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Casi Anniversary Symposium Credit: Meredith Stern , Meredith Stern

The Center for the Advanced Study of India is celebrating 20 years of serving as a hub for research on India at Penn.

Over 300 attendees gathered in the Law School’s Golkin Hall yesterday afternoon to discuss India’s development and role in the international community. CASI is dedicated to promoting policy research on India — the only organization of its kind at an American university.

The event drew distinguished speakers from both the Penn community and India, including Penn President Amy Gutmann and Nirupama Rao, the ambassador from India to the United States.

The celebration began with opening remarks from Penn Law Dean Michael A. Fitts, School of Arts and Sciences Dean Rebecca Bushnell and Marshall M. Bouton, president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

Afterwards, a series of panels featuring Indian politicians, financial and legal moguls as well as American experts, discussed issues related to India’s development in the past two decades. The topics included India’s emerging economy and continued struggles to promote equality. According to 1989 Wharton and Engineering graduate and current LPS student Ramanan Raghavendran, a member of CASI’s advisory board, “the topics were carefully chosen to be both practical and intellectual.”

A sense of cautious optimism pervaded the meeting. According to panelist Charles R. Kaye, co-president of private equity firm Warburg Pincus, metrics ranging from childhood mortality to literacy indicate that India has made tremendous progress.

However, the panelists agreed that there is much to be improved, as governmental regulations and overdependence on specialized labor hamper the economy, while India’s booming trade has created inequity between geographic and religious groups. The shadow of India’s neighbors, including China and Pakistan, was evident throughout the conference as well.

The panel of speakers underwent a few changes prior to the event, as Montek Ahluwalia, an Indian government official scheduled to speak, was detained in India due to protests over lowered government oil subsidies. In addition, Ambassador Rao joined the panelist lineup just the day before.

While the event primarily drew faculty and graduate students, a handful of Penn undergraduates came to listen to the prominent speakers. College sophomore Hirsh Shah said, “I just thought it would be a really good place to expose myself to a lot of people’s views and just get to know a little bit more about what they do.”

Gutmann concluded the day by speaking about her own family’s connection to India, where her father took shelter after fleeing Nazi Germany. She also discussed Penn’s continued commitment to furthering research on Indian affairs and providing opportunities for American students to work or study in India.

While India’s future may be uncertain, visiting dignitaries and long-time sponsors alike agreed that CASI’s own outlook seemed bright. “CASI has done a wonderful job in talking about the last 20 years of India’s transformation,” said Zia Mody, a prominent Indian lawyer and speaker on the economic panel.

“I think the message that’s coming out loud and clear is that India’s poised for great opportunity ahead — bottom line is it has to get its act together and implement it,” she added.

This article has been updated to reflect that Ramanan Raghavendran is a 1989 Wharton and Engineering graduate and current LPS student, not a 1989 Wharton and College graduate.

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