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News Category: News

Developing a democratic dialogue

From left: Homi Bhabha, Michael Sandel, Deepa Mehta, Adil Najam

From left: Homi Bhabha, Michael Sandel, Deepa Mehta, Adil Najam

This is the third in a series of three recaps of SAI’s Symposium, which took place on May 5 and 6, 2016.

By Shajia Sarfraz, EdM Candidate, Harvard Graduate School of Education; SAI Student Coordinator

Who speaks for democracy in South Asia? Whose voices are encouraged? Whose voices are supported? Whose responsibility is it to aid in the development of democratic dialogue across a country, between different groups and different regions? In a discussion at the South Asia Institute’s Annual Symposium on May 5, moderator Homi Bhabha, Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of English and American Literature and Language, and the Director of the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University, posed these questions to filmmaker Deepa Mehta, Adil Najam, Dean, Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, Boston University, and Michael Sandel, Anne T and Robert M Bass Professor of Government, Harvard University.

Panelists noted that there have been significant technological and communicational developments in the region, and discussed the question of whether there is a digital commons in place and to what extent it aids democratic discourse. Najam, perhaps the most optimistic panelist in the room, responded to the context of Pakistan: “Twitter speaks for democracy in Pakistan.” Although Pakistan is a country where one percent of the population uses Twitter, it is by far the most adequate metaphor for the kind of discourse that is taking place in the country. Najam went on to say that the aforementioned answer to the question of who speaks for democracy in Pakistan might have been the Pakistani drawing room, a “high-class, beautiful room where the elite, who are the masters of destinies of societies, talk and out of it comes a discourse that creates the destinies of nations.” Twitter, however, has opened up an avenue for anger, opinion, and impatience. What we see there is certainly not the most reasoned discourse, he said, but it is emblematic of a discourse, and although the state of the governance in Pakistan is a mess, the discourse of democracy has never been more open.

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    “A chance of a lifetime”

    IMG_8805 - Copy

    Tarun Khanna

    For several Harvard professors, studying the world’s largest gathering was the “chance of a lifetime.”

    That gathering was the 2013 Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, India, a Hindu religious fair that occurs every twelve years with an estimated attendance of more than 80 million people over 55 days. Because of its size and complexity, the 2013 Kumbh Mela inspired the Harvard South Asia Institute’s flagship multi-year interdisciplinary research project in a number of complementary fields: business, technology and communications, urban studies and design, religious and cultural studies, and public health.

    On May 19, SAI hosted an event at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where several professors involved in the project discussed the book Kumbh Mela: Mapping the Ephemeral Megacity, which consolidates research findings and serves as an example of interdisciplinary research conducted at Harvard.

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      Congratulations, Class of 2016!

      Harvard’s Commencement is May 26, 2016! To commemorate the occasion, SAI spoke to several graduating students who have been involved with SAI during their time at Harvard.


      Shajia PictureShajia Sarfraz
      EdM Candidate, Harvard Graduate School of Education; SAI Student Coordinator

      1. How are you feeling about graduation, in one sentence.
      Excited and kind of bittersweet.

      2. Can you share a highlight or favorite moment related to your SAI work?
      It’s hard to choose one! SAI has a really positive and productive work environment and I loved how so much of our work was so relevant to development in the region. My favorite moment was being able to travel to Pakistan for a conference I was helping organize on mental health and disaster response. I got to meet several interesting people and enjoy quality time with SAI’s leadership and faculty. That’s definitely a memory that stands out!

      3. What is that one thing you cannot wait to do after graduation?
      I am really looking forward to spending some quality time with my family, which I haven’t been able to do this year. That means being able to just sit together and watch a movie, or taking a trip together or reading a book without feeling the urge to highlight and underline things along the way.


      Farwa, right, interviewing a government official on the status of state run special education institutes in Pakistan

      Farwa, right, in Pakistan

      Syeda Farwa Fatima
      EdM Candidate, Harvard Graduate School of Education; SAI Grant Recipient

      1. How are you feeling about graduation, in one sentence.
      I can’t believe this year went by so fast – but at the same time, I feel I am ready to step out into the real world and work towards what brought me here in the first place!

      2. Can you share a highlight or favorite moment related to your SAI work?
      SAI has been an amazing support system for me – my highlight was definitely receiving a research grant from SAI to conduct a pilot study back home on special education system in Pakistan! My field experiences – that involved meeting different teachers, students, school leaders, practitioners, and policy makers, left impressionable marks and set a career course for me: to bring a human and social transformation in the special education system of Pakistan.

      3. What is that one thing you cannot wait to do after graduation?
      I cannot wait to go back home to my family and friends and start my own inclusive school!


      Mehmood, center, working in Pakistan

      Mehmood, center, working in Pakistan

      Muhammad Zia Mehmood
      Master of Public Policy candidate, Harvard Kennedy School; President of the Harvard Pakistan Student Group; SAI Grant Recipient

      1. How are you feeling about graduation, in one sentence.
      I am feeling invigorated, prepared, and more determined than ever to take on the problems of the developing world.

      2. Can you share a highlight or favorite moment related to your SAI work?
      Working on social resistance to polio vaccination in Pakistan for my capstone project at HKS was a really fulfilling experience for me, and I couldn’t have done it without the funding from SAI. The experience also inspired me to explore this issue on a larger scale, and so I have already started work on developing my own Randomized Control Trial aimed at improving vaccination coverage in the province of KPK.

      Furthermore, as President of the Harvard Pakistan Student Group, I turned to SAI for support for all the events that I put together, and was never once turned down.

      3. What is that one thing you cannot wait to do after graduation?
      I can’t wait to end polio from Pakistan, and then the world, once and for all!


      Suman photoSuman Barua
      EdM Candidate, Harvard Graduate School of Education; SAI Student Coordinator

      1. How are you feeling about graduation, in one sentence.
      A sense of accomplishment, and dread of the inevitability of going back to real life.

      2. Can you share a highlight or favorite moment related to your SAI work?
      I cherish all the times I have had at SAI, but my favorite has to be the different times we have eaten together – we have always had a good amount of time enjoying it and talking about life in general.

      3. What is that one thing you cannot wait to do after graduation?
      See all my friends back home, and get to the 20+ books that have ended up in my “to-read” list this year.


        Webinar: Intellectual Property in Creative Industries

        By Kundan Madireddy, Project Manager, and Dr. Shashank Shah, Project Director

        On May 4th, the Harvard University South Asia Institute (SAI) and Tata Trusts hosted the sixth webinar in its multi-part series on issues connected with Livelihood Creation in India. This webinar titled ‘Intellectual Property in Creative Industries’ was relevant for social sector organizations connected with creative industries.

        According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Intellectual Property (IP) refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names, and images used in commerce. IP is an important aspect in the age of globalization as organizations look beyond borders to do business.

        Led by Guriqbal Singh Jaiya, Director-Advisor to the Executive Director, WIPO Academy of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), this webinar provided an overview of some important principles and practices related to IP that social enterprises should consider if they wish to successfully scale up and achieve impact.

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          20th Annual India Poetry Reading at Harvard

          Poets presentingBy Sunayana Kachroo and Maneesh Srivastava

          John Keats said “The poetry of the earth is never dead,” referring to the grand landscapes on the canvas of the earth created by the greatest forces of the nature.  “Environment” is defined as something we live in, something that we interact with. A sister concept is “surrounding.”  In addition to the physical assets created by nature that surround us, there is the “surrounding” of love, violence, hatred, bigotry, friendship, wealth, poverty and thoughts that we have to live with.  Every entity is interlinked and is connected in the grand cycle of life. We are in an environment and environment is within us. This makes “environment” an all-encompassing entity, startling and divine! “We are the products of our environment!” declared the Vedas.

          On May 15, at the Annual India Poetry Reading, thirty two poets of South Asian origin talked about the interpretation of the environment and dabbled with the various aspects of it through poetry and songs. This year marked the 20th year since the India Poetry Reading group was formed. The event was hosted by the South Asia Institute and the Department of South Asian Studies of Harvard University.

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            June 2: Improving healthcare in rural Nepal

            Zimmerman Invite

            Please join the Harvard Global Health Institute’s Initiative on Global Health Quality for dinner and converstion:

            Improving healthcare in rural Nepal: A decade of lessons from the field

            Mark Zimmerman, MD, Nick Simons Institute

            Thursday, June 2, 6PM – 8PM, 42 Chirch Street, 2nd Floor, Cambridge, MA

              Liberal democracy, in South Asia and beyond


              From left: Aqil Shah, Lawrence Lessig, Ashutosh Varshney, Sonali Samarasinghe, Salil Tripathi

              From left: Aqil Shah, Lawrence Lessig, Ashutosh Varshney, Sonali Samarasinghe, Salil Tripathi

              This is the second in a series of three recaps of SAI’s Symposium, which took place on May 5 and 6, 2016.

              By Mircea Raianu, PhD Candidate, History Department; SAI Graduate Student Associate

              On the morning of May 6, South Asia Institute’s Annual Symposium, “Who Speaks for Democracy Across South Asia?” featured a panel facilitated by Ashutosh Varshney, Sol Goldman Professor of International Studies and the Social Sciences, Brown University, which focused on the distinction between electoral and liberal democracy in South Asia and beyond. The panel addressed these questions and more: To what extent, and why, has the provision of liberal freedoms (of expression, religious practice, and association) lagged behind the electoral aspects of democratic functioning? And what might the future of both aspects of democracy look like?

              In his introductory remarks, Varshney explained that the theory and practice of democracy converge on two aspects: electoral and non-electoral (concerning the protection and preservation of basic freedoms between elections). To evaluate both aspects, South Asian countries must be considered in a regional as well as international perspective. India’s democracy, Varshney argued, can best be described as a combination of electoral vibrancy and liberal deficits. Since 1989, the poorer and less educated have voted as much as (if not more) than the richer – a phenomenon in complete defiance of existing democratic theory linking electoral participation with social and economic development. The biggest weakness of the electoral process remains finance. Yet, businesses are unable to determine election outcomes; often the poorer party wins. In this respect, India may be seen as the “poor exception” and Singapore, an authoritarian but developmental regime, the “rich exception” to democratic theory.

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                Reimagining education in Pakistan

                Mariam Chughtai, left, with Syed Babar Ali

                Mariam Chughtai, left, with Syed Babar Ali

                By Shajia SarfrazEdM Candidate, Harvard Graduate School of Education; SAI Student Coordinator

                What should a school of education in Pakistan look like? What problems should it address? What should be its goals, and what kind of products should it produce twenty years into the future? These were some of the questions that were raised and addressed at the Education Roundtable that was convened on May 6th 2016 at the Harvard South Asia Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, attended by scholars, administrators, and leaders in the field of education from across the US and Pakistan.

                A thread which weaved through the entire discussion was a tension between a top-down versus bottom-up approach to delivering impact. This dichotomy manifested itself numerous times. For instance, when contemplating the school’s theory of change, the discussion delved deep into whether the mandate of the school of education should be focused on policy-level decision making, or whether it should be more involved in issues of practice. Many discussants felt that change happens at the bottom, not at the top. Specifically, it happens at the level of the educator. If that is the case, how should the school of education identify domestic needs of practice and address them? Continue reading →

                  Update from the Harvard Alumni Group in Nepal: US-Nepal relations

                  SKM_7718The Harvard Alumni Group of Nepal hosted its monthly meeting on May 10, 2016 in Kathmandu. The meeting featured a talk by Alaina B. Teplitz, US ambassador to Nepal, on US-Nepal relations with a special focus on strengthening democratic governance and economic ties between the two countries. Ambassador Teplitz talked about Nepal’s new constitution and the country’s challenges in implementing it. She said the US would like to see Nepal a stable and prosperous country.

                  “Nepal’s constitution is a milestone and it’s a living document that should be taken to the people for broader engagement,” said Ambassador Teplitz. More than the details of the contents of the constitution, people’s perception that their concerns have been addressed is the key, she told the group.  She indicated that lack of proper knowledge of the constitutional provisions has also created doubt. She also stressed the need for dialogue and assured US readiness to promote it.

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                    Recap: South Asia Week at Harvard Kennedy School 2016

                    26307792724_1fc1292abe_oFrom April 25 to April 29, The Future of Diplomacy Project and India and South Asia Project hosted the annual South Asia Week with influential practitioners and experts of diplomacy from Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, and the U.S. invited to discuss prevailing issues affecting the region. The series was cosponsored by the South Asia Institute and featured events with Ambassador Meleeha Lodhi, Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations, Ambassador Mohammad Ziauddin of Bangladesh, Richard Olson, Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin, Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations. Below are several summaries of the events:

                    [Podcast] Conversations in Diplomacy: Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi

                    In this edition of “Conversations in Diplomacy,” the Future of Diplomacy Project’s Executive Director, Cathryn Clüver, speaks with Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations. Ambassador Lodhi discusses regional cooperation and diplomatic priorities for the country. She discusses Pakistan’s role at the United Nations on topics such as climate change, peace and security issues and dynamics related to developing countries. The Ambassador highlights the relationship between the United States and Pakistan in the past and looking forward.

                    India’s Increasing Role in Multilateral Relations and Its Global Interests

                    On April 28, Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations, Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin,examined India’s evolving role in multilateral institutions in a public speech that concluded the Future of Diplomacy Project’s annual 2016 South Asia Week titled “India’s Increasing Role in Multilateral Relations and its Global Interests.” Executive Director of the Future of Diplomacy Project and the India and South Asia Program, Cathryn Clüver, moderated the event at the Center for Government and International Studies.

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