Dr. Prashanth Bharadwaj is a professor of management and Dean’s Associate in the Eberly College of Business and IT at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He first came to the United States in 1988 to attend graduate school but stayed because of the economic and educational opportunities he was granted. Although he has lived in the United States for three decades, he still retains close connections to India and even helps American students to discover his beautiful country through study abroad options in the winter.
Dr. Bharadwaj grew up in Bangalore, India where his family had lived for several generations. Both of his parents had college degrees and his father worked in Tanzania for several years, allowing Dr. Bharadwaj to develop his love of traveling at a young age.
When he was growing up, the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was approaching its final decade. India was a leader of the “non-aligned movement” and refrained for the most part from taking sides, continuing their historically peaceful approach to world politics. Dr. Bharadwaj participated in sports and music in addition to his education, remarking that one of his fondest childhood memories was “playing cricket all day with friends.”
After graduating from college in Bangalore, India, Dr. Bharadwaj made the decision to pursue his master’s degree in the United States. He remarked that “in my time, there were only five colleges offering reputed master’s degrees in India. So, you had to be in the top 0.01% of the population.” For comparison, that’s more competitive than getting into an Ivy League college in the United States. He joked that “even if you are one in a million, there are a million people like you in India.”
Although his grandfather, who provided funding for his education, originally made him promise to return to India after getting his master’s degree, Dr. Bharadwaj stayed in the United States. He explained that like many other Indian migrants, he decided to stay for better opportunities and not because of persecution or oppression in India. His grandfather understood his decision and was supportive of it.
Dr. Bharadwaj is proudly Hindu, and although he misses his family in India, “there is such a strong Indian community” that he doesn’t miss India “from the religious perspective.” The Indian holidays of Diwali and Holi are celebrated by Hindus from all around Western Pennsylvania at IUP annually. Additionally, Dr. Bharadwaj stays connected to his home country through the nearly 60-80 Indian international students at IUP each year. “When there is a Cricket World Cup going on, they all come home and watch the game,” he remarked, smiling.
Dr. Bharadwaj accredits his easy transition to the United States to the open and democratic society and the diverse population of his graduate school classmates. He has stayed connected and preserved his Indian culture through his religious practices, but also by taking groups of IUP students to India during winter sessions. Not only has this helped connect Western Pennsylvanians to India, but also IUP exchange students from countries such as Taiwan, Norway, Germany, and Peru. He directs IUP’s international programs that have resulted in over 1,200 Indian alumni for IUP in the last 15 years.
The most interesting part about my conversation with Dr. Bharadwaj was when he discussed Indian politics with me. He explained that the current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has been “wrongfully accused by some media outlets of being like a dictator like Erdogan in Turkey or Putin in Russia or even Xi in China.” He stated that none of the other accused dictators were elected like Modi was. “He was elected by the majority, and it’s a parliamentary democracy, exactly like Britain.” According to Dr. Bharadwaj, Prime Minister Modi is one of the first political leaders in India “who is proud openly to say that he is Hindu.”
In addition to outsider accusations, Prime Minister Modi has been addressing the difficult issue of refugees, a controversial topic in many countries, particularly those with democratic governments. Prime Minister Modi’s Government approved a bill that India will accept “anybody as a refugee coming from the neighboring countries as long as they are not Muslim.” Dr. Bharadwaj explained to me that “when you look at it, it looks like it is anti-Muslim. But it is not. India is a secular country with about 15% of its population being Muslim. That makes India the country with the second highest population of Muslims. Islam and all world religions have been practiced more freely in India than in any other country for millennia.” He described that this policy reflects how Muslims in neighboring countries are not being politically or religiously persecuted, and that “the refugees that India will accept are Hindus and other minorities because they are the ones who are politically persecuted in some countries.” Although people from other countries such as Bangladesh might be seeking economic relief in India, Dr. Bharadwaj explained that with Prime Minister Modi’s policies, “India is saying that we are not ready to accept economic immigrants because we are also a very poor country. If we do that, then we will be overrun by people that we cannot sustain.” (As reference, India’s population is already around 1.3 billion people). I thoroughly enjoyed this conversation because Dr. Bharadwaj provided me with insight and an explanation that the media often does not portray when covering these very complicated issues in Indian politics. His love and pride for his country was extremely evident, showcasing how strongly he still supports India’s political development even after having lived in the United States for several years.
Dr. Bharadwaj stated that “other than family, I don’t miss India at all. We have recreated everything here, thanks to the United States. If I were living in Saudi Arabia or Poland or some other place, it wouldn’t have been possible to do this. US and India not only represent two of the biggest democracies in the world but also two of the most diverse and multi-cultural societies.” Having navigated migrant identity with ease, he is grateful for the opportunities and freedoms the United States’ democracy has provided him with and proudly promotes an environment of inclusiveness and understanding by teaching hundreds of students about his own culture, history, and experiences.
Please feel free to comment any reactions or suggestions below! It is important to generate discussions based upon the stories we read and engage with others to help celebrate the diversities and multiplicities that make up our world.