Tuesday, December 09, 2003

The Study of South Asia in the U.S.

South Asian Studies in the U.S.

Rediff.com has published a two part essay (click here for Part I) by Rajiv Malhotra discussing South Asian Studies in the U.S., and if focusing on the regional aspects of South Asia, as opposed to India, undermines India.

He opens with the following paragraphs:

"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."

First, I can't recall the Clinton administration ever making an official policy to reposition India, or any other country, as a major geopolitical player. Secondly, the study of South Asia, at least in my experiences studying South Asia in an international affairs, poly-sci, or social science context did not lump India as one of eight problematic countries, just for the hell of it, but instead because it makes a lot more sense to study states as part of a larger region. The point of this is because many of these states do indeed share characteristics. No matter how much one would like to assert a completely separate identity, the reality remains that people in Bhutan share characteristics with people living in Nepal, who in turn share characteristics with Indians, who in turn share characteristics with Pakistan, and so on and so on. To study South Asia, or to identify oneself as a South Asian is in no way a rejection of Indianess, or a way to mark ones progressiveness (or lack thereof), but instead is a way for members of a minority group to not only create a larger population of ethnic peers, but also to recognize our shared heritages, and our shared characteristics.

And Lastly, when I was an undergrad and tried to pressure the GW administration to start a formal South Asian studies major, I was told the program was dependent on funding. Those who had a vested interest in a region or a particular area of study, and of course who were well off financially (and therefore often a person of South Asian origin) often endowed certain programs of study. That person or people would then not only get the class or courses they wanted, they had influence over the direction of the courses.

The Dean of GW's International Affairs school informed us that no Indian or South Asian person that he met with was interested in funding a course in Hindi, let alone a course in Indian politics, or South Asian history. We were told that they were interested in funding more technology oriented courses and the like. The moral of this last point goes out to Mr Malhotra, and others that agree with his point of view. If you really want to add the study of India or South Asia, you need to put your money where your mouth is, because without funding, private or otherwise, most institutions of higher education will probably not take your opinion or your efforts seriously.

Anyway, I would love to hear what others have to say on this article.


Post a Comment

<< Home