February 20, 2008

Prof Receives Unexpected Award from Indian Gov’t for Research

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Correction Appended

On India’s Republic Day this past January, its national government announced the recipients of this year’s Padma Bhushan award, the third highest civilian honor for Indians. Though it is often given to public figures and cricketers, Prof. Kaushik Basu, international studies and director of the Center for Analytic Economics, was surprised to find his name on the list.
The award, established on Jan. 2, 1954 by the President of India, will be given to Basu next month. He was one of five Indian-American recipients, along with astronaut Sunita Williams and NYU mathematician Srinivasa Varadhan. There were 35 people in total honored for this year’s Padma Bhushan.
Basu explained that his award had nothing to do with his work in India, but that consideration was based on his more extensive research.
“My research is largely on abstract analytical matters not related to any specific country or region,” he said. “But the fact that much of this work is on issues of great relevance to developing nations — such as the problem of child labor, human rights, labor standards — and also the fact that I engage in public debates and do a fair amount of popular writing, I suppose contributed to my being selected.”
Basu writes publicly about his work in a BBC News Online column and a Hindustan Times column.
“Since the news broke in India before the government could officially contact me, I learned about the award when emails began pouring in,” Basu said. “I think it is also a sign of India’s maturity that it is beginning to recognize contributions to research and higher education.”
Debjeet Sen grad, president of the Cornell India Association , explained that the award will be presented by the President of India at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the Indian Presidential Palace. The CIA plans to honor Basu late next month.
Sen was extremely impressed with Basu’s achievement, mainly because he understood the honor associated with it.
“Having lived in India for a greater part of my life, I know just how prestigious the award is, and how much it means for the average Indian,” Basu explained. “It is one of India’s greatest civilian awards and is awarded to a very select group of people every year. In terms of prestige, I can probably compare it to being knighted in Britain.”
For Sen, though, the award is greater than the sum of its parts.
“Indians are usually proud of their country and retain a strong bond with India and all things Indian. I would like to say that the award makes me feel a stronger connection to Cornell. It makes me extremely proud that a professor at my University has been awarded so handsomely,” Sen said.
Basu’s wife, Prof. Alaka Basu, development sociology, is the faculty advisor of the CIA.