Study India, in India! Constantino Xavier lists the best institutions, comments on the anxieties, difficulties and obstacles faced by foreing researchers and gives interesting tips. From Washington, DC.
New Delhi has been hostin
g an increasing number of International Relations (IR) researchers and foreign policy analysts in recent years. India’s increasingly central role in international politics is certainly the most important factor driving the scholarly pilgrimage to the subcontinent, but there are three additional causes behind the surge.
First, the normalization in US-India relations over the last years, which cuts with the general malaise of the Cold War era, when American (and other Western scholars) were often received with suspicion or overt hostility in non-aligned India. Past geopolitical considerations also explain why, in comparison to China, Japan or Pakistan, Western research on Indian foreign policy and security is relatively underdeveloped.
Second, albeit hesitantly, Europeans are now also abandoning their comfortable culturalist paradigms to study India. The once grand orientalist institutes in London, Paris and Heidelberg are all witnessing a disciplinary shift in their Indian expertise, away from the predominance of historical and sociological lenses towards more contemporary, political and economic approaches that require a very different type of fieldwork in India.
Finally, Zakaria’s post-American world is also emerging on the intellectual level, with an increasing decentralization of IR research. India’s foreign policy across a wide spectrum of regional and functional issues is now also actively studied in countries like Brazil or South Africa. Their younger researchers are therefore visiting India in growing numbers and giving rise to new “South-South” institutional partnerships and exchanges.
I have met a number of these foreign researchers in India and many others who are planning to go. Their anxieties, difficulties and obstacles are always the same, from getting a visa to ensuring access to a specific document or expert, but also more earthly and logistic issues, such as accommodation and finances. I’ve had the pleasure to live and study (as a proud ICCR
scholar) for four years in New Delhi, and have been regularly back since then, so here are some notes and suggestions if you’re interested in researching Indian security or foreign policy issues… in India!
A local host institution is crucial if you want to access the right people and places. Delhi’s research institutes now offer an increasing number of visiting fellowships for foreigners. The Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA
), in South Delhi’s military cantonment, has been ranked as one of the top Asian think-tanks and is a useful platform if you’re interested in Indian defence and security issues and in accessing government institutions, archives and experts.
A local host institution is crucial to access the right people. Delhi’s institutes now offer an increasing number of visiting fellowships for foreigners.
Other institutes include the Observer Research Foundation
, the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies
, the Institute for Conflict Management
, all in the capital city, and Strategic Foresight
in Mumbai. They mostly rely on private funding and tend to be more autonomous from government influence, working on a range of issues from domestic security and terrorism, relations with China, Pakistan and the immediate neighborhood, and energy and resources.
If you’re looking at specific functional expertise, you will have to look at institutions like the Confederation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (CII)
, the Energy and Resources Institute (TERI)
, or the more recently established Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS)
. On the regional front, you have, for example, the Institute of Chinese Studies
, the African Studies Association
, and the National Maritime Foundation
, amongst many others.
For those interested in a more interdisciplinary approach, and in also getting exposed to the larger domestic politics and debates of India, the Centre for Policy Research
and the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies
offer an excellent intellectual environment for any visiting researcher involved in social sciences and humanities research.
University departments are still relatively little engaged in developing their own research capacities, but occasionally do host visiting professors and sometimes also “casual” foreign doctoral students. Professors at Jawaharlal Nehru University
’s historic and influential School of International Studies
are a must on any local interview list. Delhi University
and the Academy of Third World Studies
at Jamia Millia Islamia also host an large number of faculty and research in political science, international and area studies.
A physical space is important (especially in India
) to interact with local researchers, but consider also more recent private initiatives that may not be able to offer you a swanky office, but will be able to offer you valuable personalized support. For example, the recent Takshashila Institution
and its associated set of publications, bloggers and researchers offer a young and refreshingly new perspective on India’s position in the world arena.
Even if you locate interesting documents, don’t expect privileged or facilitated access to archives – this is one area in which the Cold War seems to have a lasting effect on the Indian psyche. Foreign policy, security and defence issues are generally considered “sensitive” even if they are not, and you’ll need to ask the right people (again, the importance of a host institute) and look at the right places (not
on-line) to find that little gold nugget you came for.
And the current debate
about the importance of archival preservation of historical foreign policy documents, declassification and facilitating access to Indian and foreign scholars
, indicates that the situation will improve, hopefully opening further research opportunities in future. It really does not make further sense that, to access historical Indian records, you have to go all the way to London or Washington DC.
It really does not make further sense that, to access historical Indian records, you have to go all the way to London or Washington, DC.
The atmospheric Nehru Memorial Library (no website!) and the National Archives
offer the best archival collection, but have also a look at the libraries of the Indian Council for World Affairs
and the United Services Institute
, both of which are also important research institutes you should keep in mind. To keep you up to date on current affairs, you can subscribe to the print press at very affordable rates (keep an eye on the Economic & Political Weekly
), and attend the various talks, seminars and debates on international affairs hosted by the institutes mentioned above, by the India International Centre
or Habitat Centre
, and by the various foreign embassies (New Delhi’s foreign diplomatic corps is one of the largest in the world).
Compared to Washington DC or most European capitals, New Delhi is also a relatively friendly place to access officials and experts for extensive interviews. Beyond archival work, which will always require several months, this will probably be the added value to your local research, provided someone helps you to identify who really matters and whose views are not only elegant but also influential.
In any case, Delhi’s “strategic community” is largely still a family affair. Interviews are surprisingly easy to get, be it with scholars, retired diplomats or even acting government officials. Except in cases of high-level interviews with officials who regularly travel abroad, don’t waste your time sending in formal letters in advance. Perhaps more than anywhere else, you’ll rely on your capacity to initiate the “domino effect” – one interview informally leading to the next, and so on – and for that you need as much time as possible.
Finally, consider also moving beyond the capital city, especially if you are working on issues like economics and trade (Mumbai, Bangalore), coastal security, border conflicts, domestic insurgency, diaspora policies, defence production etc. Beyond what Delhi pundits
may tell you, take some time to identify additional sources at the regional level or see if you can have a closer look at the “beast” you’re studying (not necessarily the Siachen glacier
, but the National Defence Academy
, in case if you’re studying military training and education). Bear in mind that to visit some border areas with China and Pakistan, and certain areas in Northeast India, you will need to apply for a special permit.
Finally, it is all in the attitude. Some foreign scholars expect to be treated like gods, both intellectually as well as materially, forgetting that India is still busy battling with a number of basic challenges. This does not mean you should go on a relativist spree and shed your critical views and questions. But switch on your listening mode, take a lot of notes and be ready to be assimilated by incredible India
The most brilliant research project may fail monumentally on a detail like a wrong visa or a persistent Delhi belly
. Logistics are far from being a mundane issue for your fieldwork. Buying a ticket to IGI and booking a room on-line in that Paharganj
hostel your sister recommended is not
a good idea.
Let’s start with the paperwork. You’ll have to apply for a research visa
, which may take a long time to get cleared (sometimes several weeks) by the local embassy or, if “deemed necessary”, by the Ministry of Home Affairs in Delhi. Don’t apply for a tourist visa, as this will not allow you to re-enter the country without an intervening two-month break. Researching under a tourist visa could also bring you serious problems with the authorities, especially if, again, you’re working on any issue that is considered “sensitive”.
Once in Delhi, again, it all depends on your nationality. If you’re a Pakistani, you have 24 hours to register with the Bureau of Immigration
’s Foreigners Regional Registration Office. For most other nationalities who are staying for a longer period, you’ll have up to 14 days start the registration process with the FRRO, probably the least popular institution among Delhi’s expats!
Fieldwork in India, even in IR, often literally means fieldwork
. If you are a mortal doctoral student who (still) cannot afford a fancy air-conditioned vehicle with a driver who calls you sir-ji, you’ll have to first find and tame a rick-shaw driver, then endure the heat, traffic and pollution, and finally (hopefully with help of the magic Eicher city map
) still find the exact address. If you can, learn some Hindi before you leave to India - speaking a few words will definitely help you in breaking the ice on the street (probably by making people laugh).
Avoid the acute weather conditions before and during the monsoon (April-September). The best period to do your research in India is from October to March, including the rather cold but dry and sunny winter days in December and January. Finally, New Delhi is also a relatively cheap city. A nice air-conditioned room in a shared flat in South Delhi may cost you between 90 and 180 Euros, but expect to pay global rates if you look for a high-end furnished flat of Western standards.