Indian Society and the scope of International Relations: anxieties of a student.

Recent ongoing events on the Indo-Chinese border conflicts have triggered a lot of skepticism among the civil society in India. It is of little doubt that the confusion and lack of interpretation of the bilateral relationship between the two most populous countries of the world, not only motivates a curious IR scholar like myself to think, but also try and understand a complex dynamic here at home. A weak India might be repeating a mistake of properly making sense of the situation, what remains central according to my point of view is we as a society have been reluctant to acknowledge the importance of a discipline like IR. I for one, who is closely trying to analyze several problems in the world today, also find a crisis in the conception of education in contemporary Indian society. What are the complexities regarding this, I do not know, however, it is seemingly difficult as well as fitting for me to co-relate our diplomatic/policy related endeavors-implementation to that of what I truly believe to be a personal hindrance; this is more to do with the upcoming generations such as mine. With my limited capacity/understanding, I find it worthwhile to talk about a few of these issues. First, the students of international relations based in India are mostly facing the difficulty of making the society around us notice our intentions. Secondly, I try to engage with the question of the rising importance of IR and its significance to India. Third and most importantly, what is it that we as students should be willing to share, to make our scholarship easier for the general society to understand. While I try to disfigure and explain my views regarding such, I would try and keep it less academic and more of a personal account. Nevertheless, if at all I do try and bring in a few unusual terms I would try and explain it as simply as possible. 

For many, the phrase “personal is political” tends to sound familiar; sometimes arising out of a conversation, speech, or piece of writing. My account of this is one of a long discussion which I wish to not discuss in detail. About a few days before I started writing this article, my friend who is also a student of IR and is trying to make sense of our study told me about the difficulties in convincing his family regarding the significance of a discipline like ours. What remains to be difficult for him is to address the misplaced fears of his loved ones about his future and how much financially stable would he be. Interestingly, I encountered one of the many such questions from a well-wisher the same day. While we both indulged in angrily ranting and feeling enraged about the supposed “ignorance” of the people around us, only later did I realize how to try and relate it to the larger society in India. To my utter surprise, I could not find a more suitable time than the current pandemic to be my slice of defense. Common questions such as “How much would you be paid?”, “Is this going to get you a job?” and “Why, not something more serious or stable?”, might be haunting any student pursuing social science for that matter, but we have to try and look at the more serious problem: a failure to differentiate between education and qualification. It is of common sense and a generic calculation of a “rational” individual to know of this but how does it translate in practice, is something worrisome. 

The modern South Asian society has seen a tremendous rise in the scope of skilled labor that attracts the young and aspiring to move out or be paid handsomely here and elsewhere. True, that the demanding twenty-first century requires an army of people with specialized expertise in private and public spaces building technology and corporate/financial capabilities, but we have to look at the results of this new boon. Promotion from the global north(so-called developed nations) to incentivize specific works, extracting the “best” and the brightest from the developing world and with all this creating an atmosphere in countries such as India a general inclination to be more skilled. Unfortunately, while they do this to the global south(so-called developing nations), they have erected the finest and most handsomely funded institutions that deal with social-political issues as we continue to remain selective about our profession. The fact that our government’s attitude in strengthening R&D reflects a lot on how we perform in our higher education and understanding of the same. Furthermore, the nature of our family systems that feel a deeply ingrained responsibility towards the society around us needs to be acknowledged. Indian societal anxieties are deeply rooted to abiding by the common norms and local institutional limits; this might seem to be far strong a claim but evidently, India’s influential middle class have held on to some of our historical practices while leaving room for a few aspects such as individual prosperity defined by the collective consciousness. More importantly, the policy body in India has remained far more closed-door and with much more untouched by the local sentiments. People in public services remain largely professional about the woks they do and choose not to indulge with a curious population while those in the private sector are either not properly supported by the government. This said, only a handful of the higher educational institutions have been successful so far to bring out a broad area of studies in IR. 

Now coming to my second aspect, why is IR important? This question is extremely crucial not only for a policy hotbed like India, but also to look at the current pandemic as an important lead. Why I say this is because the pandemic has reflected on many vulnerabilities of the supposed powerful nations; its cause may also be located as a failure of understanding a trans-national phenomenon like the global health, which requires full-size expertise in carrying out health policies with sufficient knowledge of the “international”. The fact that Institutions such as WHO that prove to be less efficient during such a crisis also strengthens the argument that there needs to be a lot more careful consideration of this scholarship. I would rather like to think that WHO’s underreach and confusion is due to its dilemma of being stretched and attacked by the two most powerful nations when there had to be a more channelized and cooperative effort to strengthen the organization. A rising market fundamentalist world is also seeing an upsurge of authoritarian leaderships that not only ring the bells of declining liberal hegemony but also call for experts to predict, understand, and provide better shock therapies. For students here at home, our intentions should be clear at a time which was never more opportune. I say this because if the international atmosphere is tensed and looking for a change, the new generation in India can provide a better alternative arising out of the scars of the global south. The world has never been so unequal as it is now (Inequality being at its highest), scholarships, and works arising out global south will hold a much better and nuanced understanding of the same. 

I also draw from the recent border conflict between India and China. It is safe to claim that though there is a sufficient work of scholarship being done here on China, there is a certain gap between the policy corridors and the experts who might be better at interpreting China. The significance of IR although it cannot be limited to one border conflict, it still shows how much more diplomatically capable the Indian narratives would have been if there was better freedom of maneuver apart from the ranks of army or diplomats. Our fetishization with individual promotion and financial incentives may be potentially draining the understanding and manpower we need to equip ourselves with. Sadly, the attractive packages of the developed world have yet again imperialized our minds to think less of the futures and being better trained only to help build an even stronger developed nation. IR does make one much more aware of one’s position and identity. Like the way, Ken Booth would inter-relate identity to security in his works, for students in the labeled “third world” have the greatest capacity to bring out better works and understanding using their identity-related benefits. If at all that I propose happens more steadily, then perhaps we would not have to agree with the western definitions of who is to be labeled as terrorist/rational or uncivilized. Another important point which is what makes IR so fascinating for me is the issue of climate change and big data. While these two problems cannot be put to our territorial understanding of things, they also ask for a “yeh dil maange more” approach from a generation like ours to understanding it more deeply as it is about to shape the future of all the international conflicts/policy. IR indeed needs a body of students who are well versed with the technical as well as scientific know-how to create a good amount of scholarship. 

Moving on to my last aspect, I think a major question arising from this problem is, how far have the students and scholars of this discipline in India, went on to make their story known. From a recent post by a public figure (someone I immensely regard), I could come to realize how important are the personal accounts of students who are aspiring to be in the IR domain. Our duty here in India is to make the public much more aware of the discipline and through that endeavor, try and make them understand the impact of the internationally prevalent issues in our domestic interests. While we do this, it is also important that we do not drift away from personal confines and limits of our families and society to make sense of whatever we try and make them understand. What matters more in a micro level to convince is a personal/individual record of performance academically and level of deployment in the service sector. The sense of individual achievement and the scale that the families and societies would measure it with, is not by how many papers have we published or which famous university gave us a scholarship to, but in how well we convey our kind of work and the material incentives attached to it. This has to be done in a way that is not only beneficial to the collective’s understanding but also encourages them to try and engage more with a discipline like ours. 

On a macro level, the attempt should be made by the people already established in our studies to try and mobilize support for better financial packages and job opportunities from the state. Unfortunately, institutions like JNU that have proven to be much better in quality of education/scholarship have been losing their autonomy more rapidly than ever. The general skepticism arising out of social science disciplines seem to make the state bodies insecure. On the part of the state, it has to recognize that a better policy/idea equipped India is one where the scholarly body is widely accepted by the people as well as the state. For this to happen, a constant push from academia against the bureaucracy is much required. Some of our rigid social structures do not allow many of the potential brains that can help refine the Indian IR but should be attempted to be brought to light, using reach out programs. Lastly, the number of Indian foreign service officials is awfully short considering the size and scale of our country. Much more so, it is less than that of countries like Brazil and even lesser than some potentially smaller countries. To our disadvantage, not only does this hamper our capacity to have wider variations in diplomacy but it also leaves us with a limited understanding of diplomacy and negotiating tactics. 

To conclude, my anxieties as a student pursuing IR in India would give me a geographic advantage of bringing to the table, some of my locational perspectives while competing with the western scholarships of the same, but what is more saddening is that many like me who have not been as lucky to have a supportive environment, are less likely to present a better perspective than mine while their stories are much better to be tried and tested with the discipline’s motivation to “decolonize”. The vicious cycle of rigidity in our society can only be broken once a generation-wide and broad in outlook would help pave the way for the future generations to navigate more freely.      

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