Does South Asian Studies Undermine India?


Role of US Universities in India’s Brand Positioning

Universities have a high leverage in influencing American foreign policy and domestic attitudes towards minority cultures, for the following reasons:

1. Media: Universities influence the media by educating the next generation of journalists, and professors are often quoted and interviewed as ‘experts.’

2. Government: The government is influenced because

i. think tanks are usually linked to universities,

ii. government staff is trained in universities’ International Studies departments,

iii. the US Commission on International Religious Freedom uses professors to help determine which countries must be red-flagged for sanctions for violating religious freedom, and

iv. the US Congress has hearings on human rights.

Furthermore, Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, the International Court, institutions of the European Union and United Nations, and other transnational groups call upon academic scholars to testify and help formulate policy.

3. Business: Business schools’ degree programs and executive seminars inform corporate strategies on international activities, and professors influence globalization and investment directions.

4. Education: Colleges train schoolteachers. Many textbooks and reference works are written by professors.

5. Indian-American identities: Indian students’ identities are shaped in their formative years in colleges, because this is when they first leave home. Young Indian intellectuals often follow the footsteps of Western scholars.

To illustrate this, consider a major issue today where academic scholars could be helping India. This is the outsourcing controversy in the USA — as to whether it is good or bad for the US. The deafening silence of most scholars of South Asian Studies is noteworthy. Yet, the very same scholars have lobbied against India’s human rights record at various public and policymaking forums and in campus seminars.

This is to be contrasted with the pro-Pakistan appearances on US television and in media interviews by a predictable set of scholars, both Pakistanis and their Indian colleagues. (Note that the business schools have supported India’s case for outsourcing, but not the South Asian Studies departments.)

The study of India is spread across several disciplines. Each discipline has its own standard filters, often built on postcolonial Marxism, which determine the scholars selected, what topics and methods they use, and the meta-narratives they apply. The disciplines in which India Studies are found are:

1. Anthropology that uses the lens of caste, cows and curry exotica, often based on unscientific dogmas about class conflicts.

2. History that continues to be based on recycling colonial and/or Marxist frameworks in many cases.

3. South Asian Studies (often an umbrella for all disciplines to be brought together) which is shaped by US foreign policy and focuses on nukes, Kashmir, terrorism, internal conflicts and divide-and-rule ideas.

4. Religious Studies which is based on the use of mainly non-Indian categories. This discipline is witnessing a recent trend to interpret Indian culture using Freudian theories to eroticize, denigrate and trivialize Indian spirituality. For a recent major flare-up concerning the academic denigration of Ganesha, and the Diaspora response to it, see:

5. Media and Journalism perpetuates many stereotypes created by the other disciplines.

6. Literature and English project the narratives of English language authors from India, whose often self-alienated identities are hardly positive or genuine representations of Indian culture. Unfortunately, many intellectuals in Indian are emulating these standards.

Each discipline has its own conferences, journals, chairs, ‘insiders’ and ‘gatekeepers,’ and established funding sources.

India Studies is largely funded and controlled by the following institutions:

1.      Western (mainly US) universities,

2.      US foundations (both religious and secular),

3.      various Western academic associations for the humanities,

4.      US State Department and National Endowment for Humanities,

5.      Christian seminaries,

6.      Democratic and Republican think tanks, and

7.      Western human rights institutions.

It is normal, and expected, that the US would fund vast amounts of study pertaining to every region of the world from its own perspective. In fact, there is a recent bill in the US Congress that would further strengthen the federal government’s grip on South Asian Studies in order to make it reflect US foreign policy interests.

This is natural, and merely formalizes and publicly acknowledges what was always the case. The problem is not that others study India (which is, in fact, healthy input from the outside); the problem is lack of support for India-centric studies from institutions that have India’s best interests and image in mind.

Chinese, Arabs, Pakistanis, Japanese and Koreans have far greater control over the discourse concerning their respective brands.

The last two centuries of Indological studies have focused on the themes of divisiveness among Indians.


This is today accomplished by constructing identities of victimhood with other Indians depicted as culprits:


i.                    Western feminists are telling Indian women that they are victims of Indian culture.

ii.                  Dalit activists are being sponsored to blame Brahmins.[ii]

iii.                The divisive Aryan theory is being used as ‘fact’ to construct a separate Dravidian identity and to ‘Aryanize’ North Indians as foreign culprits. And

iv.                India’s English language media is sometimes subverting traditions by glorifying everything Western and denigrating or ignoring everything indigenous.

The ultimate game plan of such scholarship is to facilitate the conceptual breakup of India, by encouraging the paradigms that oppose its unity and integrity. Many humanities scholars blatantly promote smaller nation states instead of one India.


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