Does South Asian Studies Undermine India?

South Asian Studies

The activities of scholars in each relevant discipline need to be studied. For example, there are over 500 scholars formally associated with South Asian Studies in American universities, and over half of them are of Indian origin, having been carefully groomed to fit the intellectual mold.

Yet, no Indian institution has systematically tracked the topics that the South Asian Studies scholars select and why, who funds this work, and the trends that underlie the theses of the past 25 years.

Professional managers in corporate America would never justify investment in a field without first having answered such basic questions. They would be alert and suspicious to the keen interest shown in them by other players in the industry. Indian-American donors need to be more vigilant.

India, like China, deserves to be studied in its own right. It is one of the five or so great civilizations of humankind and world centers of the future. ‘South Asian’ studies often limit India by bracketing it with ‘Pakistan’ — as mirror-images and/or as opposites — and naturally gravitate to conflict rather than studying India in its own right. (Pakistan also deserves to be given a chance to develop a stand-alone identity that is not dependent upon India, positively or negatively.)

The very grouping known as ‘South Asia’ is a US State Department construction under a foreign policy initiative known as ‘area studies‘ started during the Cold War. However, Indians may prefer to identify with Southeast Asia rather than South Asia. Shouldn’t Indians make this critical choice of classification and framework rather than being dictated to by foreign think tanks and academics? In this regard, China controls its brand management, while India is simply being led.

SAJA (South Asian Journalists Association) illustrates how some institutions with the ‘South Asian’ nomenclature are compromising India’s interests. SAJA consistently placates Pakistan. Its 5 percent Pakistani members leverage the collective power of SAJA to neutralize the 95 percent Indian members.

Hence, it cannot write critically of Pakistan, leave alone assert a pro-India stance on Kashmir and other issues. But Pakistanis have a separate Pakistani Journalists Association in parallel, and, are also proud leaders of Pan-Islamic movements on campuses. They, clearly, do not suffer from cultural or identity shame. The Pakistani government is a silent but active force in these situations.

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