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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What makes a Hindu?

When one thinks of Hinduism, one is automatically transported to a world nestled in the Himalayas where people with peaceful faces practice yoga and are non-violent, peace-loving, and of a fundamentally different religion. Naturally, some images of smoke and an illegal substance may also come to mind, but for the most part, Hindus are viewed in a positive, tranquil light. Any Hindu could tell you what they believe the core values of “Hinduism” are—karma, dharma (duty), rebirth, sanatana dharma (the ultimate truth), and many others.

As a person born and brought up in a Hindu family in India, I was drawn into an intense discussion on what it really means to be Hindu with a friend who was taking “Intro to Hinduism” at Tufts. It really made me start to wonder about what characterizes all Hindus, what it means to be Hindu, and who can actually be Hindu. Does ancestry matter or is it simply about one’s beliefs? Given that there is no set procedure to convert to Hinduism, why is Julia Roberts’ conversion to Hinduism right after Eat, Pray, Love such a big deal? For all practical purposes, if someone is born into a Hindu family, does this make them Hindu?

If one were to go back into the history and origins of Hinduism, one would not find any lasting evidence to support all the myths and illusions surrounding the contemporary beliefs that people have about it. Hinduism does not in fact fit into the most basic requirements that draw the Western Abrahamic religions and many Eastern faiths together. In Islam, for example, a common belief in Allah (peace be upon Him) and the prophet Mohammad defines the religion and its followers. Hinduism, in contrast, has no common founder or fundamental belief that binds all Hindus together.

Contemporary Hinduism is a smorgasbord of ideas and faiths. The term “Hindu” actually emerged during the 19th century as a result of colonialism. When the British arrived in India and saw a completely different category of people with beliefs they could not understand, they called them all Hindu—“people who live beyond the river Indus.” But despite their shared name, all Hindus do not have the same methods of praying, living, or eating.

So what does draw all the Hindus together into this common classification? The fact that Hinduism accommodates variations in belief. Today, you can be vegetarian or non-vegetarian and still be a Hindu. You don’t have to believe in karma or dharma to be a Hindu. You can deny the existence of the holy trinity of Gods (Brahma the creator, Vishnu the sustainer, and Shiva the destroyer) and still be a part of the Hindu community. For the most part, Hinduism has multiple layers that one can keep peeling off and can be embraced as much as one wants. In the end, Hinduism is a way of life—a collection of multiple ideas and an evolution of faith since time immemorial.

Hinduism defines itself by a wide range of indigenous practices and beliefs that originated in India but have since changed and adapted to different peoples and cultures as they spread around the globe. At its heart, Hinduism is polytheistic and pluralistic. There could be more than 500 different gurus advocating for their type of Hinduism and none of them would be wrong or right. At this point in time, an Israeli could be sitting in Dharamsala trying to get rid of war scars by following an inventive, intoxicating Hinduism; an American could be scrubbing the floors of an ashram in Pune; an Indian could be sitting in a temple making offerings to the priest, and another could be sitting at the dinner table, just being thankful for another meal. What do all these people have in common? Not much, except that they are all following what they believe is Hinduism. And honestly, each of them is as close (or as far away) to the truth as anyone else.

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India’s Ambiguous Political Game : The Tibetan-Chinese Issue

It’s often ironic how the measures undertaken by a government to sideline and almost obscure an issue can turn on it itself and instead, accentuate it. Unfortunately for India, this is exactly the case. As this years host of the annual BRICS summit, India is definitely the center of attention but neither for its economic progress nor for its extoled hospitability. Instead, following Tibetan activist Jamphel Yeshi’s self-immolation amid protests against Chinese President Hu Jintao’s arrival in New Delhi, all eyes have turned towards India’s increasingly abstruse stance on the Tibetan-Chinese issue.

Dharamshala, a city in northern India, is currently home to the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan government-in-exile and approximately 200,000 exiled Tibetans. Having fled to India in 1959 in promise of freedom of speech and religion, this community has always hoped to enjoy the same democratic rights granted to all Indians. However, with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s recent statement asserting that India “recognized Tibet as an inalienable part of Chinese territory and will not allow Tibetans to engage in anti-China activities,” not only has India’s ambiguous political game come into question but also its seemingly hypocritical commitment to its democratic constitution.

In hope of a peaceful and well-executed BRICS exhibition, Indian authorities have arrested almost 250 Tibetan activists during recent protests as well as placed New Delhi’s Tibetan community under house arrest. As we all know, this is not the first time either. A breach of democratic rights? Evidently, yes. But in what is this ambiguity rooted? The timely coincidence between India’s improving economic relations with China and its problematic role as protector to the Dalai Lama’s government-in-exile has forced India into an arduous fix. While on one hand China has expressed it appreciation towards India’s position, on the other, the international community remains critical of India’s inconsistent democratic efforts.

Therefore, is this a matter of economic gain versus democracy? Perhaps the issue is not as clear-cut as that. However, what is clear is that India’s way of dealing with such politically charged protests has once again put its wavering approach to democracy under the spotlight. Too often ready to forsake democratic rights in the name of social stability or economic benefit, perhaps India needs to take a moment and assess the many trade-offs prevalent in its ambiguous political game.


Written by Zara Juneja. Zara is a sophomore studying at Tufts and the assistant web manager and blogger at SAPAC.


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Reflections from Professor Partha Ghosh’s discussion on the ‘Complex Puzzle of Growth’: Important ethical and ecological concerns, but at a prototypical phase?

On March 13, Professor Partha Ghosh of the Fletcher School gave a lecture entitled, “The Complex Puzzle of Growth: Embracing Modernity while Preserving Tradition in India and China”. Professor Ghosh has worked in various strata of careers, from managerial consulting to policy and strategic issue advising. His experience in these various fields gives him a unique perspective on the problem India and China are facing today.

Both India and China are significantly large economies, with China boasting a 9.3% growth rate. Though India is the world’s largest democracy and China is a Communist power, the two have similar tensions between different ethnic groups and socioeconomic classes. Development has not occurred proportionally throughout the countries, leaving poorer states out in the dark when cities such as Shanghai and Bangalore are in the spotlight. The biggest problem these two countries are facing, according to Professor Ghosh, is energy. The search for sustainable energy is nigh upon the rest of the world, but this poses a problem for a country whose capital city is blanketed in smog. Another challenge in this region is the proximity of three large nuclear powers- Pakistan, India, and China- and their unstable relations with one another. At a pivotal time when elections are happening in these countries, it is important to focus on how to bring them together, rather than set them apart.

Professor Ghosh brought up some very interesting points about resources. For Americans, it is easy to picture the world with limitless capital; consumerism ideal can allow us neatly ignore the fact that we are using exponentially more material than our predecessors could have imagined. However, if Chinese families attain the same standard of living as Americans do, they will also create the same amount of household waste. Professor Ghosh indicated that the US alone would be creating teratons of waste in 20 years. With China’s population, we could be looking at entire country-sized landfills. Current business models fuel unidirectional demand, that is, harvesting natural resources in order to create a product, which is then thrown away in order to get more advanced items, which use even more natural resources.

Paradigm X: 

According to Professor Ghosh, there are three levels on which humans and the market operate: the foundational level in which basic human traits are codified, such as self-interest and survival of the fittest, the industrial level, which focuses on economies of scale and the consumerist “source to sink” linear model, and the individual level, which pits self above society, humans above nature, and instant gratification over gradual resolution. He believes that the way to change society is to shift our thinking to a new paradigm that is diametrically opposed to the way things have run for the past 500 years. India and China are the perfect locations to spearhead this shift in consciousness because many of the ideas of this new “paradigm X” are taken from old Confucian and Vedic wisdom. These include self-enlightenment, harmony with nature, mutual respect between the individual and society. A very important concept unifying both schools is multiple streams of inquiry- not taking things at face value but rather seeing how they got there, why they were created, and how to improve upon them. What society needs is to derive a balance between consumption and conservation, as well as between point and holistic solutions in regards to ecological preservation and economic advancement.

At the macroeconomic level, he believes that the unrestricted free market will not be able to create the changes he sees for the future. A mixed economy of government intervention and market cooperation is the only way to oversee such a large shift in thought.  At the microeconomic level, he calls for innovative integration between Western technology and Eastern ancient values to build a global business model. While the current model is linear, a new possible archetype would be circular, including recycling and reuse. Ghosh argues that Adam Smith’s invisible hand works in the city-centric capitalist regime, but if we want to forward the goal of developing villages as self-sufficient titans of agriculture, we must use socialized networks and what Ghosh calls “cellular capitalism in a green economy”.

Though I agree with much of what Professor Ghosh had to say from an idealist’s standpoint, the feasibility of what he is proposing remains unclear. For one, China and India are not the only key economies in the market; if they employ this kind of circular model and no other country with economic hegemony joins them, they could be looking at large losses at a peak in their growth and development as nations. These countries cannot afford to make a costly paradigmatic shift unless others are on board as well. Another question to consider is who we would look to first to create this kind of change- the firms who run the current market, or the government who restricts it?

The Chinese government has already started taking steps toward reviving ancient roots. New industrial models include sustainable farming, intelligent power, and exploring alternative energy sources for powering at least 13 of the larger cities in Mainland China. India is still not making much progress on this front, which makes one wonder- what are the drawbacks for a nation like India that is attempting to change its economic model? I believe there are a variety of reasons. Firstly, a communist regime such a China will have more success with this because all that is needed is a can-do attitude from the leadership. Since they shape the market conditions and rules of firms, it will be much easier to regulate this shift than in the largest democracy of the world. China also has a positive trade balance- they have the ability to spend out of pocket for experimentation with innovative markets, whereas import-heavy countries such as India would not have the resources to make these changes. This also means that countries like the United States do not have the budget to pioneer such shifts. There is also the fear of disintegration if the Indian government encourages the buildup of villages as separate economies from the rest of the country.

While I do believe that Professor Ghosh raises some very important ethical and ecological concerns, his ideas may still be in a prototypical phase not ready to be applied to nations that are at the cusp of their economic potential. The Chinese standard of living is quite low and with a GDP rising at 10%, there is nowhere to go but up. For the rest of the world, however, it will take some time before we can put mind over market and others before ourselves. As much as we want to, completely disregarding Hobbesian theory will not save the planet any faster than taking small steps to improve each of the G8 countries’ economy and ecology before trying to unite the world in the purview of “paradigm X”.

Written by Neha Madhusoodanan, a sophomore at Tufts University from New York 


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