Author Archives: Saanya Gulati

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About Saanya Gulati

Saanya Gulati is a senior at Tufts University from India, majoring in International Relations and Sociology.

Sustaining the dialogue on South Asia

As this year comes to an end, SAPAC’s executive board would like to thank all of you who came for our events, and helped make them a success. This year we have expanded our campus presence, by organizing a wide-range of events. We really enjoyed the student led discussions, where we were able to engage in vibrant discussions about some pertinent issues in the subcontinent from state building in Afghanistan to India-Pakistan relations. This semester we tried to bring in those with  expertise in the region like Professor Partha Ghosh and Justine Hardy. One of our greatest feats was being able to successfully collaborate with other groups on campus like the new Association for Pakistani Allies (APA), the Hindu Students Council (HSC), BUILD India and organize Tufts first ever South Asia Week. We hope this will become an annual event at Tufts.

Of course having a website and launching a blog were two new initiatives and we have  had students write about a range of issues related to South Asian politics, economics and society. We encourage more of you to write to us with ideas for blog posts, and of course actual bog posts.

Our blog but also our group as a whole occupies an important position in an institution like Tufts which values it’s global-minded student community and encourages us to be aware of the world around us. Given the South Asian region’s growing importance in today’s global context, whether it is related to economic development or social and political change, we believe it is important to make sure that this dialogue continues and that SAPAC continues to attract students who are interested in sustaining this dialogue through their interest in the region or those who are interested in learning about it.

On that note, we think it is valuable to learn about the kind of work that Tufts students are doing in South Asia, whether it is over the summer or in their life post-Tufts. We have spoken to a range of students who have worked in diplomacy, policy-work, rural development, and entrepreneurship.

So as you depart for summer, or for those of you seniors who have graduated and may be looking at opportunities in the region, be sure to look at our newest page ”Tufts Students in South Asia,” which will profile the work of Tufts students and Tufts alumni in South Asia.

Have a great summer!

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South Asia Week: Celebrating a multitude of perspectives

The newly elected president of the Tufts Association of South Asians (TASA), Arvind Krishnamurthy, recently pointed out something interesting about the South Asian community at Tufts in his election speech: that it’s not homogenous. Most of us would be able to relate to his experience at Tufts, of having been “exposed to South Asians from a multitude of backgrounds,” each bringing their own perspective, but more importantly their own interests. Here at Tufts there are students who are interested in different aspects of South Asia, ranging from culture to politics to specific countries in the region. Whether it’s SAPAC, the Association of Pakistani Allies (APA) or the Hindu Students Council (HSC) students have brought their own interests to promote an understanding of South Asia in different ways. It is this myriad of diverse perspectives and backgrounds that makes up our ‘South Asian community’ here at Tufts. But in order to have a holistic understanding of the region, it is important to learn about “different cultures amongst ourselves,” which Arvind also pointed out in his speech.

Here at SAPAC we have decided to embrace this philosophy, and bring our South Asian communities together so we can celebrate this multitude of perspectives. For the first time at Tufts, SAPAC in association with TASA, HSC, APA and BUILD India is hosting South Asia Week, featuring events on South Asian culture, politics, economics and arts. From the fun-filled festivals of Holi and Basant, to a journalist’s experience in the conflict ridden zone of Kashmir, the prospect of a new paradigm of economic growth in India and China and a showcasing of BUILD students’ experience in Thotiapatti, we have a week full of events planned for you, straight from the heart of the subcontinent.

Come and celebrate South Asia Week with us. We hope to see you at our events! Here are more details of the events:

1. Holi & Basant by the Hindu Students Council & Association of Pakistani Allies on 21st April – 12.30PM, ResQuad

Basant is the festival of kite flying in Pakistan and is celebrated at the beginning of spring every year. Every year, thousands of Hindus participate in the festival Holi. The festival has many purposes. First and foremost, it celebrates the beginning of the new season, spring. Originally, it was a festival that commemorated good harvests and the fertile land. Hindus believe it is a time of enjoying spring’s abundant colors and saying farewell to winter. It also has a religious purpose, commemorating the salvage of a Vishnu devotee from a fire that killed the demoness Holika.

2. Embracing the Next “ism”: Exploring the New Possibilities of Human Advancement: A talk by Partha Ghosh organized by SAPAC on 24th April – 8PM, ASEAN Auditorium

The challenge facing most developing countries today is whether it is possible to pursue the same model of growth as the developed nations did. Is resource extraction even feasible, given the current global environment? Come and hear Professor Partha Ghosh talk about the next “ism,” a new model for economic development and human advancement. How can this paradigm can challenge the current status quo and provide us with a more sustainable and viable approach towards development?

3. The Psychology of Conflict: A Talk on Kashmir by Justine Hardy organized by SAPAC & The Oslo Scholars Program on April 25th – 6PM, Location TBD

4. Thottiyapatti in Tufts: Experience Development in Rural India with FREE Indian Food
Photo Exhibition by BUILD India on April 26th – 8PM-10PM, SoGo Multipurpose Room

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Embracing the Next “ism”: Exploring the New Possibilities of Human Advancement, beyond the constraints of our current economic model

Last month the South Asian political Action Committee at Tufts hosted an event with professor Partha Ghosh on “Solving the complex puzzle of growth: embracing modernity & preserving tradition in India & China.” The event not only had a great turnout, but also received great feedback, which is why we are bringing back Professor Ghosh at the request of many students, hopefully to try and reach out to a larger student body this time. The talk not only touched on some topics that are relevant to economic development, including the countries of India & China that are often characterized as the next big powers, but provided us with the possibility of a new paradigm for development.

The challenge facing most developing countries today is whether it is possible to pursue the same model of growth as the developed nations did. More importantly, is this model even feasible given the current global environment? The simple answer is no. Consumerist ideals, which we’re familiar with in this country, “can allow us neatly ignore the fact that we are using exponentially more material than our predecessors could have imagined.” According to current predictions the US itself is expected to create teratons of waste in 20 years. But imagine if Chinese families attain the same standard of living as Americans and create the same amount of household waste. With China’s population, we could be looking at entire country-sized landfills, as professor Ghosh pointed out in his last discussion.

The real question is then how can we advance beyond the constraints of our current economic models, and challenge this status quo? And this is where Professor Ghosh’s research comes alive. Having compiled data from several countries in order to study the viability of different growth models, Professor Ghosh identifies how we can rectify mistakes of the past and at the same time embrace some of the philosophies from the world’s ancient civilizations in order to conceive of a holistic and new solution to the complex puzzle of growth.

We tend to categorise world history into different “isms.” Professor Ghosh suggests that maybe it is time to embrace the next “ism.” For those of you who heard him at TEX recently, you have seen a preview of what is to follow. Join us at 8 PM April 24th in the ASEAN auditorium in the Fletcher Building for this intriguing discussion.


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Solving the puzzle of growth: making sense of India’s recent political developments

The Complex Puzzle of Growth:

The word “complex” is inevitable a part of the discourse on South Asia. SAPAC’s discussion with Partha Ghosh this week on the “Complex Puzzle of Growth in India and China” perhaps testifies to this. It’s difficult to paint a holistic picture of South Asia without acknowledging its complexity —something that is relevant to my last blog on the changing role on women in South Asia as well.

The discussion that we held on growth in India & China, came at a momentous time in Indian politics – given that the annual budget is being decided in Parliament, as well as the recent elections, especially in the state of Uttar Pradesh. As Mr. Ghosh pointed out in his discussion, U.P. is essentially excluded from India’s story of growth. With a population of nearly 200 million, India’s most populated state has a per capita GDP that is third from the bottom. An interesting study by the Economist reveals that it’s population is equivalent to Brazil’s while it’s GDP is similar to that of Kenya’s.

So, this is why we call it a puzzle. This narrative is one that most are familiar with, that India has great inequality and disparity.  Yet the story isn’t one of complete despair. In a democracy numbers speak volumes, and the largest voting population speaks power during elections, whose results were much awaited in U.P. What implications will these results have for leadership at the center? was one question that has gotten a lot of media coverage. Here at SAPAC, one of the more important questions, in lieu of our chosen topic, was what does this mean for growth and development in the region, or lack thereof? What kind of governance do people want in order to see this growth and progress?

The democracy-development conundrum:

We often turn to the democracy versus development conundrum, especially in comparing India to China, and whether our democratic system has slowed down our growth in comparison to China. But I think what came out of this discussion was that it isn’t enough to look at democracy as an elusive concept, but the actual nature of governance and leadership. In India, this is key to delivery, especially with respect to growth and development.

Lately this has been one of the biggest shortcomings of our political system. The political paralysis, with several pending legislations in parliament has slowed down reforms that are crucial to development, and the rampant corruption that manifested in civilian unrest have all been indicative of the inefficiency in our political structure. Yet, this is not to say that democracy has failed us as a system.

A democracy in the works:

What started off as a centralised power structure that India inherited from the British, has become more representative over time. The reason behind this is again harks back to our complex narrative — the heterogenous composition of our population. Diverse ethnic, religious and linguistic groups make up the meta-narrative of what we call India. While regional diversity has been institutionalised in our multi-party system of governance, its real victory was with the rise of the BJP in the 1980s, a legitimate opposition at the center, which challenged what was in theory a multiparty system, but in practice remained dominated by the a single party: the Congress.

Yet, political affiliations in India, have not been polarised around these two parties. Our system is fundamentally different from the way in which Western democracies function in that they are grounded less in ideology and more around leadership, and group interests. When this came up during our discussion, a student pointed this out as an obstacle to substantive development, because regional parties actively seek to divide our country by pandering to single group interests. However, two observations can show us why this may not be true.

The first is in an article I read earlier, by James Manor on “Ethnicity and Politics in India” who argues that diversity in India cannot be compartmentalised. Group affiliations are overlapping —one can speak a different language & belong to a different caste— and so priorities are constantly shifting, which prevents the emergence of lasting fault lines. Thus even if the intention was to actively divide groups, this would be difficult to achieve given the nature of diversity in India. The second is again related to the recent elections.

The polls in U.P. in Punjab where elections were held, perhaps reflect the beginning of a new political era: “the second decline of the Congress.” People are looking less at charisma, and more at who will actually facilitate change.  As the Wall Street Journal recently wrote, “Indian voters demand growth.” Whether the new leadership will bring this in U.P. is still uncertain, but the outlook remains positive. What this does demonstrate. however, is that our democratic system is flexible enough to incorporate the diverse interests and changing priorities of voters. And the good news is that these interests seem to have risen above single group interests, to looking at the goal of long-term development. If this demand for growth can ultimately be represented at the center, we may finally be able to attribute development to democracy; and ultimately solution to the complex puzzle of growth.


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Celebrating International Women’s Day in South Asia

As the world celebrates International Women’s day today, a story that I put together while interning at GlobalPost comes to mind, on the “First Female Heads of State”. I could not help but notice that South Asia made it to the top with Sri Lanka, India and Paksitan, all of whom have had female prime ministers. If we expand to Asia, then Israel and Thailand also joins the list.

Of course there have been questions raised as to what this really means for women’s rights — it a symbolic victory, a real benchmark of progress? Or is it a result of the dynastic political structures that are embedded in a lot of these countries?

No doubt, Women heads of state whose families have a history in politics do derive their social and political stability from this lineage. This is not to say that they have not fought for social justice, but women’s rights can be a slippery slope.

While the Gandhi and Bhutto legacies live on in India, last year India and Pakistan, However today India has seen three female chief ministers in the past year, one of whom is a former Dalit or lower caste. Perhaps this has been our real break through for democracy and women.

The role of women has and continues to remain contested in South Asia. It’s easy to get caught up in the feminist lens of gender domination and inequality, but as for South Asia the narrative is more complex. I think that the best way for us to celebrate International Women’s day is to acknowledge that while we have a long way to go in terms of social injustices, there remains a long history of pioneering women, which extends beyond the field of politics. To forget them in our discourse on the role of women in South Asian would be an incomplete narrative.

NOTE: SAPAC and the Association of Pakistani Allies (APA) are showing “Saving Face” at Tufts today. Pakistan’s oscar winning documentary, directed by Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, an award winning Pakistani journalist on one of the worst injustices that South Asian women face. Perhaps this stands as a testimony to the complex narrative of women in South Asia.

Click here for more on the event.

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