Indian liberals make for excellent company

The Cambridge South Asian Forum is a group that I’ve started to get more involved in. Last night they organised a talk by an Indian academic, Mr. Pandey, and his almost miraculous trip to Lahore (the day after he submitted his PhD).

I don’t want to go into the details because Vidhi had the clever idea that I should interview him for a podcast (he didn’t go into it but his talk in Lahore was on Padmavat).

I wanted to instead dwell upon another point. Vidhi and I both noticed that among the Cambridge PhD contingent Indians are overrepresented in the liberal arts and Chinese in the STEM (V has a rather low opinion of the Humanities but that is a separate matter for another time).

More to the point this is the same group that hosted the Kashmir forum and even though everyone is an upper caste Indian their post-modern liberalism is intoxicating. They just love Pakistanis and instead their greatest vitriol is reserved for the Indian state.

One of the very charming and eloquent chaps was telling me about how his thesis was focussed on the weaponisation of the Indian state in the Naxalite corridor. I was just thinking that the Pakistani equivalent (oppression in Baluchistan etc) wouldn’t be around for long.

I had never really encountered this liberal arts post-modern Indian bunch but now that I have I finally understand what readers are saying. As a Pakistani I find them good sports and I love their company because their views pretty much coincide with my own most of the time.

I notice Vidhi is much more wary (I had dragged her along to the talk) but she wryly commented it was all well and good for Mr. Pandey (he’s submitted his thesis but he’s not yet defended it) to talk about how loved he was as an Indian in Lahore but what about an Indian woman in Lahore.

My point being is that as much as I love these post modern liberal arts (and they are shockingly woke for South Asians) in some ways I feel they might be the reason why India is where it is in comparison to a China.

The Chinese students are mastering the hardest sciences. V was telling me that she was the only South Asian in her floor (5 Chinese students) and that one of the students who she thought was a Sikh (he had long hair) turned out to be Spanish.

It’s probably some civilisational quirk where the Chinese are into hard sciences and the Indians into abstract philosophising but it does mean that even if Bollywood is the best thing in Asia and that Indian weddings are second to none; India isn’t going to be richer than China anytime soon unfortunately..

34 thoughts on “Indian liberals make for excellent company”

  1. Why does loving Pakistanis make someone a “post-modern liberal”? I thought the idea was that liberals are supposed to reserve their greatest criticisms for their own country? In any case, Pakistan is an easy target.

    India has much more freedom of speech than Pakistan, so it is possible to write about the Naxalite issue. But I’m sure the academic concerned will be dubbed an “anti-national” by those who don’t like the conclusions he reaches. These days pretty much everyone who opposes the Modi regime’s policies is called an “anti-national” or an “urban maoist” etc.

    Indian women have visited Lahore and have also been met with great hospitality. Not really sure what the issue is there.

      1. I just don’t think “loving Pakistan” is some great mark of liberalism (or even what is “post-modern” about it but no one seems to really know what that word means). Unless you mean to contrast it with the default anti-Pakistan attitude of many Indians.

        I don’t hate India and feel great affinities with our shared culture and artistic heritage. At the same time, I am bitterly opposed to Hindu majoritarianism. It is possible to oppose certain policies of a government without hating an entire country.

  2. My impression is that Indian students in good British unis, STEM esp , is far below the Indian population. I even find more Malaysians. STEM Unis in India , most of them are not international class. So, in the short run India has to send thousands of Indian students to top universities around the world. China has been sending hundreds and thousands of students to the US and western countries from 1980 when the country opened up , presumably at state cost. This is also the period in which Chinese growth rate has been dizzying 15% or something like that. Chinese science and technology is leaps and bounds ahead of India , and in fact now international top class even in areas such as fundamental particle physics. Indian political class is just narcissistic and self-indulgent – does not know the world is leaving it behind.
    The US kick started and rebooted it’s STEM education and research in the 1960s when the Sputnik was launched and the US was taken aback. India should do something similar.

    1. India has to now really *learn* from China; China’s leap from third-world to second-world borderline first world is simply miraculous. There is no reason why India can’t do it

  3. As a guy who studied “hard” sciences at Cambridge and also did part of my research work in the US, I can tell you that the above view suffers from sampling bias.

    Indian students (esp the best ones) don’t give a toss about Cambridge! It is all about the US for them – Berkeley, Stanford and Caltech, MIT, Cornell etc (I was/am too thick to get a full PhD scholarship at Caltech CDS, so wound up at Cam)

    China has more grad students than India in the US, but a significantly less rate of growth. In a few years Indians will form the single biggest contingent of foreign grad students in the US – and a fantastic thing it would be too!

    In SY 2016–17, China was the top origin country for international students, representing 33 percent of the total, followed by India (17 percent), South Korea and Saudi Arabia (5 percent each), and Canada (3 percent). In SY 2016–17, 35,000 more students (new and returning) attended U.S. colleges and universities compared to the previous year, an increase mainly driven by higher numbers of students from China and India. India’s growth outpaced that of China, increasing 12 percent (from 165,900 in SY 2015–16 to 186,300 in SY 2016–17), compared to China’s 7 percent (from 328,500 to 350,800)

    1. I think it differs a bit from university to university. In the IITs, American universities are definitely supreme, I havent heard any of their top students think outside the US for PhDs. The culture seems slightly different in the Delhi and Kolkata universities which seem to have stronger links to UK academia.

        1. From personal experience, I agree that US or Canada are much more preferred than UK. Might be even mainland Europe is rated higher. Paris is a big centre for machine learning these days.

          I don’t know of anyone from my cohort who went for a PhD to UK. One guy went for a specialised automobile engineer course at Cranfield but came back to startup in Bangalore. That’s it I think.

          My brother couldn’t get into any high-energy physics programmes in the US or Canada so ‘settled’ for a masters at Imperial. (Though he did prefer this over a TIFR PhD). He’ll now apply to the US again next year.

          Going to LSE for exchange programmes is a big thing in DU. And a lot of rich Delhi folks like to get a degree in marketing or some such from Lancaster University or something. So maybe that explains why Zack runs into liberal types.

    2. But I thought you are in Banking, not academia?

      I can’t speak for other disciplines but the Machine Learning department at Cambridge is one of the world best; LV doesnt see many Desis at the conferences.. more Persian spoken than Hindi as I quipped at the last confeence

    3. The second issue is what happens after one graduates out of Cambridge. There is no difficulty for an Indian grad student in 19870s/1990s/2000s to go though an university in US, and then seek a position in academia or industry, rise up to be a CEO/CTO or professor/HOD/dean, or form his own company in California/Texas/Massachusetts. The companies are also highly tied into India, so one can do the round trip of US/Bangalore /US. Try any of this as an Indian in Cambridge, and you will fail.

      Last but not least, I am sorry to tell Zack this, but the glory days of Brittania are over, salaries post-graduation in UK are crap, and Britain is a very caste and class conscious society. I could not even understand the dorm concept of Cambrige, almost all of us were in apartments in grad school.

      Chinese Grad students are not limited in this; most Chinese companies recruit in Cambridge and US looking specifically for people to work in Chinese company offices in US /Europe or China. There has been some push by L&T/TCS/Reliance to do this in US, but mainly undergraduates and MS students.

      A rank-ordered list of problems that prevents India from catching up with China, would rank this issue as 9,999; today, China is miles ahead of India in everything, and no one in India or China views a china-vs.India competition model on anything, but cost of product sold in world market.

      1. I don’t think Britain’s day are over yet.

        Yes Britain is infinitely complex; that’s why my posts are rather tailored to a specific Shires context (Londonistan is a different beast altogether)..

  4. British STEM universities are crap. Anyone going there to study the hard sciences or computer science is signalling they couldn’t make the cut for the top fifty US universities.
    Unfortunately for India, most of the smart ones will stay in the US and all the ‘liberals’ will go back home and shape the public discourse.

    1. // Anyone going there to study the hard sciences or computer science is signalling they couldn’t make the cut for the top fifty US universities. //

      Yaar, itni bhi bezzati na kar. KahiN muNh dikhaney layak to chhod. Kamaz kam top 25 bol deta… dil rakhney key liye.

        1. Tarjuma noosh farmaiye:

          Buddy don’t dishonour me so much. Let me save face somewhat. You could have said (cambridge is rated lower than) top 25 at the very least, just to keep me happy.

      1. Slapstik, many apologies. But you are a linguist, right ? I mean not exactly STEM, is it ? Or do you have another day job ?

        In any case, I am sure you are the exception – closer examination of which will, no doubt, prove my rule. 🙂

  5. Why would you feature a tweet from someone who openly celebrates the destruction of the Babri Masjid (see his timeline)?

    I love the equation between terrorists, jihadis and Pakistan. Really clever.

    1. I celebrate the destruction of Babri Masjid. It was a symbol of Islamic imperialism and the trampling upon the faith of the people of country by a foreign occupying power. It replacement by a Ram Mandir (the mosque can be constructed some distance away in a Muslim locality) must be accomplished as soon as possible and no right thinking Indian Muslim should oppose this.

      Indian Muslims would earn great gratitude of their Hindu neighbors if they were to willingly give up their claim to the Janmbhumi area. It would show that they truly believe in ‘sulh-e-kul’ and mutual respect for other religions and do not use Indian secularism opportunistically for just their own benefit.

      1. India is still a secular state. The destruction of a minority place of worship is never justified, regardless of mythological beliefs.

      2. I’m skeptical about muslims earning any gratitude by such a concession. When people are imbibing a version of history that casts them as eternal villains, its naive to think hindus would pivot so quickly to a conciliatory stance. At any rate, the common muslims of ayodhya are indians, and moreover not the descendants of babar’s army or turks in any significant way, if that even matters half a milenium later. I don’t see how they owe anyone an apology or reparations.

  6. I haven’t seen numbers, but my personal experience is that Indians in the US are at least as likely to go into STEM as the humanities, probably moreso. Perhaps a result of stricter immigration requirements here? Work visas are hard to come by for cultural studies, and STEM-biased immigrants pass on their preferences to their children.

    1. STEM is overwhelmingly dominant in my experience, at least at the graduate level for Indian students in the US.

      And if I had to guess, the next generation Indian kids (born or raised in the US) don’t exhibit anywhere as high a preference for STEM as their immigrant parents. For the latter, as you guessed, STEM is a ticket towards upward mobility (and work visas/green cards.)

      Even for people who are not so mercenary in their aspirations, it’s quite natural to have an overwhelming preference for the US over the UK as a STEM destination. Pretty much since the end of the WW2, the US has been at the cutting edge of engineering and science. The Brits (and the Germans) used to be at least at par with, if not better than, the US before that. Since then, the computing revolution (inspired, created, and perpetuated, entirely in the US) has only made the choice easier.

      Even if other countries are stealing a march over the US in certain scientific disciplines, the fact that Indians have an entrenched network in the US (both in society and in the job market) will ensure that it remains the most favored destination for a while to come. Of course, further immigration restrictions (or even sticking to the status quo, which makes it infeasible for Indians to aspire to US residency) will reduce the country’s attraction a lot faster.

  7. Come to think of it, is there any English-speaking cultural elite that doesn’t act like this? Might be a symptom of globalization.

    Do French/German/Spanish-speaking elites act the same way?

  8. One of the funniest annual thing is that Times Higher Education publishes its list of world’s best universities and Cambridge, Oxform are inevitably in the top two or three and Kings College in the top ten. They are ahead of Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Princeton, Cal Tech etc etc. This is the British delusion at its barmiest.

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