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Rohingya Crisis: Rakhine’s Fallen Mosques


A photograph of a mosque overgrown with vegetation

A mosque in Buthidaung, Northern Rakhine State that was condemned following the 2012 conflict. Photo: Cresa Pugh.

 

By: Cresa Pugh, Doctoral Student in Sociology & Social Policy, Harvard University

 

“You can look, but you can’t take a photo.” I was standing on the main street of downtown Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State, on the westernmost edge of Myanmar. To my left was a street vendor selling papaya and mangosteen; ahead of me was a dense urban jungle of palm trees and thicket, and between us stood a uniformed military official, with an AK-47 draped over his shoulder, leaning against a pile of sandbags and a tangle of barbed wire and plywood. Rising above the trees were the weathered remnants of the minarets of Sittwe’s oldest mosque, Sawduro Bor Masjid, which was destroyed in riots that swept the city more than five years ago.

In 2012, longstanding tensions between the Buddhist and Muslim communities in the region erupted into a bloody conflict that claimed the lives of hundreds of individuals and led to the forcible displacement of all Muslims into militarized camps in and around the city. Prior to 2012, Sittwe was home to 73,000 Muslims–nearly half the population of the city–yet today there are virtually no Muslims remaining, save those confined to the camps who are not allowed to leave the premises.

During the conflict, most of the mosques in Rakhine were burned, vandalized or razed to the ground by mobs of anti-Muslim Buddhist nationalists who fear what they perceive to be a rapidly expanding and increasingly dangerous foreign element. While the Rohingya, an ethnic and religious minority group, claim indigeneity to the region and may have roots dating back to the 700 AD, the population has been increasingly marginalized and persecuted on the basis that they are ‘illegal’ South Asian immigrants. Most recently a violent military crackdown in response to a Rohingya insurgent attack led to the killing of hundreds of individuals and the mass displacement of more than 600,000 Rohingyas across the Bangladesh border where they still await repatriation or settlement.

Today in Sittwe, the only reminders that there was ever a Muslim community in the city are the shells of ancient mosques dotted across the landscape. Since 2012, all mosques in Rakhine State have been permanently shuttered, many of which are under heavy protection by military personnel in order to prevent individuals from entering to worship or commit further vandalization. Now overrun by monsoon-fed mangrove forests, the structures stand in defiance of a society that has, over several decades, attempted the erasure of its Muslim population. While the mosques remind us of the existence of this community, their charred, crumbling, dilapidated character speaks to the violence exercised upon those who worshipped, learned and communed within their walls.

 

 

Mosque covered in vegetation

A mosque in Sittwe, Rakhine State that was torched and destroyed in the 2012 conflict. Photo: Cresa Pugh.

 

In January 2017, I received a grant from the South Asia Institute to begin my research in Rakhine and returned in June 2017 to conduct interviews in the Rohingya and Rakhine communities. I gained access to the military encampments and spoke with Rohingya individuals and families who had been displaced during the 2012 riots.

I arrived at the camp on June 26, which happened to be Eid al-Fitr, and was greeted by men with machine guns, but also by young girls in purple velvet dresses with bows in their hair, men in suits and crisp button-downs, and women in floor-length satin outfits bedazzled with jewels–all celebrating the holiest day on the Muslim calendar, a subtle act of resistance to a state and society that has stripped them of their humanity.

Asking what they missed the most about their home in Sittwe, many of them said freedom of movement, economic and educational opportunities, and freedom of worship. A makeshift building made of thatch and corrugated metal–similar to the structures that serve as homes where families sleep on bamboo mats atop mud floors–within the camps function as a mosque. Only men are allowed to enter–the women must pray at home. The mosque is bare and hostile; it is not a space for social communion, and my informants spoke with a heaviness about their mosques in Sittwe which had been destroyed, with only memories remaining.

In 2012, 17 mosques were demolished in the riots and since then, Rakhine’s security and border affairs minister has called for the destruction of the remaining mosques and madrasas (religious schools) built after 1962. Mosques are more than simply houses of worship and represent more than the symbolic, religious and spiritual elements of Islam. They constitute the social, cultural and political life of adherents to the faith, thus the destruction of a mosque is an assault on the very fabric of a community, the collective memory of a people. And the rampant destruction of mosques across an entire city and state–and the charred rubble, or mere emptiness, that lies in its place–stands as a testament to the attempted systematic erasure of a practice, a culture, and a people.

 

Mosque covered in vegetation

Sawduro Bor Masjid mosque in downtown Sittwe, Rakhine State that was vandalized during the 2012 conflict and later condemned. Photo: Cresa Pugh.

 

As I gazed up toward the minarets of Sawduro Bor Masjid, I removed my phone from my bag and started to aim it upward, but I was told by a friend that it was against the law to take photos of the destroyed mosques. As he whispered this to me, the armed guard stared blankly in my direction. Were the officials nervous that a journalist might document the mosque destruction as evidence of religious persecution that would tarnish the state’s image? Is the fear that I might be too curious about a population that has been deemed the enemy? I spent the next several days searching for places from which it would be safe to photograph the decaying mosques, the ghosts of the displaced worshippers looming present.

On my final night in Sittwe, I met a friend for dinner at a teashop that was opposite a mosque slowly being reclaimed by the jungle. We were greeted by an overweight dog. My friend reminded me of an interview we had conducted several days prior with a Muslim community leader being held in a nearby military camp who told us about having to flee his home in the middle of the night during the 2012 riots. My friend explained that the dog in the shop belonged to this man, and the owner of the shop, who was Buddhist Rakhine, began looking after the dog once his owner was detained. The shop owner explained that she maintained a strict halal diet for the dog because she knew his owner did not eat pork. My friend and I seasoned our rice with ‘kalar lay,’ an Indian spice named after the racial slur used for Myanmar’s Muslims. My friend tells me that only Muslim dogs bark at night because they miss their owners and that many of the dogs left behind after the conflict now sleep in the mosques, waiting.

 

Mosque covered in vegetation

A photo of Sawduro Bor Masjid in downtown Sittwe, Rakhine State taken from inside the Rakhaing State Cultural Museum. Photo: Cresa Pugh.

 

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SAI Fellowship Deadlines are March 6, 2018


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About | Available Fellowships | Frequently Asked Questions | Past Fellows | News

 

 

The Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute, Harvard University (SAI) offers opportunities for scholars and practitioners to utilize the university’s resources to contribute to self-driven, independent research related to South Asia. The deadlines for the 2018-2019 Aman Fellowship, Arvind Raghunathan and Sribala Subramanian South Asia Visiting Fellowship and Babar Ali Fellowship are March 6, 2018.

 

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Students in India delve into the Complex Genome


 

Student receiving diplomaThe following article, originally published in News Karnataka, covers the Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute’s Boston Bangalore Biosciences Beginning Program (B4)’s most recent workshop. B4 aims to build a scientific research corridor and will engage scientists from India and Harvard through exchange programs: 1) Science and Technology Fellowships at Harvard and other peer institutions in the Boston area. 2) Two-week courses on Biosciences in Bangalore. 

 

Bengaluru: From over 220 applications, 25 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students from across India were selected to participate in a residential two-week workshop in ‘Genomics in Healthcare and Translational Research’ from December 2017. This workshop was under the aegis of the B4 (Boston Bangalore Biosciences Beginnings) Program, funded by the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India, and supported by the IT/BT Department, Government of Karnataka.

The aim of the Genomics workshop was to “introduce talented Indian students to the emerging area of genomics and enable them to explore the power and excitement of Next Generation Sequencing technologies to address clinically relevant research questions,” said Professor M. Vijayalakshmi, IBAB, who was instrumental in developing the curriculum for the workshop.

Genomics and Next-generation Sequencing technologies have influenced scientific research and medicine significantly, and have made a striking impact on healthcare and translational medicine over the last decade. The capability to sequence DNA at higher speeds with precision and resolution unravels several dimensions of the complex genome and enhances the applicability of genomic information in personalized medicine.

Distinguished faculty and postdoctoral fellows from institutions such as Boston University, Harvard University, Broad Institute (Boston), ACTREC (Mumbai), IGIB (Delhi), CCMB (Hyderabad), IISC and NCBS (Bangalore) trained the participants on both the experimental aspects of genomic sequencing and computational analysis of sequencing data, through didactic research lectures and hands-on sessions. The workshop concluded on December 23 with a panel discussion on ‘Genomics – Trends and Opportunities’.

Following the workshop was the valedictory event of the first phase of B4. The keynote address was delivered by Dr. VijayRaghavan (Secretary, DBT), who highlighted the current and future study and practice of Biosciences in India. He emphasized the need to build a science-based ecosystem that is sensitive to the nation’s needs.

Dr. VijayRaghavan’s talk was followed by a panel moderated by Prof. Venkatesh Murthy, Chair of Molecular & Cellular Biology, Harvard University, and lead faculty of the B4 Program. The discussion focused on the impact of the program in India. Panelists included Aditya Murthy, IISC, and three B4 fellows, Parvathi Sreekumar, Ramya Purkanti, and Gayatri Ramakrishnan, who have recently returned from a year at Harvard.

The closing vote of thanks was delivered by Prof. N. Yathindra, Director, IBAB, who spoke of the value of the B4 Program for the young Indian scientists and the bridge created between academic institutions in the US and India. He also emphasized the value of translation of knowledge from academia to practice.

(Originally published on News Karnataka on December 26, 2017)

Learn more about the B4 Program.

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South Asian Courses Spring 2018


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Harvard University will offer many courses with South Asia related content in the Spring 2018 semester. (Please note: This is only a partial list. Please visit each school’s individual registrar for a full list of courses.)

 

Do you know of a course that should be listed here? Email Amy Johnson at amy_johnson@fas.harvard.edu

 

Advanced Hindi-Urdu

HIND-URD 103BR

Hajnalka Kovacs

Continuation of Hindi-Urdu 103a.

 

Advanced Sanskrit: Upanishads

SANSKRIT 218

Michael Witzel

In this course selections from the prose and verse Upanishads are read and their religious background is explored. Some attention is given to what differs their language from that of the classical Sanskrit of Patanjali, Buddhaghosa, etc.

 

Democracy and Social Movements in East Asia

SOCIOL 189

Paul Chang

Social movements are an important part of both democratic and non-democratic societies. This course assesses the state of civil society in East Asia by surveying contemporary social movements in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea. We start the course by discussing the main concepts and analytic approaches in social movement theory. We then apply these theoretical frameworks to specific mobilization efforts in East Asia, keeping in mind each country’s unique historical context. With the theoretical and empirical tools gleaned from the lectures and readings, students will pursue a case analysis of an East Asian social movement of their choosing.

 

Elementary Classical Tibetan

TIBET 101B

Leonard W. J. van der Kuijp

Continuation of Tibetan 101a

 

Elementary Colloquial Tibetan

TIBET 104BR

Leonard W. J. van der Kuijp

Continuation of Tibetan 104ar

 

Elementary Sanskrit

SANSKRIT 101B

Anand Venkatkrishnan

Continuation of Sanskrit 101a.

 

History of Tibetology: Seminar

TIBET 227

Leonard W. J. van der Kuijp

This course is designed as a seminar that focuses on the historical development of Tibetan Studies in Europe, East Asia, and North America. Leading figures in the field belonging to the nineteenth to the early twenty-first century will be identified, their oeuvre will be discussed and analyzed, and bibliographies will be compiled and distributed.

 

Intermediate Colloquial Tibetan

TIBET 105BR

Leonard W. J. van der Kuijp

Continuation of Tibetan 105ar.

 

Intermediate Nepali

NEP 102B

Michael Witzel

This course is designed to provide students with a more sophisticated knowledge of Nepali grammar. Students will also have an opportunity to use Nepali language for communication purposes and will be able to analyze more complex sentence types than the ones taught in the introductory course.

 

Intermediate Tamil

TAM 102B

Jonathan Ripley

Continuation of Tamil 102a.

 

 

Mixing Religion and Politics

FRSEMR 70T

Harvey Cox

Some of the best known religious personalities in the last one hundred years have had a notable impact on the political sphere. What was the nature of their spiritual basis and how did they translate their various faith traditions into the coinage of public life? Who were their religious and political opponents? In this course we will examine a number of figures including Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu who led the non-violent struggle against British imperial rule in India; Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor who was killed by the Nazis for his involvement in the plot to assassinate Hitler; Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist pastor who inspired both civil rights and peace movement in America; Dorothy Day, founder of Catholic Worker movement; and Malcolm X, an American Black Muslim who drew on that tradition to attack racial and economic inequality.

 

Readings in Modern Nepali Literature

NEP 104B

Michael Witzel

A reading course in Modern Nepali Literature, suitable for students who have at least three years of Nepali learning. This course is designed to help students understand some of the complex literary materials composed in modern Nepali language.  The students will have an opportunity to read a wide variety of selected texts, understand the linguistic systems operative in those writings, and come up with their own informed understanding of them.

 

South Asian Religious Aesthetics: Seminar

RELIGION 2063

Anne E. Monius

An examination of South Asian theories of aesthetics and their relevance for understanding Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain discourses of ethics, literature, and theology.

 

Topics in World Music: Proseminar

MUSIC 190R

Richard Wolf

Music of Central Asia and its Neighbors. Focuses on musical traditions of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, and the historical, cultural, and musical links between these countries and Iran, Afghanistan,Pakistan and India. All students interested in the music of this Silk Road region are potentially eligible to enroll, regardless of prior musical training.

 

Advanced Colloquial Tibetan

TIBET 106BR

Leonard W. J. van der Kuijp

Continuation of Tibetan 106ar.

 

Advanced Nepali

NEP 103B

Michael Witzel

A reading course in Modern Nepali Literature, suitable for students who have at least three years of Nepali learning. This course is designed to help students understand some of the complex literary materials composed in modern Nepali language. The students will have an opportunity to read a wide variety of selected texts, understand the linguistic systems operative in those writings, and come up with their own informed understanding of them.

 

Advanced Philosophical Sanskrit

SANSKRIT 201BR

Anand Venkatkrishnan

An advanced Sanskrit reading course focusing on the development of skills in either classical belles lettres or scholastic, commentarial prose. In the former, emphasis is on the ability to re-arrange complex poetic forms into digestible prose word order their own informed understanding of them.

 

Advanced Sanskrit: Medieval Inscriptions

SANSKRIT 215

Michael Witzel

In this class a variety of medieval and pre-modern Sanskrit inscriptions by kings, priests and lay people are studied while paying attention to their political and cultural background.

 

Comparative Constitutional Law (1020)

Vicki Jackson

The course will cover a series of topics arising in the comparative study of constitutional systems. Concentrating on constitutional structure and law in the United States and in such other countries as Australia, Canada, Colombia, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Israel, Japan, and South Africa, it will examine selected problems of both constitutional design and constitutional adjudication. Early in the course we will consider the varying foundations and structures of judicial review of the constitutionality of laws (e.g., how are courts that engage in constitutional review structured, how are their judges appointed, what is the source of their authority to engage in constitutional review). We will also, early in the course, likely consider the constitutional law regulating availability of abortion in the United States, Germany, Canada, Colombia, and Ireland. Other likely topics include (1) the relationships between “popular” branches of government and courts under constitutional regimes that permit legislative `override? of constitutional decisions, (2) constitutional transitions, including from democratic constitutionalism to more abusive forms of constitutionalism, (3) presidential compared to parliamentary systems of governance and whether/how constitutions should address ?emergency? powers, (4) different forms of constitutional federalism, (5) approaches to protecting minority groups (for example, federalism, affirmative action for racial/ethnic/linguistic minorities, or group-based rights), (6) gender equality; (7) freedom of religion, (8) freedom of speech, and (9) positive social welfare rights. Two overarching questions will be explored through these topics. First, we will be trying to improve our capacities to think systematically about constitutions, different structures for organizing governments and establishing just and efficacious governments, and about the role of constitutional law, and courts. How can governments be structured to both provide flexibility to respond to future needs and ensure appropriate degrees of ongoing stability? How can law and government structures help organize or manage responses to the tensions between majoritarian democracy and basic human rights? Between the human needs and demands of competing minorities? To do so, we will focus on a set of basic questions about constitutions, and constitutionalism: Why have constitutions? What is the relationship between a written constitution and constitutionalism? Can there be constitutionalism without a constitution? Does constitutionalism necessarily entail precommitment through entrenched law? Does constitutionalism necessarily require commitment to specific substantive norms? Second, we will also critically examine what it is that can be learned from a comparative study of constitutions and constitutionalism. Can one draw conclusions for one country based on comparing constitutional experiences in others? Or is the possibility of drawing lessons from one polity to another always limited by the particularities of context and culture within which constitutions are formed and constitutional decisionmaking proceeds? Comparative constitutional study might yield insights into parts of ones own system that are (falsely) experienced as essential ? when one learns that similar results are produced through different constitutional structures elsewhere, it is eye-opening. On the other hand, comparative study may also illuminate how difficult it is to distinguish “false necessities” from “true necessities,” to the extent that each constitutional systems parts are integrally interrelated with others and bound up with a specific constitutional and political culture. Controversies over the U.S. Supreme Court’s references to foreign law (for example, in death penalty cases) raise important questions: can courts (or other domestic constitutional decision-makers) really benefit from the constitutional experiences of other countries? Is it legitimate for them to do so?

 

Comparative Constitutional Law (2028)

Mark Tushnet

This course will cover a series of topics arising in the comparative study of constitutional structure and law in countries including Canada, Colombia, Great Britain, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Israel, South Africa, and the United States. It will take up questions of constitutional purpose, function, design, and doctrine.

 

Comparing India and China: An Examination of State-Society Relations

GOV 94CI

Nara Dillon

In the late 1940s, India witnessed a peaceful transition to democracy, while China experienced a Communist revolution. After this divergence, both countries began pursuing market reforms in the effort to accelerate economic growth in the 1980s and 1990s. We will explore the ways in which power has been consolidated and distributed under these very different regimes and the implications this has had for a range of socio-political and economic outcomes, including famine, economic development, and urbanization. Throughout the course we will place India and China in the context of comparative debates about other parts of the developing world.

 

Hindu Worlds of Art and Culture

CULTBLF 28

Diana Eck

An exploration of the narratives and arts of the Hindu tradition of India and wider South Asia focusing on the great gods -Vishnu, Krishna, Shiva, and Devi – the images through which the gods are envisioned, the temples and pilgrimage places where they are worshipped, and the ways in which they give expression to a profound vision of the world. Readings include the Ramayana, the Bhagavad Gita, the Gita Govinda, the Shiva Purana, and the Devi Mahatmya.

 

Intermediate Classical Tibetan

TIBET 102B

Leonard W. J. van der Kuijp

Continuation of 102a.

 

Intermediate Hindi-Urdu Sec 001

HIND-URD 102B

Richard Delacy

Continuation of Hindi-Urdu 101. Emphasis on written expression and texts in both Perso-Arabic and Devanagari script systems. Students are introduced to Hindi-Urdu fables, short stories, and various other genres of literature, including poetry. Students must complete both terms of this course (parts A and B) within the same academic year in order to receive credit.

 

International Trade Law

Mark Wu

This course focuses on the law governing international trade as established by the World Trade Organization. It engages in an in-depth analysis of WTO rules and case law. The class will examine the strengths and weaknesses of the existing regime and discuss the difficulties in reforming the system. Besides focusing on the basic principles governing trade in goods and services, the course will also examine specialized areas such as technical standards, agriculture, food safety, subsidies, trade remedy measures, and intellectual property. In addition, the course will focus on the geopolitcal tensions between major trading powers, particularly with respect to the US, EU, and the emerging powers (China, India, Brazil). Finally, depending on political developments, the course will engage with new trade rules as shaped in mega-regional agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

 

Introductory Hindi-Urdu Sec 001

HIND-URD 101B

Richard Delacy

An Introduction to the modern standard form of the most widely spoken language in South Asia, Hindi-Urdu. Students are introduced to both writing systems: the Devanagari script of Hindi and the Nastaliq script of Urdu. The basic grammatical structures are presented and reinforced, and students are also exposed to the cultural and historical context in which Hindi-Urdu has existed over several centuries. The course also draws from the modern medium of film, in particular recent Bollywood songs, to reinforce structures and vocabulary. Students must complete both terms of this course (parts A and B) within the same academic year in order to receive credit.

 

Introductory Hindi-Urdu Sec 002

HIND-URD 101B

Hajnalka Kovacs

An Introduction to the modern standard form of the most widely spoken language in South Asia, Hindi-Urdu. Students are introduced to both writing systems: the Devanagari script of Hindi and the Nastaliq script of Urdu. The basic grammatical structures are presented and reinforced, and students are also exposed to the cultural and historical context in which Hindi-Urdu has existed over several centuries. The course also draws from the modern medium of film, in particular recent Bollywood songs, to reinforce structures and vocabulary. Students must complete both terms of this course (parts A and B) within the same academic year in order to receive credit.

 

Introductory Nepali

NEP 101B

Michael Witzel

Continuation of Nepali 101a.

 

Landmarks of World Architecture

HAA 11

Joseph Connors

Examines major works of world architecture and the unique aesthetic, cultural, and historical issues that frame them. Faculty members will each lecture on an outstanding example in their area of expertise, drawing from various periods and such diverse cultures as modern and contemporary Europe and America, early modern Japan, Mughal India, Renaissance and medieval Europe, and ancient Rome. Sections will develop thematically and focus on significant issues in the analysis and interpretation of architecture.

 

Mahayana Buddhist Traditions and the Bodhisattva Ideal

HDS 3052

Elon Goldstein

An exploration of Mahayana Buddhist texts about the bodhisattva ideal drawn from a variety of cultures and time periods. Particular attention will be paid to the literary features of different genres of Mahayana texts and the effects of such features upon their audiences. Examining primarily scriptures supplemented with associated practice manuals, devotional poetry, and other genres, the course revolves around three foci: the development of South Asian Mahayana movements; selected East Asian traditions concerning the bodhisattva; and the bodhisattva ideal in contemporary Buddhist communities. Topics include the bodhisattva’s paths of practice, the nature of a Buddha and the implications thereof, and the kinds of religious experiences celebrated by Mahayana traditions.

 

Muslim Societies in South Asia: Religion, Culture, and Identity

ISLAMCIV 178

Ali S. Asani

South Asia (India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh) is home to the largest concentration of Muslims in the world. This course introduces students to a variety of issues that have characterized the development and evolution of South Asian Muslim communities. While the course will briefly survey the historical development of Islamic and Muslim institutions in the region, its central focus will be the formation of identity – as expressed through language, literature, and the arts – among South Asian Muslim communities. The issues that influence these identities will be considered with regard to the constantly evolving religious and political contexts of South Asia. Special attention will be given to recent attempts to redefine Muslim religious identities through reform and revivalist movements as well as state policies of Islamization. We will look at the impact of these policies on issues such as the status of Muslim women, relations between Muslim and non-Muslims and the growth of sectarian tensions between Muslim groups. The course is appropriate for those who wish to acquire a bird’s-eye view of the Islamic tradition in South Asia, as well as those interested in exploring some of the issues confronting Muslim populations in contemporary times.

 

Muslim Societies in South Asia: Religion, Culture, and Identity

HDS 3625

Ali S. Asani

South Asia (India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh) is home to the largest concentration of Muslims in the world. This course introduces students to a variety of issues that have characterized the development and evolution of South Asian Muslim communities. While the course will briefly survey the historical development of Islamic and Muslim institutions in the region, its central focus will be the formation of identity –  as expressed through language, literature, and the arts – among South Asian Muslim communities. The issues that influence these identities will be considered with regard to the constantly evolving religious and political contexts of South Asia. Special attention will be given to recent attempts to redefine Muslim religious identities through reform and revivalist movements as well as state policies of Islamization. We will look at the impact of these policies on issues such as the status of Muslim women, relations between Muslim and non-Muslims and the growth of sectarian tensions between Muslim groups. The course is appropriate for those who wish to acquire a bird’s-eye view of the Islamic tradition in South Asia, as well as those interested in exploring some of the issues confronting Muslim populations in contemporary times.

 

Muslim Societies in South Asia: Religion, Culture, and Identity

ISLAMCIV 178

Ali S. Asani

South Asia (India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh) is home to the largest concentration of Muslims in the world. This course introduces students to a variety of issues that have characterized the development and evolution of South Asian Muslim communities. While the course will briefly survey the historical development of Islamic and Muslim institutions in the region, its central focus will be the formation of identity – as expressed through language, literature, and the arts – among South Asian Muslim communities. The issues that influence these identities will be considered with regard to the constantly evolving religious and political contexts of South Asia. Special attention will be given to recent attempts to redefine Muslim religious identities through reform and revivalist movements as well as state policies of Islamization. We will look at the impact of these policies on issues such as the status of Muslim women, relations between Muslim and non-Muslims and the growth of sectarian tensions between Muslim groups. The course is appropriate for those who wish to acquire a bird’s-eye view of the Islamic tradition in South Asia, as well as those interested in exploring some of the issues confronting Muslim populations in contemporary times.

 

Painting of India

HAA 184X

Jinah Kim

The course explores the history of Indian painting based on the collections of Harvard Art Museums and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. We will investigate the theory of pictorial form in India and its relationship to the society at large against the historical currents by probing the development and changes in artistic styles and material culture of painting production. We will pay particular attention to the role of media, such as palm-leaf, birch bark, paper, and pigments, along with consideration of changing symbolic and material meanings of color. Regular visits (sections) to the museums and conservations labs to examine the paintings in person are to be scheduled throughout the semester.

 

Racial and Ethnic Politics in the United States

GOV 2576

Jennifer Hochschild and Claudine Gay

The course begins with the history and structure of the classic Black-White binary, then addresses ways in which it must be rethought to include other groups, mainly Asians and Latinos. Issues include racialization, immigrant incorporation, political coalitions and conflict, racial mixture, and links between race, class, gender, and ideology. Focuses on the United States but includes comparisons with Europe, Latin America, and South Africa.

Prerequisite(s) Course open to Doctoral Students Only

 

Readings in Sa skya Pandita’s

TIBET 236B

Leonard W. J. van der Kuijp

This is a continuation of TIBET 236A. Readings in Sa skya Pandita’s (1182-1251) Sdom gsum rab dbye and its commentarial literature. This course will examine issues that relate to the three vows and the ways in which various authors chose to interpret them.

 

Shi’a Islam and Politics

GOVT E-1979

Payam Mohsen

With approximately 200 million adherents across the globe, Shi’ism is the second largest denomination within Islam, with majorities in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, and Azerbaijan and large communities in Lebanon, Yemen, Turkey, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and India. Today, with the rise of Islamic religious sectarianism between Shi’a and Sunni communities in the Middle East and the escalation of rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran as two important Sunni and Shi’a states respectively, the politics of Shi’ism is increasingly critical in shaping the geopolitical landscape of the region and zones of contestation between regional and international powers. This course addresses the foundations and varieties of modern Shi’a political thought and introduces students to the subject of religious clerical institutions; Shi’a political parties and militias in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen; and Iran’s Islamic revolution, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), and the Basij paramilitary organization.

 

South Asian Language Tutorials, Introductory Level

SAS 100R

Richard Delacy

Individualized study of a South Asian language at the introductory level; emphasis on written expression, reading comprehension and oral fluency. Languages recently offered are Elementary Bahasa Indonesia, Elementary Bengali, and Elementary Burmese though others may be approved upon petition to the Director of Undergraduate Studies/Director of Graduate Studies.

 

South Asian Religious Aesthetics: Seminar

HDS 3925

Anne E. Monius

An examination of South Asian theories of aesthetics and their relevance for understanding Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain discourses of ethics, literature, and theology. Prerequisite: Previous coursework in the religious history of South Asia. Jointly offered in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences as Religion 1063.

 

The Economics of Emerging Markets: Asia and Eastern Europe

ECON E-1317

Bruno S. Sergi

This course covers, with a focus on both theory and empirics, the promises and realities of the emerging economies in Asia and Eastern Europe. Some of the most appealing economic growth stories have occurred in these regions since the end of World War II. The potential of booming markets, fast-developing local consumer markets, abundant low-cost labor, and the rising middle class have been the major characteristics of many emerging markets, attracting attention from investors, entrepreneurs, and opportunity seekers around the world. However, upon closer examination, we find the landscape is fraught with an ongoing deceleration across the world’s major emerging markets and embedded with complex economic and financial systemic risks. This course explores the realities of the emerging markets’ finance, banking, trade, information technology, and green technologies, and the causal factors and limits of recent economic policy strategies in the major emerging markets like China, India, all of South East Asia, and the post-Soviet regions. Prerequisites: ECON S-10a, or the equivalent.

 

Topics in Hindi-Urdu Literature

HIND-URD 105R

Ali S. Asani

Individual reading course. A course for students with native or near-native proficiency with readings in a variety of genres from Hindi and/or Urdu literature based on student interest.

 

World History IV: Globalization, 1800-Present

HIST E-10d

Donald Ostrowski

This course focuses on crucial developments in, and controversies about, the study of world history from 1800 to the present. Topics include the Industrial Revolution, Latin American independence, European colonization of Africa, independence movements in Africa and India, the end of Imperial China and the rise of the communist regime, the Meiji restoration and the Japanese recovery, the origins of World Wars I and II, the Russian revolutions, fascism, the cold war, and the computer revolution. This course attempts to place these events in their global economic and cultural contexts.

 


 


 


 


 


 



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Spotlight on SAI Fellow: Imtiaz ul Haq


 

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The Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute’s Aman Fellow, Imtiaz ul Haq, discusses his research on financial services in Pakistan and what excites him most about his upcoming fellowship at Harvard. 

 

How did you first become interested in studying how individuals engage with financial services? Were there any specific experiences that lead to your study of this topic?

I have been fascinated by how humans make financial decisions for a while. This interest first developed during my graduate studies when I realized people do not always behave rationally even in developed capital markets, which are arguably some of the most competitive markets that exist. At that time, I was particularly puzzled by the size and growth of actively-managed mutual funds, a product that is inefficient compared to the simpler alternative of passively-managed funds. This curiosity motivated me to examine how individuals and institutions engage with financial products.

My research took an interesting turn when I moved back to Pakistan. A significant portion of the population does not sign up for even basic financial products. The consequences of not doing so are far greater in this case; the absence of such services lead to more than just a loss in financial returns and have a substantial welfare impact.

When faced with vulnerability of any kind, the impact is especially pronounced. The 2014 floods in Pakistan were a haunting demonstration. Hundreds of villages in the northern and eastern parts of the country were flooded, affecting over a million people in all. Many people, including several I knew personally, were unable to send money to their relatives in these villages because they had no means to do so as they relied on informal services, which had broken down. The victims, who desperately needed money for food and shelter, faced great suffering as a result. This left a lasting impression on me and motivated me to study how financial services can help the poor in the face of such aggregate shocks.

 

Is there anything that has surprised you while studying how the poor in developing countries utilize formal and informal financial services to meet their needs?

The poor are much more sophisticated in dealing with financial services than they get credit for. One thing I have realized is that a majority of the poor in developing countries are in a state of perpetual crisis management when it comes to finances. They have a complicated mechanism involving constant borrowing, saving and transferring money among their network in order to survive. Formal financial services typically have a limited role to play in this, not because the poor are unable to comprehend the benefits but usually due to the various constraints within which they operate. The restriction to informal services only makes the job harder for the poor, yet many of them continue to persist with this fragile system. This is an impressive feat and I think it is best captured by the term used in the book Poor Economics (Banerjee and Duflo) when they refer to the poor as ‘barefoot hedge fund managers’.

 

What excites you most about coming to Harvard?

Without a doubt, it would be the intellectual life at Harvard. The institution houses some of the world’s leading scholars across a variety of disciplines. This will help me not only in advancing my research but also give me an opportunity to become an active student again. I always enjoy learning, but in my job I have not had as many opportunities as I would like recently. This fellowship would allow me to immerse myself full-time in a learning environment again. I hope to make full use of this opportunity by auditing courses, participating in seminars and interacting with scholars on a diverse range of topics.

 

How do you hope that this fellowship will help you achieve your goals?

My primary objective is to advance my work on micro-insurance. I hope to make the most of the fellowship by incorporating feedback from the various researchers affiliated with SAI as I work on developing field study proposals. I also intend to apply for funding grants to support the fieldwork. While such fieldwork tends to take a few years to complete, I hope to initiate some collaborations during my time here that will carry forward into the future. In doing so, I intend to take advantage of the multi-disciplinary perspective that SAI offers. Indeed, that is one reason why I am also keeping myself open to work on other interesting ideas that build off my initial scope. I am confident that my interactions as a fellow at SAI will inspire me to expand my research portfolio in interesting directions.

 

How might you implement your research when you return?

My research on protecting the poor against aggregate shocks in South Asia will be especially important given the region’s massive scale of poverty as well as the fact that it is expected to be one of the most vulnerable to climate change in the coming years.

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Letter from SAI Director


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Dear Friends,

 

We’re never less than busy and relentlessly ambitious at SAI. Our indefatigable Executive Director, Meena Hewett, and her team work hard with faculty, students, researchers, fellows, alumni and regional partners from Harvard and beyond. Our approach is expansive and inclusive, and we try to exceed expectations, those of others and our own. To this end, I am now delighted to share some highlights of 2017.

Thanks to a generous gift of $25m from Lakshmi Mittal and his family, we are now the Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute (SAI), Harvard University. SAI is an endowed research institute, and we can make long-term plans for the first time in our history. We hosted a successful retreat at Harvard, attended by over 35 faculty and senior administrators, to discuss goals for the next five years. And, of course, we’ll continue to extract maximum value from every hard-won penny.

Our presence continues to grow in South Asia – with a new SAI flagship office just opened in Delhi- as well as our strong connections to the diaspora in the US and beyond. With the infrastructure in place, and a template from our ‘Mapping the Kumbh Mela’ project a few years ago, we have the experience to do extraordinary inter-disciplinary research and produce valuable knowledge that will shape future scholarship in diverse fields as well as influence contemporary policy.

SAI’s biggest current project is our research on the 1947 Partition of British India and its continuing impact on Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. At the beginning of the year, a series of seminars, led by leading scholars, set the agenda of the project – for the first time, these are all available as podcasts on SAI website. Beyond the history of the Partition itself, we can draw conclusions that will deepen our understanding of vital contemporary issues such as forced migration, urban development and public health. For me, our research is also personal. Both sides of my family were part of the mass migration of 1947. However, as a technologist-turned-economist, I had not followed the enormous scholarship in the social sciences and humanities on the Partition. I learn about it every day now, thanks to our Institute. This is but a small microcosm of what we do here: try to bring folks together to achieve collectively and to expand our individual intellectual horizons. 2017 saw the expansion of several key SAI programs.

The Arts at SAI has four amazing Visiting Artists from various parts of South Asia, each staying with us for two months, enriching perspectives for students and faculty, while deepening their own inquiries. We also co-hosted the American Council for Southern Asian Art Symposium, an important biennial event that has brought together artists, scholars and curators for half a century.

In the Sciences, our Boston Bangalore Biosciences Beginnings (B4) Program gave talented young Indian scientists the opportunity to spend a year in some of the world’s best laboratories in Boston. B4 has maintained a strong presence in India too – we have just completed a two-week Genomics workshop in Bangalore, gathering young scientists from across India to discuss and learn more about a field that could be so vital to South Asia’s technological development.

Our Nepal Studies Program continues in 2018 with an exploration of the development of Buddhism in the India-Nepal corridor, following the 2017 project on earthquake preparedness.

The SAI Crossroads Summer Program – where 50, first-generation college students from South Asia, the Middle East and Africa assembled in Dubai in August for a fully-funded, Harvard faculty led career and personal development opportunity – was a highlight of 2017 for me. One young man, from a village in Pakistan, had to summon a small army of friends to persuade his recalcitrant father to let him travel outside his village to another country, for the first time – he was worried he wouldn’t be allowed to go. These are exceptional young people who face challenges most of us can’t comprehend; we are now aiming for an even bigger Crossroads Program in 2018. A similar ambition characterizes all that we do.

I look forward to leading SAI in such an exciting phase. On behalf of our team, we offer sincere thanks to all the supporters who help make this possible!

 

Tarun Khanna,

Director, Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute, Harvard University

Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor, Harvard Business School

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SAI Highlights of 2017


Summer Crossroads Program, 2017

Summer Crossroads Program, 2017

 

To say that 2017 was a pivotal year for the Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute (SAI), Harvard University, would be an understatement, thanks to a generous $25m naming gift from Lakshmi Mittal and his family. We at SAI have continued to expand its mission to actively address issues of equity, sustainability, and liveability in South Asia through our seminar series, conferences, fellowships, interdisciplinary projects and student and faculty grants. In 2017 alone, SAI hosted more than 50 seminars – featuring a visionary doctor, filmmakeractivist and more.  We funded student and faculty research on critical contemporary issues ranging from disaster preparedness in Nepal and financial inclusion in Pakistan to menstrual management in India. To document and disseminate our work, SAI released a dozen podcasts including a series on the Partition Project.

2017 also saw an expansion of SAI’s physical presence in South Asia. Thanks to the generous support of alums, we have a flagship regional office in Delhi, led by our India Director, Sanjay Kumar. For the Partition Project, SAI helped set up research teams in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Harvard, and has organized several faculty presentations throughout South Asia, the US and UK.

 

SAI’s Highlights of 2017

December: One of the winners of our annual Seed for Change social entrepreneurship competition, Sutopa Dasgupta, spoke to SAI about her team’s work in India.

November: SAI hosted a timely, important panel discussion on Myanmar and the Rohingya crisis. Journalist Francis Wade, one of the participants, discusses his work in the region in an interview with SAI.

October: India’s Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley, delivered the 2017/18 SAI Mahindra Lecture, which is available as a podcast.

September: SAI launched our story-gathering portal for our Partition Project. SAI wants to collect as many personal recollections as we can, from around the world.

August: 50 first-generation college students from South Asia, the Middle East and Africa took part in the fully-funded, Harvard faculty-led Crossroads Summer Program in Dubai

July: Our India Director, Sanjay Kumar, wrote a powerful op-ed in The Hindu about food wastage as a “social delinquency.”

June: SAI Director, Tarun Khanna, spoke about our Partition Project at the WEF in China.

May: SAI held its annual Symposium and published our official review of 2016/17.

April: TM Krishna, the great Carnatic vocalist, delivered the 2016/17 Mahindra Lecture. Rajna Swaminathan also performed and spoke at the event, and shared her reflections afterwards.

March: By now, SAI’s Boston Bangalore Biosciences Beginning (B4) Program was well under way. Venkatesh Murthy talks about the importance of introducing neuroscience to Indian students in a blog post by the Harvard University Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology.

February: SAI launched the Partition Project with a terrific series of public seminars, each led by leading scholars from diverse disciplines. They are all available as podcasts.

January:  SAI Steering Committee member and Harvard Kennedy School professor, Asim Ijaz Khwaja, spoke to Harvard Magazine about his work on tax collection in Pakistan.

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Best Wishes for a Happy New Year!


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The Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute, Harvard University, wishes our friends and supporters a new year filled with peace and happiness! 

 

Image by Seema Kohli, Guest Seminar Speaker, Fall 2017

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Spotlight on SAI Communications Affiliate Hasit Shah


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SAI Communications Intern, Sheliza Jamal, interviewed our Communications Affiliate, Hasit Shah, about his background, journalism career and current work at SAI.

 

Can you tell me about your background?

I was born and raised in the UK, my parents are from Kenya, and we are of Indian origin.

If people ask me where I am from, I can only say that I am from London. It is like New York City in that it exemplifies what it means to be a person of multiple identities; it is a place where people of different backgrounds and origins live side by side.

My culture is, accordingly, a mix of many different things. I grew up in an Indian house, eating Indian food, speaking Gujarati with Swahili and English words thrown in.  I am also into football – Liverpool and John Barnes, of course – and I’m a huge Prince fan. Growing up in a place like London, you have many influences that you can choose to reject or embrace.

 

Why did your family immigrate to the UK?

When Kenya gained independence from Britain in 1965, people of Indian origin were encouraged to leave. Many of them chose to go to the UK because they had British passport connections. My father immigrated to the UK in 1966 as a very young man and my mother moved a few years later when the real exodus happened. My parents met in London.

 

What sparked your interest in colonialism and the history of India?

It is the story of where I come from. I am a product of two very substantial migrations: my grandparents, young and barely literate, moved to East Africa in the early 20th century. My parents went to the UK, years later. These are not simple transitions. It has always been important for me to know as much as I can about these histories.

 

How does your identity influence your work as a journalist and at SAI?

I wanted to be a journalist to see the world and write about it. After I’d gained two or three years of solid newsroom experience in London, the BBC began to regularly deploy me to India and eventually, I became based out there. I covered conflict, including the Mumbai attacks, violence in Kashmir and the war in Afghanistan; natural disasters and elections; cricket and Bollywood. It helped that I can speak a South Asian language, look like a local and understand the culture.

And although I had a lot of curiosity about my roots in the region, I also think it is just a fascinating part of the world. For many journalists, places like South Asia are magnetic. They are the places where the best and worst of humanity exist. Working in London was simply not as exciting as going to Delhi or Kabul.

 

How did you start working at SAI?

I came to Harvard as a Nieman-Berkman Fellow in 2013. My research was about the expansion of internet access in the region and its impact on the dissemination of news and information.

SAI seemed like the natural home for me because of its global, South Asian outlook and strong research focus on diaspora and migration. At SAI, I work with the program teams, Directors and the Steering Committee on media projects, such as podcasts of our seminar series and interviews with truly fascinating scholars, to try and bring as much of the Institute’s work as possible to the wider public beyond Harvard.

 

The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

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