Does South Asian Studies Undermine India?

[First Published 2003 in Rediff]

You have to be as careful giving away your money as you were in making it’

— Bill Gates

 

The Clinton administration made an official policy concerning India which the Bush administration has continued even further, namely, to decouple India from Pakistan, and to reposition India as a major geopolitical player in its own right. Likewise, the US corporate world has started to re-imagine India in this new light, seeing it as a positive force on the world stage.

However, many social sciences and liberal arts scholars are still entrenched in the rhetoric of ‘South Asia’ that emerged during the Cold War, in which India is lumped as one of eight problematic countries whose nuisance value is to be contained. While India’s accomplishments are nowadays being used to boost the image of its neighboring South Asian countries, in return, India gets associated with South Asian terrorism, violence, human rights problems and backwardness. Ironically, India’s culture gets blamed, and a rejection of Indianness by Indian students is encouraged as a marker of progressiveness.

American business schools report that India has become the most important country that students wish to study, in order to understand the future world economy and technological opportunities. Yet, the humanities departments run by scholars alienated from India are escalating their exaggerated and one-sided portrayals of India as dysfunctional and as a human rights cesspool.

There are over a thousand full-time humanities scholars in the US specializing in some aspect of India. The India Studies industry consists of the development of knowledge about India, as well as its distribution and retailing. It includes India-related academic research, school and college education about India and its culture, media portrayals of India, independent think tanks’ work on India, government policy making on India and corporate strategic planning on India. The impact of India Studies also includes the diffusion of ideas about India to Indians, many of whom are ignorant and/or even suffer from cultural shame.

This article explores how India Studies directly or indirectly informs American perceptions of India, its products and services, and of the Indian-American minority. Secondly, this article suggests practical strategic directions to bring balance and objectivity into India Studies.

It is important for Indian-Americans to participate in academic funding along the same lines as Chinese-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Arab-Americans and others already do. However, unlike these other communities, Indian-Americans have not yet done enough systematic research before strategising and investing in the academic system.

Meanwhile, affluent Indian-Americans’ pocketbooks have been targeted by many US industries, and now university fundraisers have established aggressive goals to solicit donations from them. When I recently learned that many Indian-American corporate executives had become active in India-related causes, I was, indeed, hopeful that high management standards of due diligence and strategic planning would be applied prior to their donations. However, many donors have not addressed critical questions before funding India Studies programs.

There has been an aggressive campaign across American campuses to construct an artificial new identity for Indian students, known as ‘South Asian,’ by denigrating ‘Indian’ as being inferior and/or less politically correct. Aditi Banerjee, a law student at Yale University, is one of the courageous whistleblowers challenging the legitimacy of the category of ‘South Asian’ identity.

Many eminent Indian-American donors are being led down the garden path by Indian professors who, ironically, assemble a team of scholars to undermine Indian culture. Rather than an Indian perspective on itself and the world, these scholars promote a perspective on India using worldviews which are hostile to India’s interests. Sophisticated terms are used which appear very scholarly, such as highlighting the plight of the ‘sub-nationals,’ by which they mean Indian minorities repositioned by the scholars as not being Indian and whose human rights are championed via separatist movements.

What the donors must appreciate is that the Indians on the faculties have their career loyalties to the universities and the larger funding system that sustains the academy today. Furthermore, in many cases, the ideologies of the humanities scholars run counter to the Indian-American donors’ vision of India as a free-market oriented, unified and pluralistic, economic power.

 

More posts by this author:

Please follow and like us:

Co Authors :

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.