As I began my explorations of the views of India in the academic world, I came across a worrying phenomena. The people doing research on India, never seem to be based in India. They were often Indians, who were professors in American universities. Out of the 15 odd papers I have discussed in this blog so far, only 3 have been authored by researchers in India, 2 by the same author. Research on development and political issues, it seems is not a priority in Indian universities. There are many research centres, but these are not educational institutes.
Shouldnt the best people working on India’s problems, be based in India, interacting and training a new generation of Indian students, advising the Indian government and talking to the Indian media ? The absence of these scholars is causing a serious deficit in Indian’s understanding of their country. Without fundamental issues being highlighted and talked about by experts, many young Indians are supporting naive and reactionary solutions to the country’s myriad problems. ‘Military rule’, ‘its because of the Muslims’, ‘its because of reservations’, ‘lets shoot all politicians’ seem to have taken place of rational thought and debate. A biased, irresponsible media further contributes to this naivete.
The Indian government has to take the lead in making Indian universities, institutions that are capable of hosting and nurturing capable researchers. Engineers can build the physical infrastructure of a nation, but someone needs to build and develop the institutions that nurture democracy. Indian parents and their wards have to change their attitude towards the social sciences. When I was growing up, they were the butt of many jokes. Supposedly, studying the society of a country dealing with more problems than possibly all other countries put together was not as important as having the next Intel chip being designed by an Indian1.
India’s billionaires could take the lead in establishing universities that are more comprehensive than the segregated ‘institutes’ we have today2. But many are too busy buying and selling cricketers and partying with Bollywood celebrities to have the foresight.
An academic viewpoint is what it is: ‘academic’. It means very little if what it suggests cannot be implemented. But if the right things are to be done, then someone has to do the hard work and find out what the problems are, suggest solutions. If there is a void there, it can be filled by something much more dangerous than the problem itself.
1: This is not to say that designing chips in India is not important. The middle class needs to be nurtured and developed. But it also has to develop more sophisticated views of India and its problems. And I dont think that NDTV, IBN and Star News will do the job.
2: Whats common about the names Cornell, Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Brown, Rice ? Two things. Great Universities. Very rich businessmen.