India Initiative Seeks to Foster Dialogue, Inspire Cooperation

SFS Dean Joel Hellman (not pictured) met with MP Suresh Prabhu (left) and MP Piyush Goyal (right) when he visited India for the launch of Georgetown's India Initiative in Dec. 2015.

GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: SFS Dean Joel Hellman (not pictured) met with MP Suresh Prabhu (left) and MP Piyush Goyal (right) when he visited India for the launch of Georgetown’s India Initiative in Dec. 2015.

Georgetown University’s recently launched India Initiative aims to promote dialogue and collaboration between Georgetown University and Indian universities, businesses and political organizations.

Established in December by the School of Foreign Service, the India Initiative has since hosted several high-profile events, including the visit of former Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani on Jan. 27.

Spearheading the program is associate professor Irfan Nooruddin, the initiative’s first director, Vice President of Global Engagement Tom Banchoff and SFS Dean Joel Hellman.

The initiative aims to engage the subcontinent at an academic level while creating opportunities for students and faculty to conduct research.

Hellman traveled to India to formally launch the initiative last December, meeting former Indian Minister of State and U.N. Under-Secretary-General Shashi Tharoor and Indian members of parliament, senior government officials and businessmen.

Faculty members have sought to engage India in the Georgetown academic community in the years prior to the initiative’s launch. Their endeavors consisted of attempts to encourage both student and faculty research of India while also working to connect internship and exchange programs with the Georgetown community as a whole.

Nooruddin emphasized the importance of research in the initiative and outlined a plan for how students and faculty would conduct research together.

“What we’re working on right now is to figure out models that connect faculty and students in ongoing, long-term research projects, such that students could plug in during a given semester and do something that’s already active,” Nooruddin said. “Faculty could dictate a research agenda that would be broadly consistent with the goals of the initiative, and find ways for students to engage in that process.”

In the future, leaders of the initiative will seek the development and expansion of curriculum concerning Indian culture, history, language and politics. Georgetown only has five classes about India, two of which focus on the South Asian region as a whole. Georgetown does not currently offer Hindi, although attempts have been made in past years to offer the class.

Nooruddin projected that the initiative will immediately address the relative lack of South Asian languages at Georgetown compared to other regions.

“My most optimistic view is that by fall 2016 we could have something on the books to teach Hindi at Georgetown,” Nooruddin said. “We don’t want one [Hindi] course, we want it to be possible for a student to start learning Hindi at Georgetown, and leave Georgetown being proficient.”

Many of Georgetown’s peer universities already have initiatives and programs focused on India, including Yale University, Harvard University and the University of California at Berkeley. In the spring of 2014, the University of Chicago opened a large academic and research center in Delhi.

Nooruddin believes the university holds an advantage over other schools, highlighting its location in Washington, D.C., and its proximity to numerous think tanks and research centers.

“None of those programs are in D.C. We see that as a really major comparative advantage for us. We want to use our D.C. location to facilitate a set of conversations that bring in policy makers, public intellectuals and thinkers into contact with their U.S. counterparts,” Nooruddin said. “And then use the think tank and government and the international multilateral organizations to facilitate those conversations.”

The student-led Georgetown-India Dialogue helped lay the groundwork for the initiative. Undergraduates Jeh Tirodkar (SFS ’16) and Yash Johri (SFS ’17) founded the dialogue in August 2014, with Nooruddin serving as the organization’s faculty advisor. Tirodkar expressed that the dialogue began with a commitment to bringing Georgetown and India closer together.

“The reason we started is being from SFS and coming from India and being politically inclined, when we look at the SFS with a presence all across the world and engaging all across the world, we found that lacking in India,” Tirodkar said. “It’s wrong for Georgetown to not have a presence in India and not engage India better.”

The dialogue brought several Indian speakers to campus last year, including government officials and businessmen. In April 2015, the group hosted an all-day conference with former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Omar Abdullah as a keynote speaker on political and security developments in the Kashmir region and its effects for India.

Even with the development of the new India Initiative, Tirodkar asserted that the Georgetown-India Dialogue will continue its activity, citing the need for more student involvement in Indian affairs.

“While the university has launched the official India Initiative to engage professors, we think for us in the Georgetown-India Dialogue it’s important to make sure the community stays engaged with the political and social issues concerning India,” Tirodkar said.

Nooruddin said the ultimate success of the initiative will depend on fundraising and expressed his hopes for the future of the program in study abroad and curriculum opportunities.

“Much of the success will be our success in fundraising, so we have an independent, large enough endowment to support student enrollment in India,” Nooruddin said. “I’d like to see a much more robust exchange of people, both from Indian institutions coming to Georgetown and people going to India.”

Gaurav Premnath (COL ’19), who is a member of the Georgetown-India Dialogue, believes the initiative has great potential to attract people from diverse backgrounds across campus due to the events and opportunities it will generate.

“I think the initiative has great scope and can engage a lot of students who aren’t only from India, because the initiative creates a lot of dialogues and events that pertain to international affairs,” Premnath said. “It will increase awareness of the dynamics between India and other South Asian countries as well.”

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