Homi Bhabha Receives Civilian Honor From India

UPDATED: Feb. 3 at 4:09 a.m.

Harvard professor Homi K. Bhabha won one of India’s highest civilian honors this week, according to an announcement made last Wednesday by the Indian government. Bhabha, the director of the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard and an acclaimed author on post-colonial studies, was one of 27 recipients of the Padma Bhushan this year.

“I was totally surprised,” said Bhabha, who said that he didn’t find out about the award until a cousin called him with the news.

Bhabha attributed his honor to his work exposing people around the world to post-colonial studies, a field that explores the relationships between European countries and their former colonial domains.

“It might also be because my work has been both international and interdisciplinary,” said Bhabha, who has published books on literature, philosophy, and other subjects.

Bhabha, who has lived and worked in the United States for years, was among the minority of recipients this year who do not reside permanently in India.

“I think [the Indian government] is beginning to understand India not only in the national context, but in the diasporic context as well,” Bhabha said.

Students and faculty said that they have been impressed by Bhabha’s work at Harvard.

Divisional Dean of Arts and Humanities Diana Sorensen said that Bhabha has been influential in the humanities and the University at large.

“He’s had a transformative effect as an interlocutor and convener, a visionary, and a brilliant intellectual,” she said.

“He has an air of erudition, but he’s also a friendly person,” said Amrita S. Dani ’13, who took a class taught by Bhabha during her freshman year. “He’s very good at making things accessible.”

She said that Bhabha’s course influenced her decision to concentrate in history and literature with a focus on post-colonial literature in the Middle East.

The Padma awards recognize Indian citizens for “distinguished service of high order” in a variety of fields. Bhabha won in the “Literature and Education” category. Other Indian-Americans who have received the award include Fareed Zakaria, who will speak at Harvard’s commencement later this year.

Bhabha said that he was “deeply honored” by the opportunity that the award affords him to further his work.

“It gives you a platform,” he said. “I just hope that I use it judiciously, and that I use it generously.

—Staff writer Jared T. Lucky can be reached at lucky@college.harvard.edu.

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