Rafiq Dossani addresses key South Asia issues

Two young men at Haji Ali Dargh, a mosque and tomb in Mumbai. Tom Spender

While it is known as a leading center for the study of contemporary Northeast Asia, the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center (Shorenstein APARC) has also conducted significant research and publishing activities about South Asia for more than a decade. Rafiq Dossani, a senior research scholar at Shorenstein APARC and a former director of Stanford's Center for South Asia (CSA), serves as the executive director of the Center's South Asia Initiative. Addressing key South Asia issues, his diverse research interests range from entrepreneurship and technology to economics and security.

"In a liberal democracy with a functioning rule of law, the socioeconomic condition of Muslims [in India] has, relative to the population, steadily declined.

-Rafiq Dossani

Most recently, Dossani launched a research project with Shorenstein APARC's Henry S. Rowen and CSA's Thomas Blom Hansen to study the socioeconomic conditions faced by Muslims in India. He is currently working on an article on the subject for the March 2011 inaugural edition of Avicenna, Stanford's new journal on Muslim affairs. "In a liberal democracy with a functioning rule of law," says Dossani, "the socioeconomic condition of Muslims [in India] has, relative to the population, steadily declined." He emphasizes that since Independence in 1947, Muslims, who make up 13 percent of India's population, have had equal access to power in the Congress Party-led national government. One difference, however, is that special provisions have been made to provide jobs and education for members of lower-caste Hindu and tribal groups. "Generally speaking, Muslims have lost out," states Dossani. India's government demonstrated its concern about this growing issue by publishing a 2005 report acknowledging clear cases of discrimination against Muslims, even at the government level. Discrimination, says Dossani, has led to a ghettoization of Muslims and a movement towards a religion-based identity, which he suggests will not only work against Muslims but also has security implications for the country. "It is understood at the top level by policymakers, and yet the situation persists," he cautions.

In addition to South Asia-specific research, Dossani has participated in several interdisciplinary, multi-country studies, including a project examining higher education in the "BRIC" countries of Brazil, the Russian Federation, India, and China. Led by Martin Carnoy, the Vida Jacks Professor of Education at Stanford's School of Education, members of the research team interviewed approximately seven thousand students and studied one hundred colleges and universities in India, focusing on engineering education. "It is one of the most globally comparable [disciplines]," says Dossani. For India, the findings indicate that the cost of education, which is approximately twelve hundred dollars per year for tuition, is affordable for many families and it has a high rate of return in terms of how quickly students find employment and recoup tuition costs. On a global level, however, the quality of education does not measure up to many other countries, such as the United States. Dossani cites the highly politicized nature of India's university system as a major reason for this. While 95 percent of India's colleges are now private, government-run universities confer degrees, set the curriculum, and direct appointments to high-level positions. There is a certain degree of corruption, and teacher and student unions are tied to political parties. According to Dossani, states tend to emphasize the quantity of campuses—particularly in poor, rural areas—over the quality of curriculum and instruction, in order to garner votes. "[The university system] is in a state of stasis," he says, "so the quality does not improve."

Dossani is actively engaged in numerous other research projects, including studies of telecommunications in India, and outsourcing, private equity, security, and regional integration in relation to South Asia. He is also currently serving as the co-chair of the 2011 conference held by the Industry Studies Association, which annually convenes a large interdisciplinary academic conference. Scholars participating in the 2011 conference will discuss findings in their areas of specialization within the broader themes of general industry studies; energy, power, and sustainability; globalization; innovation and entrepreneurship; labor markets, organizations, and employment relations; and transportation and logistics.

In addition to his research, Dossani is an avid volunteer. A recipient of the 2011 Asian American Heroes Award for Santa Clara County, he has volunteered for many years with Hidden Villa, a San Francisco Bay Area-based nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching about the environment and social justice. He also chairs the United States branch of Focus Humanitarian Assistance (FOCUS USA), an international non-profit group that conducts disaster preparedness and response activities in developing countries. Dossani traveled last summer to Taijikistan to visit villages where FOCUS USA is supporting the training of emergency-response volunteers, the earthquake retrofitting of schools, the installation of early-warning systems, the stockpiling of supplies, and the building of shelters. The area is close to the border of Afghanistan and surrounds Lake Sarez, which at over ten thousand feet is one of the world's highest glacial lakes. In addition to earthquakes caused by frequent seismic activity in the area, flooding of Lake Sarez and its adjoining rivers due to heavy glacial melt is an issue of major concern. 

Through his work with FOCUS USA, Dossani has learned about techniques that work to successfully address nontraditional security issues, such as the economic hardship and the displacement of people due to natural disasters. Non-governmental organizations and governments can successfully collaborate, he maintains, and nothing, in fact, can be done in a country without the support of its government. Effective results are less about policy than about focusing on establishing trust over a period of time, especially at a local level, states Dossani. "Being effective requires partnerships and trust," he says. He points to the United Nations, a globally respected entity, as a successful organization for smaller or new non-profit groups to partner with. Dossani's group has also found that disaster-preparedness measures, such as paying emergency-response volunteers, can actually offer significant economic benefits. For example, in the area where they operate, where the per capita income is two hundred and thirty dollars, the additional six dollars per day that volunteers receive is a major boost to a family's income. The work of such groups could potentially serve as a model for governments looking for more effective ways to address nontraditional security issues. 

In conjunction with his Shorenstein APARC work to address key South Asia issues, Dossani frequently speaks at events in the San Francisco Bay Area and worldwide. More information about his research and publishing activities and about Shorenstein APARC's vibrant South Asia Initiative, including publications such as Does South Asia Exist? Prospects for Regional Integration (Shorenstein APARC, 2010) and Prospects for Peace in South Asia (Stanford University Press, 2005), can be found on the Shorenstein APARC website.