University News

U. to house new center on modern India

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, February 2, 2012

The University will soon become the second American institution with a center devoted entirely to social sciences in India, due to an anonymous parent donation of $6 million made last year. The Brown-India Research Initiative will promote academic research and teaching on contemporary political, economic and social issues in India, according to an overview document prepared by Ashutosh Varshney, the initiative’s leader and professor of international studies and the social sciences. The program will run out of the Watson Institute for International Studies and was approved by the Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, in May. 

The initiative evolved through a series of conversations among the anonymous donors, the Office of Advancement and Varshney, who will be the program’s director until 2016. Its founding follows the University’s Year of India in the 2009-10 academic year, an event that brought major literary figures, intellectuals and artists of the featured country to campus. The Year of India served in part as a “springboard for a serious initiative,” Varshney said. 

President Ruth Simmons’ 2010 visit to India was also related to the “rising Brown interest in India, off of which the Year of India was sparked and the India Initiative was an outgrowth,” he said. 

The program will emphasize contemporary India, primarily through the social science lens, Varshney said, though subjects like comparative literature and history will play a complementary role. The initiative will engage students in fellowships and exchanges with partner institutions in India, including the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi and the Center for Public Policy at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore, Varshney said. 

The Watson Institute has allocated four rooms to the program in its office and has also secured work space in Delhi. While several activities will occur this spring, the initiative “will be in full swing” beginning next fall, Varshney said. 

The program will focus on research pertaining to five major themes. The primary project, entitled Urban India: Governance, Politics and Political Economy, examines India’s rising cities and governance problems in collaboration with the Center for Public Policy and Janaagraha, a non-profit organization that seeks to improve the quality of urban life in India. Co-led by Varshney and Professor of Sociology Patrick Heller, the project is already underway as a result of a seed grant from the Office of the Vice President for Research, according to the document.

Other themes include pluralism and diversities; democracy and development and security; conflict and political order; and regional economic inequalities.

The initiative’s spring schedule includes a joint seminar on South Asian politics with Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an event with Professor Siddharth Swaminathan from the Institute of Social Economic Change in Bangalore, who will be in residence for several weeks starting mid-February.  

A conference named Two Decades of India’s Economic Reform: Politics, Economics, Society is estimated to take place early next fall to kick off the Initiative, Varshney said. 

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