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News Category: Pakistan

Looking Back, Informing the Future: The 1947 Partition of British India

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Professor Jennifer Leaning discusses forced migration at one of our Partition seminars


By Tarun Khanna (Director, SAI; Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor, Harvard Business School)

Both my mother’s and my father’s sides of our family migrated from what is now Pakistan. As a result of Partition, many of them had to leave their lives behind, with years of hard work quickly wiped out, when they moved to New Delhi and were forced to start again. Partition has always been part of my family’s folklore but my grandfather, who bore the brunt of it, passed away very early. I never had the opportunity to discuss it with him.

At the SAI, we have embarked on a major research project to understand the history, context and continuing impact of Partition, as its 70th anniversary approaches. There has, of course, always been a great deal of interest in this defining historical event from scholars at Harvard and elsewhere. Professor Jennifer Leaning’s team from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has been studying Partition for more than a decade — her ongoing work is central to our collective research.

At the SAI, we have already undertaken a major interdisciplinary project of a similar scale. Our work on the Kumbh Mela was a very successful collaborative effort involving dozens of faculty, students, graduates and undergraduates. We created a platform so that other people could participate; scholars from the region as well as other universities around the world. We produced scholarly papers, videos, architectural designs and ultimately, a book.

The SAI hosted a series of eight seminars at Harvard, beginning on Feb 1, in which Harvard faculty and visiting scholars presented research on various aspects of Partition’s legacy, influence and implications. These were free and open to the public. The seminars also formed the basis of a series of podcasts, also produced by the SAI, to bring this research and these conversations to a much wider audience.

We are also approaching the primarily historical and qualitative study of the Partition through alternative analytical lenses. This will involve attempts to quantify Partition and examine its magnitude, much as we did with the Kumbh Mela; this will add a new dimension to our collective understanding. A collection of us – Professor Asim Khwaja from HKS and Professor Prashant Bharadwaj from UC San Diego, both political economists, have teamed up with Professor Karim Lakhani, a crowdsourcing expert, and me for this part of the project – will use political speeches, crowdsourced oral histories and other data to analyze Partition in a way that has not been done before.

Partition is one of the most important events in human history; it is the largest migration that ever took place. Millions of people were affected, mostly negatively. Right now, huge numbers of people are forced to leave their homes in distressing circumstances and as academics, it is important for us to gain an understanding of the mechanics and impact of involuntary migration, particularly in the modern context. We are also studying how new countries are born. Pakistan was a brand new nation-state; India became smaller; Bangladesh eventually came into being. Through the lens of Partition, we are able to study the formation (and regeneration, in India’s case) of the institutions that are necessary for the functioning of a country. Again, these are modern issues and it is as important for us to understand them today as it was 70 years ago.


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Student voices: Understanding the role of fathers in their young childrens care, health, and development


This is part of a series of reports from Harvard students who have traveled to South Asia with support from a SAI grant.

By Joshua Jeong, Doctor of Science Global Health and Population 2019

Through the generous support of the South Asia Institute’s Winter session Research Grant, I was able to travel to Pakistan this January to launch a primary qualitative research study, which will comprise one chapter of my doctoral dissertation. More broadly, my dissertation utilizes a variety of methodologies to better understand how fathers contribute to their young children’s early well-being in specifically low- and middle-income countries. For my qualitative study, I am focusing specifically in Pakistan and employing both in-depth interviews and direct parent-child observations with mothers and fathers to understand drivers and experiences around parenting in the particular cultural context of rural impoverished Pakistan.

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SAI responds to Executive Order

The South Asia Institute (SAI) fully endorses Harvard President Drew Faust’s response to the Trump Administration’s executive order restricting travel to the United States.

We offer our full support to Harvard students, faculty, staff and affiliates, regardless of their country of origin or religious background, alongside the Harvard International Office and the university’s Global Support Services. We encourage all South Asia scholars to apply for our programs.

The work of universities in the world has never been more vital. The SAI is committed to the advancement of global scholarship and understanding, and our work in this fascinating, important region will continue. Across many borders, our diverse students and scholars are aiming to generate knowledge and insights that transcend and outlive any temporary barriers to progress.

Harvard President Drew Faust: We Are All Harvard


Harvard International Office

Harvard Global Support Services

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Ali Asani and Ali Sethi pay ode to regional poets at ‘Misaq-e-Ishq’

16252313_361401474253079_120009414114107995_oThis was published in Pakistan Today.

The Lahore Biennale Foundation (LBF) in collaboration with the LUMS School of Education (LUMS SOE) and Harvard South Asia Institute (Harvard SAI) organized an exclusive music and poetry evening on Jan. 17. Renowned musician Ali Sethi and Harvard Divinity School Professor Mr Ali Asani put together a special set which they performed to an enthralled audience at the Ali Institute of Education.

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Tax Collection and Civil Society

JF17_image_Page_015_Image_0001This article was published in Harvard Magazine. It highlights the work of SAI Steering Committee Member Asim Khwaja.

By Marina N. Bolotnikova

AROUND THE WORLD, tax receipts in low- and middle-income countries are much lower than they ought to be. Poor recordkeeping makes it easy for people to pay less than they owe; distrust that taxes will be returned as government services undermines people’s willingness to pay. Absent a strong culture of civic participation, policymakers need to find ways to improve tax compliance without further degrading public faith in institutions.

Asim Khwaja, Sumitomo-FASID professor of international finance and development, who directs the Evidence for Policy Design program at the Harvard Kennedy School, has spent the last few years working with the government of Punjab (the most populous province in Pakistan, home to Lahore and more than 100 million people) to study that problem. In Pakistan, tax collectors’ salaries are largely predetermined, based on experience and education. With no financial incentive to bring in more revenue, collectors frequently collude with taxpayers, accepting large bribes in exchange for tax write-offs. Both taxpayer and tax collector thus benefit—at the expense of the state. Khwaja and his colleagues, London School of Economics professor Adnan Khan and MIT professor Benjamin Olken, thought that improving the tax collectors’ performance would be straightforward: pay them based on how much revenue they collected. And indeed this is what they found: employees incentivized in this way collected much more than employees paid through the existing system.

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A new way to detect fake medicines

Technicians test antimalarial tablets on a PharmaChk device, Accra, Ghana, Dec. 5, 2016. PHOTO: WOLFGANG KRULL

Technicians test antimalarial tablets on a PharmaChk device, Accra, Ghana, Dec. 5, 2016. Photo: Wolfgang Krull

This article was originally published by the Wall Street Journal. Muhammad Zaman, Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Boston University, is a visiting faculty member at SAI.

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‘Aesthetic approach of Islam is the way forward’

AsaniThis article was originally published by about a Jan. 13 SAI event cosponsored with Habib University.

By Haneen Rafi

KARACHI: In an attempt to deconstruct negative stereotypes about Islam that are rampant in popular discourse, there is an urgent need to understand and propagate it from an aesthetic approach, said Harvard scholar Prof Ali Asani during his talk at Habib University on Friday.

While highlighting the importance of religious and cultural literacy in a cosmopolitan world, Prof Asani gave a nuanced perspective to the differences that set us apart, which have resulted in polarisations and created conflicts.

Prof Asani teaches Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Cultures at Harvard University, and is also the former Director of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Islamic Studies Programme at Harvard.

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2017 Winter Grant Recipients

davey Discussing some of the major health issues seen from a visit to an urban slum in Delhi.The Harvard South Asia Institute has awarded 15 grants to support student projects over the Winter Session 2016 in January. These include 12 graduate students and 3 undergraduate students who will travel to India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Pakistan for research and internships.


Undergraduate Students
Mei Yin Wu Applied Math, 2017 Harvard College
Wildlife Conservation Trust Internship

Zayan Faiyad, Economics 2018 Harvard College
Field research to identify root causes of achievement gap in state-regulated Madrasas in Bangladesh

Mahnoor Khan, Government 2017 Harvard College
Desensitization to Violence and its Affect on an Individual’s Moral Decision Making in Pakistan

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SAI hosts artists Komal Shahid Khan and Meenakshi Sengupta

Visiting the Harvard Art Museums

Visiting the Harvard Art Museums

From November 29 – December 9, the South Asia Institute hosted two artists from South Asia as part of its Visiting Artist Program. Komal Shahid Khan, from Islamabad, Pakistan, and Meenakshi Sengupta, from Kolkata, India, spent their time at Harvard attending classes, meeting with students and faculty, giving a public seminar, and had the opportunity to display their work on campus.

The artists visited several undergraduate classes where they were invited to speak about their work and engage with students. Courses included ‘History and Sexuality in the Modern West’ taught by Nancy Cott, Jonathan Trumbull Professor of American History, ‘Comparative Politics of Gender Inequality’ taught by Ana Catalano Weeks, College Fellow in the Government Department, ‘Gender and the Making of Modern South Asia,’ taught by Catherine Warner, College Fellow in the Department of South Asian Studies,  and ‘Leaning in, Hooking up: Visions of Feminism and Femininity in the 21st Century’ taught by Phyllis Thompson, Lecturer on Studies on Women, Gender, and Sexuality. The artists were also invited to the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies for an informal gathering with concentrators and affiliates.

During their visit, Khan and Sengupta were exposed to the various arts-related resources at Harvard. Rachel Parikh, Calderwood Curatorial Fellow for South Asian Art, Harvard Art Museums, led a session for the artists in the Museum’s Art Study Center, and allowed the artists to access several pieces from the Museum’s collection. Lamia Joreige, Rita E. Hauser Fellow, Radcliffe Institute and a renowned visual artist and filmmaker from Lebanon invited the artists to her studio to speak about their artistic process.

“We experienced a lot. Visiting the museums and seeing the original works there, that means a lot to me,” Sengupta said.

During their time, the two artists collaborated on an interactive performance piece about Partition, an idea that formed when they met in Cambridge. (Video below).

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Student voices: Teaching history through empathy

15193682_1146680992035386_9720135855591234_nThis is part of a series in which we share reports from Harvard students who have traveled to South Asia with support from a SAI grant.

By Asad Liaqat, Doctoral candidate, Public Policy PhD program, Harvard Kennedy School; SAI Graduate Associate

This summer I worked with “The History Project” (THP) in Lahore, Pakistan to develop an evaluation strategy for an exciting set of workshops they are doing with school children. These workshops are aimed at improving critical thinking and increasing empathy in schoolchildren in Pakistan and India. As a researcher, my role in these workshops is to design an evaluation strategy to ascertain the impact of these workshops on critical thinking and empathy in children.

The workshops in themselves are borne out of THP’s previous work in schools in India and Pakistan, introducing children to the idea that there is multiplicity in historical narratives. They decided to place versions of the same incidents from Indian and Pakistani textbooks right next to each other and simply show that to students, taking in their reactions and learning how the rigid notions of right and wrong formed due to particular forms of socialization in formative years could be broken. Having gone through that development phase, THP was ready to start piloting its workshops this summer, and I formed a partnership with them to evaluate the impact of their interventions.

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