LOS ANGELES — Continuing a proud legacy since 2000 of awarding the best doctoral dissertations on modern India, the Friends of Sardar Patel Association, in conjunction with UCLA’s Center for India and South Asia, honored and awarded Dr. Uday Chandra and Dr. Benjamin Siegel May 16 at the UCLA Faculty Center here.
Dr. Akhil Gupta, director of UCLA’s Center for India and South Asia Department, began the ceremony by asking the audience — many of whom were Indian Americans — to consider why interest in contemporary research on India as well as community involvement to support such efforts were important.
“Our history is literally turning to dust as it is on parchment,” and “we do not have enough research capable scholars to study India compared to the amount of scholarship which exists on almost any other part of the world,” he said.
Continued support through funding from private sources could also be an antidote to budget restrictions in such programs, according to Gupta.
Private aid would promote doctoral student work, language studies, encourage undergrads for more analysis in India and South Asia, and ultimately back empirical studies that could be dialed back to effect policy change.
Each awardee received $10,000. To date, an estimated $160,000 has been awarded through an initial endowment established 16 years earlier at UCLA by numerous donors who began FSPA.
“This event is a wonderful example of how the community helps us in supporting our core mission” said Gupta.
Chandra, the 2013 winner of the FSPA Sardar Patel award, presented his dissertation topic, “Negotiating Leviathan: Statemaking and Resistance in the Margins of Modern India.”
The doctoral grad from Yale University, traced the notion of “caste and tribe” and how it co-evolved with modern state making in India, while highlighting the struggle of power, resistance and identity of the indigenous Adivasi communities with British colonial powers as well as modern day state agencies in the forest state of Jharkhand in eastern India.
Chandra closed with commentary for today’s Adivasi tribes who need recognition but must also face that “the centrality of the modern state remains a reality” in their modern lives.
Siegel, the 2014 winner of the award, followed with his dissertation topic, “Independent India of Plenty: Food, Hunger, and Nation Building in Modern India,” which examined how the contestation of food and its scarcity structured Indian politics, society and national ambitions in the years between the Bengal Famine of 1943 and the historical Green Revolution of the 1960s.
Siegel, an assistant professor of history at Boston University, began his speech at the heels of the Swadeshi movement of 1905, where the problem of hunger began to take root within the framework of the Independence movement, entwining “food with freedom.”
Siegel ended by showing how the varying visions of numerous actors and their efforts to solve the food problem of a hungry India would eventually define citizenship, governance, and the relationship between individuals, groups and the state.
Following the speeches and a luncheon, guests were treated to additional talks on infrastructure in India. Moderated by Gupta, guests were provided an opportunity for a Q&A with speakers from various universities.
Prof. Sunila S. Kale talked about the lack of access and solutions to reliable power in India, and the fate of the country’s energy problem.
Doctoral candidate Manisha Anantharaman discussed India’s challenges and opportunities of its “garbage problem,” while Prof. Joshua Apte led the audience through his findings on poor outdoor air quality and the mortality rate in Indian cities such as Delhi.
The morning session also included a “tour” of FSPA’s history along with a glimpse of Sardar Patel, the “lesser known” founding father who joined Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru to create the republic of India, by FSPA president Harkisan Vasa and Dr. Vandana SarDesai, vice president and secretary.
Felicitations of founding members Dr. Damodar R. SarDesai, Professor Emeritus of History, UCLA, were led by board member Navin Doshi. Board member Dr. Vikram Kamdar offered a heartwarming homage to the late founder Lalchand Gaglani.
Vasa followed with praise for board member Bhupen Randeria for a recent win in the field of poetry, while entrepreneur and board member Uka Solanki, along with his wife Nalini, presented awardees with complimentary books on Mahatma Gandhi.