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A brief History of SASNET

In 1998, a Swedish government working group set up to “intensify Swedish relations with Asia,” made an inventory of existing Asia related research and educational resources in Sweden. The group recommended that a Swedish base for building academic competence about contemporary South Asia should be established at one of the universities in Sweden (“Framtid med Asien. Förslag till en svensk Asienstrategi,” Ds 1998:61, Stockholm, pp. 239 and 258). This recommendation was also included in the strategy formulated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In June 1999 Sida invited the universities of Göteborg, Lund and Uppsala to send in declarations of interest how to best co-operate in building this competence about South Asia. A working group at Lund University (LU), in consultation with the local South Asia researchers, worked out a plan for such a co-operation, which was submitted to Sida in September the same year. In this plan, LU committed itself to support the activity with SEK 0.5 million annually. A compilation of ongoing South Asia Research and Education resources at LU (”Why is Lund University building the network?”) was later presented at SASNET's first web site, and is still available. Go for it.

In May 2000, Sida decided to give the responsibility to Lund University to develop a South Asia Centre according to the plan it had submitted. The funding was provided in two steps: for the year 2000 the amount of 0.7 million SEK was given, in order to present a detailed plan for such a centre, and if this plan was positively evaluated, an annual amount of 1.5 million SEK for the years 2001 and 2002 was guaranteed.

LU set up a working group to plan for the building of a national network for South Asian studies. The group consisted of Professor Staffan Lindberg, Sociology; Associate Professor Olle Qvarnström, History of Religions; Associate Professor Rajni Hatti Kaul, Biotechnology; Mr. Shisher Kumra, International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics; Mr. Jan Magnusson, Social Work; and Mrs. Boel Billgren, International Office. See the presentation on the working group at our first web site.

The group also got support and assistance from Associate Professor Alia Ahmad, Economics; Assistant Professor Catarina Kinnvall, Political Science; Mrs. Anna Lindberg, History; Mrs. Sidsel Hansson and Mrs. Lisbeth Andersson, History of Religions; Associate Professor Neelambar Hatti, History of Economics; and Professor Göran Djurfeldt, Sociology.

Lindberg was appointed acting co-ordinator and Magnusson acting programme secretary, and the first strategy was to organise a conference in order to plan the network better.

On October 14–15, 2000, around 70 Swedish South Asia researchers came together in Lund to discuss the formation of the new Swedish South Asian Studies Network. After the conference, a modified plan for the building of a network was submitted to Sida and in November Sida decided to fund the activities for the period 2001–2002. SASNET formally started in January 2001.

SASNET got an office at Gamla Kirurgen in central Lund (connected to LU International Office), and established its web site during the Spring–Summer 2001 after Lars Eklund had been employed as webmaster. Directions were issued by the Lund University vice-chancellor on in June 2001, and a board was elected for the period 2001-2003.

In 2007, Dr. Anna Lindberg was appointed director of SASNET. Her immediate task was to develop the organization and secure its financing, or SASNET might be forced to close on 31 December 2009. For years, SASNET had been supported by a grant from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), and partly by Lund University. Working with the administration of LU, Lindberg succeeded in igniting their interest in South Asia and, in particular, India. As a result, after 2010 SASNET was entirely funded by LU, which led the organization to focus specifically at activities at LU.

As director, one of Lindberg’s main concerns was to bring South Asian students and researchers to Sweden. This was achieved through the Erasmus Mundus program when a large 4-year grant was awarded on the basis of SASNET’s application, with LU as the coordinater. For the first time on a large scale, LU and other Swedish universities were able to welcome Indian students and researchers to Sweden (later extended to some other SAARC countries) and offer them generous financial support. In addition, SASNET invited senior visiting professors from India for nine months every year from 2010 to 2014 by an agreement between the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) and LU.  Several other guest professors from South Asia have countinued to visit SASNET for shorter periods since 2014. 

Another responsibility for SASNET has been to promote and develop research about South Asia at LU and encourage young academics to focus on the region. In 2010 SASNET formed the South Asian Students Association (SASA) at LU, an active student organization now in its 7th year that presents lectures and host cultural evenings. SASNET has also collaborated with the Centre for Research and Education for Social Transformation (CREST) in South India over the last ten years.  As a result many LU students have visited CREST for extended periods and assisted in their programs. Several annual travel grants are offered for LU students by SASNET.

Since 2010, SASNET has initiated various student exchange programs, and supported individuals at LU prepare research applications dealing with South Asia. SASNET continues to organize an annual South Asian-themed international conference at LU and support special undertakings, such as the South Asia Media Project.

Beginning in 2015, in order to assure that South Asian interest continued to thrive at LU, young academics were hired by SASNET: journalist Andreas Mattsson, Islamologist Andreas Johansson, communications officer Elina Vidarsson, gender specialist Maria Tonini, and historian Admir Skodo.

Anna Lindberg retired from SASNET in November and Lars Eklund retired in December 2016. From 2017, SASNET, which had been one of Lund University's Specialized Centers (USV), became part of the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES), with Dr. Andreas Johansson as SASNET’s new director.