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Going Global in India

Saturday, March 16, 2013
by Yaakov Sullivan

From the Hudson to the Ganges: Columbians Involved in India’s Transformation

India is not merely a country; it is a subcontinent.  It has adherents of nine world religions and speakers of 22 different languages recognized by the Indian Constitution. It offers a sea of challenges to students, researchers and practitioners dedicated to analyzing the complexities of contemporary Indian society.

Though its epic literature extends back over millennia, today’s India also has both feet firmly grounded in the 21st. century.  It has grown into an economic powerhouse playing an increasingly major role on the global stage, with some economists predicting it will become the world’s third largest economy by 2015.  Politically, it is ranked as the world’s largest democracy.  In a matter of decades, India has leapt forward from a country that still delves into its ancient Sanskrit texts, to one that has mastered the language of computer technology, so much so that it provides half of the worlds outsourced IT services making for a US$47B industry.  In meeting the aspirations of the growing middle class for higher education, the Indian government has committed to expanding its own university system, hoping to make India a “knowledge” powerhouse as well.  Yet, rapid economic growth is often accompanied with heightened inequities in society and India is no exception.  Here too we find that commonly occurring global mix of opportunities versus challenges.

With the 2010 opening of the Global Center|South Asia in Mumbai, Columbia’s engagement with the region has been strengthened with the Center providing a locus which functions as a research engine for those involved with South Asian studies in general and Indian studies specifically.  Over the course of 2012, the Center saw the participation in their projects and workshops of 17 Columbia students, 11 undergraduates and 6 graduate, 19 faculty members, along with visits from 10 alumni.

The Global Scholars Program conducts a summer research workshop which provides Columbia undergraduates and faculty with the opportunity to conduct comparative research overseas by employing the expertise, resources and cross-regional networks offered by the eight Global Centers.  This program also seeks to enhance the level of collaboration between the Centers themselves.  Its aim is to provide undergraduates with research experience in collaboration with faculty in subjects of transnational importance. The 2012 program involved the Centers in Mumbai and Beijing. After spending three weeks in Beijing, students relocated to the Mumbai Center for an additional two weeks spent conducting comparative research on the topic Environment and Urbanization in Asia.

The program was led by faculty members Guobin Yang, Associate Professor in the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures at Barnard and Robbie Barnett, Director of the Modern Tibet Studies Program, in the Weatherhead East Asian Institute.  The experience provided students with an opportunity to learn about field research methodologies in a cross-cultural environment. It also provided them with the opportunity to visit non-profit organizations and historical sites and taking part in a series of lectures featuring leading professionals in the field.

An added advantage to the undergraduate program in Mumbai is that it facilitates interaction between Columbia students and their Indian counterparts, six local undergraduates from H.R.College of Commerce and Economics, at the University of Mumbai., thereby strengthening cross-cultural exchange.

Six Columbia graduate students also participated in internship programs at the Mumbai Center over the course of 2012, providing them with a venue for continuing their research and conducting field studies. Shilpi Sharma is a second year PhD candidate at the School of Social Work, Tina Mann, is currently pursuing her Master of Science in Social Work, Canaria Gaffar, a first year student at SIPA studying in the Master of Public Administration in Development Practice, Moneeza Kalhan-Siddiqui, in her first year Master of Public Health (Epidemiology) at the Mailman School of Public Health.  Caroline Fox graduated in May 2012 with a Master of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy, a joint program between Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs and the Earth Institute.  Chitji Bashyal, a student at SIPA worked for several months at the CGC |South Asia working on addressing absenteeism in rural health programs. All of these students found the Columbia Global Center|South Asia to be a perfect fit for attaining their goal of connecting research with practice.  Study at the Center was enriched further by its atmosphere of peer learning where staff and interns are encouraged to take advantage of working with a team of highly qualified professionals with expertise in education, public health, international development and economics.

Faculty involvement at the Center has primarily taken place within four programs:  The Model District Health Project, which is a joint initiative between the Earth Institute and the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, aims to demonstrate which health and nutrition interventions are needed to narrow policy-practice gaps in the National Rural Health Mission in five districts across India.

The Model District Education Project is a collaborative 5 year project of the Columbia Global Centers |South Asia and the Indian government, along with key stakeholders in primary education. The project brings together faculty and students from five different schools/departments of Columbia: Teachers College; the School of Social Work; Dental School; the Department of Nutrition of the Columbia Medical School and the Earth Institute.    The project aims to improve the quality of primary education in India by developing and testing an evidence-based model that is locally owned and operated and yet is readily transferrable to other locales.

The Global Center also hosts a “Distinguished Lecture Series” which brings prominent Columbia faculty, as well as experts from other institutions, to Mumbai to speak on a variety of topics relevant to the region.  Launched in March 2012, the series featured former Vice President for Arts & Sciences, the Franz Boas Professor of Anthropology, Nick Dirks.  The second lecture was given by Dr. Kenneth Prewitt, the Carnegie Professor of Public Affairs at the Columbia School of International and Public Affairs.

The fourth project was a workshop, the Subaltern Urbanism Workshop which took place in January 2013, with the support of Studio X Mumbai and the project on “Women Creating Change”, which is housed at Columbia’s Center for the Study of Social Difference.  The workshop brought together a group of local scholars, artists and activists to explore themes of urban planning and intrapolitics; the relationship of political violence to new formations of social and spatial segregation; the relationship of gender to inhabitation and issues in comparative urbanism.

Though no classes are offered at this time, the CGC| South Asia is actively engaged in drawing up an exciting list of three potential projects for this current year.  The first involves delving deeper into the meaning of a free press in a rapidly globalized world and what mechanisms and institutions are necessary for governing it.

The second project will confront issues dealing with global inequality and would involve collaboration with the entire Columbia Global network. The focus would be on an in-depth investigation on how inequality takes shape in each of the Global Center regions looking at inequality of access, the role of social factors in inequality, spatial inequality and income inequality.  Lastly, the Center in Mumbai hopes to develop a longer-term engagement around subaltern urbanism following upon the January workshop.

Under the leadership of Nirupam Bajpai and his Steering Committee, the Columbia Global Center| South Asia continues to make progress in linking together Columbia faculty and students with their Indian counterparts, and facilitating productive, multidisciplinary and collaborative projects which help address the challenges presented by India’s social and economic transformations.