Does South Asian Studies Undermine India?

India Studies Distribution Channels

Serious academic scholarship about India is rarely in the hands of scholars with loyalty to India. On the other hand, China Studies is now largely under the control of China. China’s universities produce China Studies scholars for domestic academic positions and for export to the universities worldwide. Its government organizes prestigious academic conferences in China and funds journals so that academic careers do not depend on impressing Western institutions.

To use a business metaphor, what is at stake is analogous to brand management. Unlike China, India is abandoning its brand management, and, by default, leaving it in the hands of third parties, inclusive of competitors.

One Indian-American complained that my brand management metaphor was ‘amusing and offensive.’ But just last week, there is an article in The New York Times precisely on the importance of nations building brands and managing them professionally. Titled, ‘When Nations Need a Little Marketing,’ it mentions how Germany, Britain, New Zealand, among others, have been doing this.[i]

The following diagram shows the structure of the knowledge industry concerning countries like India and China, and its relationship to Western frameworks and controls. China controls the production and distribution of knowledge about it, whereas Indians are largely consumers of knowledge about India. Many Indians who are producers/distributors serve non-Indian institutions and ideologies.

An academic chair is a knowledge production center of very high leverage, and has the potential to do a lot of good or a lot of harm. Therefore, any donor should scrutinize the outputs from a given department (dissertations, research papers, books, conferences and campus events), because funding a chair would be a force multiplier for whatever ideological tilts lie entrenched there. This concentration of power is exacerbated by the fact that humanities scholars within a given discipline typically have an inner circle or cabal that closes ranks, vitiating the process of peer reviews. Ideologies and political agendas often drive the direction and interpretation of research, producing vastly distorted images of the subject. There is a strong case for independent external audits by the funding sources to monitor standards of rigor, objectivity and quality.



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