SOAS South Asia Institute creates new platform for academia and the wider world

To mark the launch on 18 May, Mishal Husain, recently named ‘broadcaster of the year’ by the London Press Club, presented a panel of experts from the worlds of international diplomacy, the arts and the media to discuss ‘South Asia across borders’. The discussion explored intra-regional relationships, interactions and commonalities, and the solutions offered by South Asia to the problems of an increasingly globalised world. The programme also included singing and dance performances by SOAS students and staff specialising in South Asia.

The SSAI, led by Professor Michael Hutt, was joined by Shiv Shankar Mukherjee, SOAS Honorary Fellow and former Indian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and former Indian Ambassador to Nepal; Namita Gokhale, writer, publisher and festival director; Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York and Kanak Mani Dixit, author, journalist and Founder Editor, Himal Southasian, based in Kathmandu.

In his opening speech, Professor Hutt said: “We have established this Institute because we believe the world needs to understand South Asia better”. He added: “The world stands to benefit enormously from the economic, cultural and security understanding it will derive from the South Asia Institute. We believe we have much to offer that is always distinctive and often unique.”

The aim of the SSAI, as outlined by Professor Hutt in his speech, will be to produce the next generation of South Asia scholars in the SOAS tradition; share the School’s regional expertise with a wider range of stakeholders and strengthen our relationships with institutions of higher learning in India, Pakistan and the other countries of South Asia.

Amrit Kaur Lohia (MA History) performed a piece she composed for the SOAS student production “Tales of 1947” based on the poem by the renowned Punjabi writer Amrita Pritam “Ajj aakhaan waaris shah nu” on lamenting the partition of India by invoking the region’s renowned medieval writer Waris Shah.

The Institute has also launched a new two-year Masters programme in ‘Intensive South Asian Studies’. The first cohort of students on this programme will go to Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi in August for the first half of the academic year. They will further develop their language proficiency and conduct research for an extended dissertation, which will be completed in the second half of the year back in London. Global connections will play a fundamental role in the SSAI developing a global conversation on the region.

Mishal Husain brought personal experience to her opening address, saying that SOAS has always meant something to people like herself who live in the UK but have connections to Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Tweeting about the SSAI launch, she congratulated the School and said: “May it lead a debate across borders of this challenging region”. Shiv Shankar Mukherjee also said it was heartening to see a world class institution introduce a South Asia Institute, particularly when South Asians make up almost one fifth of the world’s population.

Deputy Director Dr Navtej Purewal outlined the new Institute’s research interests, which range from rights and inequality to the full spectrum of the arts to prospects for the Indian economy. Importantly, Dr Purewal, who has published widely on gender justice in South Asia, demonstrated how the SSAI’s research-led activities engage with social issues and impact on policy, while nurturing and strengthening the knowledge base of our students. Earlier this year, she led a network which influenced the parliamentary debate on sex selective abortion and UK law.  In addition, the workshop on Gender Justice and Injustice in South Asia hosted in February 2015 “was not just significant for synthesising ideas on gender justice and how to address gender violence in South Asia. It also shaped the next generation of students’ and scholars’ thinking.”

Director of SOAS South Asia Institute Professor Michael Hutt and Deputy Director Dr Navtej Purewal
Professor Nirmala Rao, Pro-Director (Learning & Teaching), said: “The School has a long history of studying the societies of the Indian subcontinent. Through the SOAS South Asia Institute our aim is to build further on our expertise on this key region and make it more available to the wider world.  SOAS has long been known as the place to go for those who really want to understand South Asia in depth. Students of South Asia come from around the world to SOAS for their language training and to use the extensive library resources. We have over sixty South Asia experts under a single roof, teaching and researching subjects as diverse as road construction, public sanitation, the Indian economy, Pashto poetry and Bollywood films.”  

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