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News Category: News

A US-India comeback?

PM Modi with President Obama, in Washington DC, September 2014.

This opinion piece was originally published in The Boston Globe.

By Nicholas Burns, Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Politics, Harvard Kennedy School; SAI Steering Committee Member

THE UNITED STATES has a major opportunity this month to return to a close security and economic partnership with India — a priority of the last three American presidents. The new Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, signaled he wants to get beyond the problem-ridden last few years between Delhi and Washington by inviting President Obama to be the “chief guest” at India’s elaborate Republic Day celebrations on Jan. 26. This simple but important symbolic gesture may kickstart the revival both countries have been looking for.

Modi is seeking expanded ties between the world’s two most powerful democracies with one, major purpose in mind. His electoral mandate is to rejuvenate India’s sluggish economy. With 1.2 billion people and a burgeoning middle class, Modi is going all out to raise India’s GDP growth rate from an anemic (for India) 4.5 percent to over 7 percent for the years ahead.

At an Aspen Strategy Group meeting in Delhi I attended this past weekend, Indian government and business leaders made a persistent pitch for greater US investment capital and trade to help India emerge from its economic doldrums. And, in the western Indian state of Gujarat on Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry challenged both countries to increase trade fivefold in coming years. In his first year in office, Modi has launched a New Deal-type crusade to reform the top-heavy Indian economy, clear away burdensome state regulations, and free the entrepreneurial spirits of the Indian people.

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    Kashmir’s women in wait

    Broken Memory Shining DustBroken Memory, Shining Dust, which was screened at a SAI event in December, is a documentary directed by Nilosree Biswas that depicts the extraordinary journey of Kashmiri women experiencing loss, separation, pain, anger, helplessness, faith, grit and determination amidst societal tragedies and circumstances.

    Woven around the life of Parveena Ahanger, a Kashmiri mother and other women, the film is about “women in wait” for their loved ones, who went missing in the conflict ridden valley of Kashmir, India, in last two decades, and interweaves their memories of struggle and devotion into a resistance movement.

    SAI recently spoke to Biswas from her base in Mumbai about the “women in wait,” as well as Kashmir’s unique culture, the effects of political conflict on women, and a filmmaker’s role in depicting a conflict area.

    SAI: To start, can you give some context – what is going on in Kashmir, and why were you drawn to tell this story?

    Nilosree Biswas: I had been making documentaries for a very long period of time, and in 2007 I was in a village in the northern part of Kashmir, which consisted of only widows who had lost their husbands to conflict, or had been picked up by the militants. In the process, I came across research about forced disappearances, which is something that has happened in Southeast Asia, and in our part of the world in India and Pakistan, and has had a big impact on society.

    In the process, I also found out about Paraveena Ahanger, and over the next 4 years I repeatedly went back and forth to Kashmir and went to villages to meet many of these women, hundreds, who have lost either their husband or sons. This whole sense of trying to understand ‘wait’ from the women’s point of view was part of the process. More than the political aspect, it is understanding how women cope with the phenomenon of disappearances that appealed to me as a filmmaker

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      The City and South Asia

      In SAI’s second annual publication, The City and South Asia, experts from a variety of fields, at both Harvard and elsewhere, have come together to hold up a cross-disciplinary lens to urban centers in South Asia. This volume aims to shed light on planning and architecture, and other existing elements of urban development, and provide a sense of the new forms of urbanism emerging in contemporary South Asia.


      Archaeology and the Ancient City
      By Nayanjot Lahiri

      The Season of Migration to the City
      By Namita Dharia

      Housing in Karachi Today
      By Arif Hasan

      The Beautification of Postwar Colombo
      Harini Amarasuriya and Jonathan Spencer

      Modern Chandigarh
      By Maristella Casciato

      Urban Planning in Bangladesh
      By Fuad H. Mallick, Aminur Rahman, and A. K. M. Sirajuddin

      The Changing Urban Space of Colombo
      By Jagath Munasinghe

      Decoding Dhaka
      By Farooq Ameen

      Impatient Capital and the Indian City
      By Rahul Mehrotra

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        Spring 2015 South Asia courses at Harvard

        South AsiaIn addition to courses offered by SAI fellows, Harvard University will offer many courses with South Asia related content in the spring 2015 semester. (Please note: This is only a partial list. Please visit each school’s individual registrar for a full list of courses.)

        Jump to:

        Department of South Asian Studies

        Departments in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences

        Graduate School of Design

        Harvard Divinity School

        Harvard Graduate School of Education

        Harvard Kennedy School

        Harvard School of Public Health

        Do you know of a course that should be listed here? Email Meghan Smith,


        Department of South Asian Studies:


        Hindi-Urdu 127. News and Views: Accessing and Interpreting Hindi and Urdu Media – (New Course)
        Amy Bard
        For Undergraduates and Graduates
        Tu., F., 1-2:30 pm 
        This class focuses on Hindi and Urdu informational media, particularly coverage of current events, to develop knowledge of South Asian regional issues. Vocabulary building is a key aspect of the course. Assignments involve listening exercises aimed at either basic comprehension or close analysis and discussion; drafting news reports; and reading long and short form journalism. Newspaper, TV, radio, and internet news reports and debates are featured, with some exposure to the emerging field of online social media analysis. This course may count towards a citation in Hindi-Urdu.


        Nepali 105b. Development of Nepali Language and Literature: Contributions of Local Languages
        Michael Witzel
        For Undergraduates and Graduates
        Hours to be arranged
        Investigates the impact of the various non-Nepali speaking groups (janajati)on Nepali literature, as well as their linguistic contributions.

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          Report on the Harvard US-India Initiative Conference

          HUIIOn January 9 and 10, the Harvard US-India Initiative hosted is Annual Conference in New Delhi, with support from SAI.

          Keynote speakers included Piyush Goyal, Hon’ble Minister of State with Independent Charge for Power, Coal and New & Renewable Energy in the Government of India, Mirai Chatterjee, Director of Social Security, SEWA, and Shri Jairam Ramesh, MP Rajya Sabha, former Cabinet Minister.

          HUII is an undergraduate student-run organization at Harvard that aims to create dialogue between Indian and American youth to address some of India’s most pressing social, economic, and environmental issues today.

          Below is an excerpt from a report on the conference:

          “If yesterday’s events urged participants to immerse themselves in the world of ideas, today’s panelists gave us diverse and exceptional examples of how to apply these ideas in practice. We explored the treatment of women from the womb to the workplace on the Girl Child and Yes Ma’am panels. We discussed the ethics and efficacy of the nonprofit world in several of our afternoon sessions. Our keynote speaker this morning, Mirai Chatterjee, gave us an eye-opening presentation on the detail and planning that is involved in the roll out of universal healthcare. Our discourse today was characterized by representation from different areas of the public sphere, yet each of the panelists placed a certain conscious emphasis on creating value.

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            Addressing gender norms through education

            Gender and Education Seminar1

            Participants included representatives from government, research, non-government organizations and academic institutions.

            By Payal NarainProgram Consultant, SAI Delhi Office

            On January 9, 2015, the Harvard South Asia Institute (SAI), Harvard FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, and the Population Foundation of India (PFI) co-hosted a day-long seminar on “Addressing Gender Norms through Education: Developing and Implementing Adolescent Curriculum” in New Delhi.

            The aim of the seminar was to formulate a research agenda and constitute a group of partners representing government, researchers, non-government organizations and academicians. Held at the PFI office, the seminar was well attended by representatives from the state and central government, civil society and the academic community. In all, there were 28 invited participants, including two who Skyped in from Boston.

            Education is crucial to re-orienting gender stereotypes and traditional gender roles, and has the potential to address gender based discrimination and violence by altering patriarchal and repressive mindsets. Though there have been many attempts to create educational frameworks that address gender norms, a comprehensive nationwide program is yet to be implemented.

            There is a need for a framework that promotes healthy attitudes about gender and sexual health, empowers young people with accurate, age appropriate and culturally relevant information that is accessible and engaging, and develops skills to enable them to respond to situations in a gender-sensitive manner.

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              Creating a better India

              Harvard US India Initiative“We want a better India,” reads the slogan for the Harvard US-India Initiative’s (HUII) Annual Conference in New Delhi on January 9 and 10, 2015.

              HUII is an undergraduate student-run organization at Harvard that aims to create dialogue between Indian and American youth to address some of India’s most pressing social, economic, and environmental issues today.

              The conference, which is cosponsored by SAI, is set to take place at the Shangri La Hotel, and is the largest yet for the organization. It boasts an impressive lineup of speakers and panel topics, including ‘Liberal Arts and Conservative Societies,’ ‘Politicians and the People,’ ‘More Artists or More Dentists,’ ‘Human Rights in India,’ ‘The Economics of Rural India,’ and ‘Science and Society.’

              Keynote speakers include Piyush Goyal, Hon’ble Minister of State with Independent Charge for Power, Coal and New & Renewable Energy in the Government of India, Mirai Chatterjee, Director of Social Security, SEWA, and Shri Jairam Ramesh, MP Rajya Sabha, former Cabinet Minister.

              SAI recently talked to Namrata Narain, Harvard College ’15, one of the organizers of the event, to learn more about how HUII is working to increase discussions on important issues by connecting young academic communities in India and the US.

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                Summer Program: Use of Mobile Technology to Change Societies in India

                Use of Mobile Technology to Change Societies in India

                Summer Program, 2015

                The use of mobile technology is ubiquitous and fills the gap of information, communications, and access to social services for large populations. These technological devices are proving to be a powerful tool not just to promote economic growth in emerging markets, but to restructure societies and social relationships. India ranks second after China in the mobile phone market. Approximately 76% of the 1.25 billion people have access to mobile phones in India, and thus this device has huge potential to favorably impact the lives of many.

                The program for Harvard undergraduate students, located in India, provides an opportunity to examine the use of mobile technology to deliver services in the areas of education, health, agriculture, and banking. Students will be given a background into the landscape of mobile technology in India, and be introduced to an analytic framework based on three major components – the technology itself, regulations and policy around the use of technology, and the individual users of the technology. Equipped with this background, students will conduct observations and interviews with those utilizing the technology and with those who are served by the technology.

                This 8 week program will take place Ahmedabad, Bangalore, and Delhi, hotspots for mobile technology innovation and policy.


                Tarun Khanna, Director of the Harvard South Asia Institute; Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor, HBS
                JP Onnela, Assistant Professor, Department of Biostatistics, HSPH
                Satchit Balsari, Fellow, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative

                Please note this program is only open to Harvard undergraduate students. 

                The application materials are due January 29, 2015.

                a)     Cover Sheet (click here)
                b)    Statement of purpose describing your rationale for pursuing this project (750 words)
                c)    Current one-page resume
                d)    Transcript (Student Record is accepted)

                The above materials should be emailed to Nora Maginn,

                e)    Two confidential letters of recommendation to be submitted directly by recommender as PDF attachments to Nora Maginn,

                Sample budget for Students

                Learn more about SAI’s Mobile Technology project.

                  2014 Student Grant Report

                  SAI offers research and internship grants to Harvard graduate students and Harvard college undergraduate students (freshmen, sophomores, and juniors) to be used during the summer and winter sessions.

                  In 2014, SAI awarded 46 grants to students to do a variety internships and research projects in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Grant recipients represent the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, College, Graduate School of Design, Divinity School, Kennedy School, Medical School, and School of Public Health.

                  In the SAI 2014 Grant Report, students reflect on their experience and what they learned.

                  Examples of testimonials:

                  “I can confidently say that this internship has brought me a long away, from my theoretical conception of environmental policy from Harvard courses, with a deeper understanding of the profession,  practice, and substance of environmental law and policy.”

                  -Sabrina Ghouse, Social Studies & Environment, Harvard College 2015; Internship with United Nations Development Programme

                  “My visit has allowed me to think more broadly about the relationship between private enterprise and urban planning and design in the context of developing countries.”

                  -Justin D. Stern, PhD Candidate, Architecture & Urban Planning, Graduate School of Design; Research: Between Industrialization and Urban Planning: Tata Steel and the Two Faces of Jamshedpur

                  “What was originally meant to be a preliminary research trip, morphed into a rather substantial research, far exceeding my expectations.”

                  -Lydia Walker, PhD Candidate, Department of History, GSAS; National Separatist Movements in the Early 1960s in South Asia and Southern Africa

                  “When my friends and coworkers asked me why I was so delighted to be in the city despite the monstrous heat, I’d say in absolute earnest that I have a big crush on Delhi: on its long afternoons working out some idea for a paper with friends over chai; on its lecture- and music- and addafilled evenings. I hope to return to Delhi after graduation for continued study and research”

                  -Reina Gattuso, Literature and Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, Harvard College 2015; Lokniti Program, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi

                  “Working with my other lab members, I was able to learn about science and the culture of India simultaneously. In between performing behavioral tests and analyzing our data, we would chitchat about everything from the must-see attractions in India to the country’s education system.”

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                    Spring 2015 courses with SAI Fellows

                    SAI’s current South Asian Studies Fellow, Anand Vaidya, and former Fellow, Shankar Ramaswami, will be teaching courses in the spring 2015 term in the South Asian Studies department. Here is a preview:


                    South Asian Studies 188: South Asian Political Ecology (New Course)

                    Instructor: Anand Vaidya, SAI South Asian Studies Fellow

                    Meetings: Spring 2015, Wednesdays, 3-5 pm

                    Despite great efforts, scientists and activists have found themselves unable to bring about political changes that might reverse environmental degradation. This degradation has been caused by humans, but humans have not able to stop the processes behind it. South Asia is exceptionally vulnerable to the effects of environmental degradation and critical to any global solutions to it. This seminar examines case studies of environmental politics in South Asia to explore fundamental questions about human agency and historical change, to understand how the environment is understood, why efforts to prevent its degradation have failed, and to explore interventions that might succeed

                    Course iSite

                    Co-taught by Ajantha Subramanian, Professor, Social Anthropology Program, Harvard University  



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