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New center opens eyes to South Asia

Daily Bruin story on the launch of the UCLA Center for India and South Asia.

This article was originally published by the Daily Bruin, on August 22, 2005.

Josh Kahn
Daily Bruin Contributor

In an effort to increase scholarships and awareness in South Asian studies, the Center for India and South Asia opened this summer as part of the UCLA International Institute.

"Few people in the U.S. are well-informed about what goes on over there, except when there is a disaster," said Sanjay Subrahmanyam, doshi chair of Indian history at UCLA, who will be serving as director of the center.

South Asia is comprised of Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Bhutan, the Maldives and Pakistan. The region is home to nearly 1.5 billion people, roughly a sixth of the world's population.

The opening of the CISA comes a year after the approval of the South Asian studies minor in 2004. The successful creation of the minor is the result of student-initiated lobbying by the South Asian Studies Task Force.

Formed by a group of UCLA students in Winter 2001, the student movement grew out of frustration at the lack of classes about the South Asian region offered on campus. One of the group's goals was to develop a South Asian studies minor program.

Alumna Neetal Parekh graduated in 2002 and was a founding member of the task force. She sees the creation of the center having a wide impact at the university.

Students from all majors will have access to more resources, such as guest lectures on South Asia, she said.

Parekh envisions the center as a place where students, faculty and community members interested in South Asia can organize.

Second-year medical student Nitin Dhamija, a member of the South Asian Studies Task Force, was the first student to graduate from UCLA with a minor in South Asian studies in 2004.

He said he was grateful to have realized the group's goal with his minor and hopes that others will pursue that course of study in the future.

Task force member Ajita Gupta said there is a growing interest in South Asian studies courses among students. She said many students end up pursuing a South Asian studies minor through word of mouth. The center will raise awareness of South Asia on campus and draw more students to the South Asian studies minor, she said.

Organizers also hope the center will provide people with a clearer perception of South Asia by lessening the gap that exists between the people and events in South Asia and Southern California.

"The center will help to bring the realities of South Asia and South Asian affairs to people's attention over here," said Subrahmanyam.

Noting the conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, Subrahmanyam questioned the assumption that conflict is the only occurrence of international importance in South Asia.

"It is the exasperating assumption that only Kashmir is important that is so problematic," he said.

Subrahmanyam cited significant lesser-known events, such as the proposal approved by the Indian Central Cabinet to allow dual citizenship for persons of Indian origin living abroad.

Under the proposal, persons of Indian origin living in any of eight countries, including the U.S., that allow dual citizenship would be eligible.

It is the media's focus on disaster and conflict in South Asia that the CISA hopes to combat through academic means.

Like other centers in the UCLA International Institute, CISA will not be offering any courses. However, the center will raise awareness for faculty recruitment for new courses in South Asian studies in the arts, social sciences and humanities.

The center recently received funding from a donor to hire a chair in Indian music.

Currently, there are no immediate plans for a South Asian studies major, although adding one may be explored in the future.

"Like China, South Asia is going to be the great growth region of the 21st century. No one can afford to ignore it, least of all in L.A.," Subrahmanyam said.

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