40 Years of Fulbright in India

Among the celebrations for the 40th anniversary of the Fulbright program in India is the release of a commemorative publication incorporating reminiscences of a number of Indian participants. SPAN presents excerpts.

By Meena Sanyal

Retrospective Edition, January 2022

40 Years of Fulbright in India

Left: Chitra Naik (right), 1953; center top: Girish Karnad with his family; center below: S.V. Chittibabu (center), 1966; right: Prabhakar Machave, 1960. Photographs courtesy USEFI

Since 1950, the United States Educational Foundation in India (USEFI) has grown into an important focus for scholarly exchange between the United States and India, forging special bonds of cooperation, friendship and understanding between the peoples of our two nations.

USEFI was established to administer the Fulbright program in India on February 2, 1950, with the signing of an agreement by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and U.S. Ambassador Loy W. Henderson. The program’s primary goal is the promotion of “mutual understanding between the peoples of the United States of America and India by a wider exchange of knowledge and professional talents through educational contacts.”

The success of the Foundation in its early years was due immeasurably to the efforts of its first director, the legendary Olive Reddick. A pioneer in the development of the lndo-U.S. exchange program, Reddick was associated with numerous educational and scholarly initiatives, including the creation of the American Studies Research Centre in Hyderabad in 1964. She was no stranger to India when she arrived here to pick up the reins of the Foundation in 1951. She had taught economics at Isabella Thoburn College in Lucknow in the early 1920s and again in the late 1930s. She had also worked with the U.S. State Department in the mid-1940s, part of the time in India stationed in New Delhi. Thus when she came to the Foundation she had firsthand knowledge of India, direct association with college classrooms and extensive administrative experience.

The long line of distinguished directors has continued from Reddick to the current director Sharada Nayak. In 1973 Charles Boewe, who served as the director for two years, handed over charge to the first Indian director C.S. Ramakrishnan, describing it as “an act long overdue.” “My most notable accomplishment at USEFI,” noted Boewe, “was to preside over the transfer of the Foundation to capable Indian hands, a move whose outcome has proved so salutary since.”

Over the years the Fulbright program in India has benefited more than 7,500 grantees—about half of whom are Indian and half American. Many Indian Fulbright grantees have returned to occupy positions of importance in their country. In 1985, for example, the vice-chancellors of 27 Indian universities were Fulbright alumni. India’s Fulbright program ranks as one of the largest in the world, a far-reaching program made possible by the vision of U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright. At the end of World War II, Fulbright sponsored legislation that drew upon American surplus property lying idle in warehouses around the world to fulfill a need for greater understanding among nations. He saw cross-cultural education by the international exchange of students, researchers and professors as a way of bridging the distance between different cultures and societies.

As signed into law on August I, 1946, the Fulbright Act permitted foreign currencies held by the United States to be used to finance educational exchanges between the United States and the countries involved, for the purposes of study, teaching, lecturing or advanced research. The idea caught on, and the program has continued to grow steadily. Today 40 countries throughout the world have formal exchange agreements with the United States and many others participate in the program through the cultural offices of the U.S. Information Service.

In 1987, 20,859 individuals participated in the program worldwide. The U.S. contribution to the program in that year was $147 million. Increasingly other governments are matching the U.S. contribution in recognition of the benefits of the exchange program.

If today students and scholars move around the world with greater ease and frequency, it is in part thanks to the Fulbright program. While providing substantial sums of government money to finance the exchanges, the program has taken care to minimize the influence of political considerations by making its working the responsibility of a nonpartisan Board of Foreign Scholarships in the United States, and of binational foundations or commissions in most of the participating countries.

The Fulbright grantees around the world are chosen competitively, on the basis of merit, and travel as private persons, not as government representatives. Most grantees remain long enough to accomplish a substantial piece of academic work and to become familiar with their host country and its society. Sustained contacts among peoples of different countries result in greater understanding of and appreciation for different cultures and ways of life in our world.

J.W. FULBRIGHT, Former U.S. Senator
I am pleased to send greetings and congratulations to you and the members of the India Fulbright Commission on your 40th anniversary. The creation of the Educational Foundation with the balance of the war debts gave the program stability and prestige which has contributed to its effectiveness. In addition, it was a symbolic act of converting the debris of war into a constructive effort to bring about peace in the future. The fundamental challenge in this nuclear high-tech era is one of psychology and education in the field of human relations. We must draw upon our human attributes of compassion and common sense, of intellect and creative imagination and of empathy and understanding between cultures. The cultivation of these attributes is the highest calling of all true educators, a calling to which the U.S. Educational Foundation in India and its alumni are committed.

W. ROBERT HOLMES, USEFI Director, 1967-71
It is a genuine pleasure to be reminded that the United States Educational Foundation in India is soon to be 40 years old. Our four years in New Delhi were in many ways the happiest of our lives and the most fruitful. The friendships made, particularly in the scholarly community of Indians and Americans, the acquaintanceship with dozens of Indian universities and the privilege of being woven into the rich cultural fabric of India in general and Delhi in particular is beyond assessment. It gives us much satisfaction that the Foundation’s services continue to fertilize and enrich Indo-American relationships and that “Fulbright scholar” is still an honored title.

JOHN KENNETH GALBRAITH, Former Ambassador to India, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
There is no activity involving my association with India that has given me more pleasure and no meetings have been intellectually more agreeable and rewarding than the occasions when I have met with recipients of the Foundation awards. My congratulations on this important occasion.

M.S. RAJAN, 1950-52
Professor Emeritus of International Organization, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
The Fulbright/Smith/Mundt grants which enabled me to study at Columbia University for two years radically altered my career aspiration from an administrative one (which I held in 1950 in the Indian Council of World Affairs) to a scholarly one, for which I can never be adequately grateful. Those two years of study/research in international affairs laid for me the foundations of much that happened in my subsequent career as an academic.

M.S. GORE, 1951-53
Former Director, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bombay
What I found valuable was the freedom to work on my own without being bound to particular textbooks. This was different from the pattern of instruction in Indian universities. It forced me to be on my own, to read extensively. This was a new experience and not entirely without a measure of associated anxiety.

CHITRA NAIK, 1953-54
Honorary Director, State Resource Centre for Nonformal Education, Pune
Studies at Columbia University were interesting. I had opted for administration of rural education and chosen my courses accordingly. I still remember the seminars given by Dr. Jerome Bruner (rural sociology), Dr. Sloan Weyland (the school and the community), Dr. Cyr (rural education) and Dr. Clark (economics of education). The atmosphere at Columbia was relaxed and friendly.

Editor, Choutha Sansar, Indore
In the department of Indian studies at the University of Wisconsin, I taught four courses, two on Indian literature, one on ancient Indian culture and one on Mahatma Gandhi. I stayed in the United States for two-and-a-half years and traveled coast to coast. Those were the days of Kennedy’s election campaign. Nehru visited America and called me to see him in New York.
Four things impressed me very much in that distant land. Curiosity for other cultures in spite of technical advancement and dependence on gadgets, freshness of outlook, freedom of individual opinion and a great humanist wave. At Chicago’s Ramakrishna center, I met an American young man who had read all the works of Vivekananda. In Berkeley, where I taught a seminar on Bhakti in medieval poetry, I found that the interests of students were amazingly varied—Shiva in Indian sculpture, Tukaram’s humanism, music of Surdas, Kabir’s language, influence of saint poets on Tagore. That experience enriched me greatly.

Vice-Chancellor, Bangalore University, Bangalore
The Harvard model of university/government/industry exchange, its tradition of scholarship, its culture and freedom to maintain one’s own views have been the constantly enthusing and guiding factors in my determination to become a “maker” rather than a mere “joiner” in the Indian society. I must record my gratitude to the U.S. government for the scholarship which took me to Harvard University. A common faith, which binds the two countries, has bound me to Harvard University, whose logo “Veritas” (Truth) has been my conscience keeper.

S.V. CHITTIBABU, 1966-67
Former Vice-Chancellor, Madurai-Kamaraj University, Madurai, and Annamalai University, Annamalainagar
During my stay in that fascinating country I found that American education was in ferment and unprecedented problems of quantity and quality clamored for unprecedented solutions. The flood tides of science, imperatives of social and moral values and significant changes in the world scenario were exerting such pressures on the educational system that educational agencies, both public and private, had necessarily to respond with hundreds of innovative educational experiments, new methods of organization, new technological devices and new concepts of the role of the teacher. It was indeed an exciting and thought-provoking experience for me.

Associate Professor, Department of Life Sciences, Manipur University, Imphal
My field of research is fish bio­chemistry, and in America I had a really good experience while collecting fish for my research. In India, I always had the privilege of having laboratory attendants meet our fish requirements through the local fishermen. However, when I landed in the United States, I was told that I would have to catch the fish for my experiments on my own, from the sea. This put me in an embarrassing position, as I did not have any experience of handling fishing nets or lines. However, I took up the challenge and went out on the open sea in a fishing boat along with a few other colleagues, and to the surprise of everybody caught the largest scup (fish on which we were working) of the season on the first day of my training!

Playwright, director, actor and Chairman, Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi
The opportunity of being a Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence at the department of South Asian languages and civilizations of the University of Chicago, enabled me to give myself time to read Bharata’s “Natya Sastra” in detail, clarify my thoughts on classical Indian theater and poetics by giving a course on the subject for two quarters, spend hours chatting with the research students and teachers such as Ed Dimmock, give a course on Indian literature along with A.K. Ramanujan, speak at various seminars including one at the Center for Study of World Religions at Harvard, write a paper on Indian theater for Daedalus, browse for hours through the Regenstein Library (certainly the most spectacular library I have ever stepped into), learn from C.M. Naim how to carve Jack O’Lanterns, attend the International Theater Festival of Chicago, write a full-length play in Kannada, translate it into English, produce it with the students at the University Theater, and finally spend almost every evening, for 10 months, at home with my family—something my profession doesn’t allow me in India!

Looking Back—and Ahead
By Sharada Nayak

In the four decades of the Fulbright Exchange Program in India, many changes have taken place in the nature of USEFI’s work. These changes have reflected our responses to the wider concerns of educators in both India and the United States. The need to build stronger human ties in a postwar world inspired Senator Fulbright to propose the educational exchange program that bears his name. But the program grew to take the color, shape and identity of the countries that developed these educational links with America. In planning ahead, like Janus, we look behind and recognize that the forces that have affected society have given the stimulus to spring new shoots in this growing tree.

Two generations of Fulbright scholars have built foundations for teaching and research. Today the academics who participate in the Fulbright program have access to more information than their predecessors had and they proceed to the United States seeking a different dimension to their educational experience. The needs of India have shifted to the new priorities in the country’s development, and USEFI must be sensitive to them. However, the understanding of the social concerns in both India and America must remain our raison d’être. The need to recognize the stirring of a society is still paramount; to discover how past history and tradition have shaped us, and to understand how the present is trying to shape our tomorrows—to know not only how people in India and the United States live, but also what they are trying to become.

Originally published in February 1990

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