The South Asian Idea: A Review

The South Asian Idea began in the very last days of 2007 and January 2008 was its first full month in existence. I had intended it to be one-year pilot. The fact that it is still around means that, on balance, I feel optimistic about its utility. This post is an attempt to take stock of the successes and the failures and to chart out a vision for the future.

First, I think we got the basic model right. Given the gaping holes in the social science education of most of us, we needed a mechanism to start repairing the damage. But given the limitations of our comprehension, themselves a function of our imbalanced education, this could not have been achieved by making available expert opinion on any subject – we would have been setting ourselves up against Wikipedia which was freely available to all. We opted for a different model:  original content structured around issues of local interest and designed to be conversation starters – the learning, if any, was supposed to occur during the ensuing conversations as we argued with each other. In many cases we have provided links to expert opinion to support our arguments and for the benefit of the motivated reader.

I feel this vision has been borne out. By now the blog has over 200 posts and looking back over them, I find some that were plain wrong, some that were simple-minded, some that were confused, and some that were inadequately defined. But in many cases, I feel that I have revised the opinions I started out with and that my understanding is significantly clearer in others. This is a significant achievement.

Second, we have established respect for each other in the course of our conversations. This ability to maintain the ‘dignity of difference’ is another major achievement. From our varying starting points and perceptions we have helped each other see aspects of situations that might not have been obvious at the beginning. Thus, we have helped each other to learn, to grow, and to appreciate perspectives at odds with our own. We have also learned to understand the reasons that might give rise to many different perspectives on the same issue.

Third, we have started to build a community with a South Asian vision. Such a vision is needed if we are to leave a legacy of harmony for the coming generations. There is a long way to go but we should recall that the deep hostilities of countries within Europe were moderated by the vision of a European Union. If we believe in the vision we can make it happen.

There are also a number of areas where the blog has fallen short of its aspirations:

First, it has not been able to find strong roots in the community of students and teachers who we wished would use it as a learning resource. The state of our education system is such that students will not gravitate to a blog like this on their own; they need the guidance of their teachers to do so. And this anchoring has not occurred.

An example would clarify what I have in mind. I had put out a very brief polling exercise on the issue of Kashmir. I did not expect a response because, although brief, the exercise asked for careful and deliberate consideration for which individual students would have little incentive. But such an exercise could very easily be assigned to students by their teachers. On the pattern of the mock UN model, any class could be divided into three delegations representing India, Pakistan, and Kashmir and asked to present their cases based on the suggested polling exercise. Exercises like this would be invaluable to sensitize students to the complexity of issues and to the possible reasons for non-overlapping perspectives.

Second, the blog has not been able to adequately cover all the countries of South Asia – the discussions have remained too centered on India and Pakistan. This is a serious issue in all South Asian endeavors and we need to make special efforts to widen our coverage.

Looking ahead, I have the following priorities in mind:

1.     To enlist the cooperation of college teachers who would use the blog as a learning resource for their students. I would hope to find funding to link the teachers in regional chapters and to facilitate their regular interaction and networking.

2.     To increase access to the content by launching local language versions of the blog. This would eliminate the barrier of a foreign language to learning. These versions would be maintained locally and would be initially based on translations of selected posts from the parent blog. In the long run they would be spun off as independent franchises.

3.     To increase coverage of South Asian countries besides India and Pakistan by finding partners subscribing to our common vision in those countries. This would also help in the goal of enlisting more contributors in general.

4.     To narrow down the themes to the few that would be of most significance to South Asia and of most interest to the intended audience. This focus could enable us to design thematic course length material that could be used in colleges and also by motivated individuals.

I would appreciate ideas and suggestions from readers to refine this vision and to translate it into concrete actions.

The initial objectives of The South Asian Idea are described here.



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