When 62 of the countrys best known academicians and authors threaten to sever links with a prestigious publishing house, the issue ceases to be an "internal matter". Besides, the Oxford University Press (OUP) has been washing its dirty linen in public anyway.
It all began with the unfolding of a sordid tale last week in the capital, when the high-pro file director of OUPs academic division, Rukun Advani, and equally competent commissioning editor Anuradha Roy were served notices asking one of them to quit and subsequently, served suspension orders on grounds of "gross misconduct" and causing "continuing disruption in the office". Advani resigned immediately after 18 years of service. Their offence: they were married to each other (and have been so for the past two years) and hence could not continue working in the same organisation. This, despite the fact that their contract did not specify any such clause. Even OUP managing director Manzar Khan has publicly acknowledged that globally the publishing house has no such policy. There are 5,000 employees worldwide and among them there are a number of married couples, both in India and abroad .
Advani, who is credited with having transformed OUP from a British textbook reprinting firm to a prestigious Indian academic publishing house, says, "It all began last November. Manzar called me in and said that he had been directed by the UK office to implement this dormant rule and would prefer if Anuradha left because the organisation placed higher value on me." When Advani demanded that this rule be implemented globally, Khan stated that rules were apparently different for worldwide and India-specific operations.
According to the couple, Khan then took it for granted that Advani would relay the message to Roy and, therefore, did not speak to her about the matter till Roy forced the issue in the beginning of February. Khans explanation was that he had "forgotten" to speak to her. Further protest by the couple and the subsequent uproar among reputed OUP authors led to Khan changing his stance and accusing them of indiscipline and suspending them.
While Advanis resignation has been accepted, Roy is still contemplating her course of action. Meanwhile, authors in India, the US and the UK have lodged a strong protest with Khan and the authorities abroad, stating that "since 1982, when Rukun Advani joined the editorial department of OUP Delhi, his intellectual, editorial and organisational efforts have contributed in a very large measure to building the kind of indigenous academic list that OUP India now has." They also condemned the fact that the "policy decision seems to apply only to India...and to expect that the woman will be the one to leave quietly is to premise policy on gender inequity....If the management of OUP were to ignore our protest, or fail to convince the international division of the gravity of the situation...all of us who have in the past published with OUP Delhi...will have no choice but to reconsider seriously our association with it."
Khan remains unavailable for further comment. The atmosphere continues to be grim at the organisations offices. Fear and seething resentment are palpable. An employee described it as a state of shell-shock. People are too scared to protest for the feeling is that there seems to be no protectionif such a thing could happen to a senior person like Advani, what about mere hirelings ?
A few former employees described the situation as terrible and unimaginable and were quick to point out that after Advani and Roy got married, Roy reported directly to Khan. So there had never been any question of favouritism or unfair privileges being granted to Roy, who enjoys wide credibility in the department and with authors. Roy feels that there could be a spate of resignations in the acade-mic division soon. The incessant ringing of phones and flowers pouring in is testimony to a growing solidarity with the couple. No one seems to be quite able to figure out the real reason behind the move. Could be personal, could be not. While the couple is quite clear that they wouldnt want to waste time in litigation and the matter may soon fade from public memory as with all such issues, there s one question that hangs fire: can a premier publishing house really afford to lose its entire stable of eminent authors and the editors who made it all happen?