rosenthal Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania Waqas Khwaja, Professor of English, Agnes Scott College
53. Naveeda Khan, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University
54. Nyla Ali Khan, Visiting Professor of Women’s Studies, University of Oklahoma, Norman
55. Satish Kolluri, Associate Professor of Communications, Pace University
56. Ruby Lal, Professor of Middle East and South Asian Studies, Emory University
57. Sarah Lamb, Professor of Anthropology and Head of the Division of Social Sciences, Brandeis University; Co-Chair of South Asian Studies
58. Karen Leonard, Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus, University of California, Irvine
59. David Lelyveld, Professor of History, Emeritus, William Paterson University
60. Jinee Lokaneeta, Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations, Drew University
61. Ania Loomba, Catherine Bryson Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania
62. David Ludden, Professor of History, New York University
63. Ritty Lukose, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and South Asian Studies, the Gallatin School, New York University
64. Sudhir Mahadevan Assistant Professor of Film Studies, Comparative Literature, Cinema and Media, University of Washington, Seattle
65. Tayyab Mahmud, Professor of Law and Director, Center for Global Justice Seattle University School of Law
66. Sunaina Maira, Professor of Asian American Studies, University of California, Davis
67. Bakirathi Mani, Associate Professor of English Literature, Swarthmore College
68. Rebecca J. Manring, Associate Professor of India Studies and Religious Studies Indiana University-Bloomington
69. Monika Mehta, Associate Professor, Department of English, Binghamton University
70. Jisha Menon, Assistant Professor of Theatre and Performance Studies, Stanford University
71. Kalyani Devaki Menon, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, DePaul University
72. Sally Engle Merry, Silver Professor of Anthropology, New York University
73. Raza Mir, Professor of Management, Cotsakos College of Business, William Paterson University
74. Deepti Misri, Associate Professor of Women and Gender Studies University of Colorado, Boulder
75. Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Chair and Distinguished Professor of Women’s & Gender Studies, and Dean’s Professor of Humanities, Syracuse University
76. Satya P. Mohanty, Professor of English, Cornell University
77. Megan Moodie, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of California, Santa Cruz
78. Projit B. Mukharji, Martin Meyerson Assistant Professor in Interdisciplinary Studies, History & Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania
79. Madhavi Murty, Assistant Professor of Feminist Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz
80. Vijaya Nagarajan, Associate Professor of Theology & Religious Studies, Program in Environmental Studies, University of San Francisco
81. Gyanendra Pandey, Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of History, Emory University
82. Carla Petievich, Visiting Professor of South Asian Studies, University of Texas, Austin
83. Sheldon Pollock, Professor of South Asian Studies, Columbia University Kavita Philip, Associate Professor of History, University of California, Irvine
84. Vijay Prashad, George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian History, Trinity College
85. Jasbir K. Puar, Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, Rutgers University
86. Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Professor of Law and Development, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
87. R. Radhakrishnan, Chancellor’s Professor of English and Comparative Literature, University of California, Irvine
88. Gloria Raheja, Professor of Anthropology, University of Minnesota
89. Junaid Rana, Associate Professor of Asian American Studies, University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana
90. Anupama Rao, Professor of Anthropology, Barnard College
91. Velcheru Narayana Rao, Distinguished Visiting Professor of Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies, Emory University
92. Kasturi Ray, Associate Professor of Women and Gender Studies/Co-Director, South Asian Studies, San Francisco State University
93. M.V. Ramana, Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University Sumathi Ramaswamy, Professor of History, Duke University
94. Chandan Reddy, Associate Professor of English, University of Washington, Seattle
95. Gayatri Reddy, Associate Professor of Women’s Studies, University of Illinois, Chicago
95. Parama Roy, Professor of English, University of California, Davis
96. Sharmila Rudrappa, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Texas at Austin
97. G.S. Sahota, Assistant Professor of Literature, University of California, Santa Cruz
98. Yasmin Saikia, Hardt-Nickachos Chair in Peace Studies & Professor of History, Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, Arizona State University
99. Arun Saldanha, Associate Professor of Geography, Environment and Society University of Minnesota
100. Juned Shaikh, Assistant Professor of History, University of California, Santa Cruz
101. Nitasha Tamar Sharma, Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence and Associate Professor of African American Studies and Asian American Studies, Northwestern University
102. Elora Shehabuddin, Associate Professor of Humanities and Political Science, Rice University
103. Bhaskar Sarkar, Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara
104. Priya Satia, Associate Professor of History, Stanford University
105. Aradhana Sharma, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Wesleyan University
106. Snehal Shinghavi, Associate Professor of English and South Asian Studies, University of Texas, Austin
107. Ajay Skaria, Professor of History, University of Minnesota
108. Shalini Shankar, Chair and Associate Professor of Asian American Studies, Northwestern University
109. S. Shankar, Professor of English, University of Hawai’i at Mānoa
110. Amritjit Singh, Langston Hughes Professor of English, Ohio University
111. Mytheli Sreenivas, Associate Professor of History and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Ohio State University
112. Rajini Srikanth, Professor, English, University of Massachusetts Boston Nidhi Srinivas, Associate Professor of Nonprofit Management, The New School
113. Ajantha Subramanian, Professor of Anthropology and South Asian Studies, Harvard University
114. Banu Subramaniam, Professor, Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
115. Kaushik Sunder Rajan, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Chicago
116. Raja Swamy, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, University of Tennessee Tariq Thachil, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Yale University
117. Ashwini Tambe, Associate Professor of Women’s Studies, University of Maryland, College-Park
118. Vamsi Vakulabharanam, Associate Professor of Economics, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
119. Jyotnsa Vaid, Professor of Psychology, Texas A&M University
120. Sylvia Vatuk, Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus, University of Illinois, Chicago
121. Kamala Visweswaran, Professor of Ethnic Studies, University of California, San Diego
122. Kalindi Vora, Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies, University of California, San Diego
123. Bonnie Zare, Professor of Gender & Women’s Studies, University of Wyoming