Contemporary Indian society presents a series of contrasts. For a first time visitor, it is difficult not to be overwhelmed as he or she is inundated by the kaleidoscopic images of modern India. These include the crowded bazaars of old Delhi penetrable only on foot or by bicycle rickshaws; automobiles that zoom through New Delhi barely missing little beggar children but coming to a complete halt as cows indolently cross the road; Mumbai’s crowded train platforms where it feels like there are five male passengers for every female; and, lunch carriers quickly sorting thousands of lunch boxes by destination so that office workers get hot lunch delivered to their offices from their homes.
Old Bharat or modern India? It is difficult to ascertain where one ends and the other begins. How do we assemble this collage of images so that we begin to see the essence of the nation destined to be the largest country of the new millennium? Is this the nation of Gandhi where the bulk of the billion plus population lives in village republics toiling in the fields? Or is this the nation of Nehru where a Dell tech-support employee in Bangalore, India’s silicon capital, helps a consumer in Des Moines, Iowa, configure his computer?
In this course we will explore different dimensions of Indian life using a variety of sources to examine the contemporary Indian society. We will gain insights into Indian economy, society and politics by focusing on daily lives of Indian households. The kinds of questions we will explore include:
• What are the predominant sources of livelihoods in modern India?
• Does the ideal of Indian extended family still reflect the reality?
• What are the marriage patterns in modern India and how do they relate to gender relations in the Indian society?
• To what extent do the traditional divisions based on caste, class and religion still persist?
Course assignments will be diverse in nature including film review, looking through Indian newspapers to find and critique stories of substantive interest, and three 8-10 page papers based on literature synthesis and in-depth interviews.
A recent book by Professor Desai and collaborators, which includes statistical information on contemporary Indian society, will provide the primary data. This information will be supplemented by films, documentaries, selected articles, and short stories. Classroom discussions will rely on assigned readings as well as guest lecturers with expertise in significant aspects of Indian society. We will take advantage of our Washington location to organize fieldtrips to visit institutions working on bringing about changes in Indian society or to attend special lectures or programs in the area.