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News Category: News

Student voices: Tiger reserves and nature preserves

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

By Mei Yin Wu, Harvard College ’17

This wintersession I interned with the Wildlife Conservation Trust as a fellow working in the economics division. Having had traveled a fair bit, I was surprised to find Mumbai a beast of its own. During the first couple of days in the city, I was overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of people and traffic. Mumbai is one of the ten most densely populated cities in the world (8 of which are in the Indian subcontinent). Due to the enormous size of the population, there is a large demand for motor vehicles, which inevitably contributes to higher levels of particulate matter in the air. Issues such as air pollution and water sanitation safety, however, are by no means unique to India. Most developing countries face these problems and in fact, most developed countries have experienced these issues in the past. But generally with consistently high growth rates, like the ones India has recently enjoyed, comes increased expectations of standards of life. I believe that India will face increasing pressure to combat the environmental issues that seem inherent to the process of economic development.

Despite the initial discomfort that came from adapting to new traffic patterns and air quality, I grew to appreciate the abundant diversity of Mumbai. Being a financial hub, Mumbai attracts people from all over India and as such, is home to many diverse cuisines and religious practices. I was able to sample Southern Indian street food at Matunga and “sizzlers,” Chinese Indian fusion dishes, in Nariman Point. According to my peer fellow, Pooja, people celebrate all religious holidays in Mumbai. In her circle of friends, her Muslim friends would invite her over for Eid, and she would return the favor when it came time for Diwali. Many people I spoke to seemed to disbelieve the claim of religious differences being the primary factor behind Indian-Pakistani conflict and instead viewed the conflict as a matter of politics. While the conversations I had were by no means necessarily indicative of popular opinion, it was interesting to hear local perspectives as a supplement to the views posited by Western professors.

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Looking back, informing the future: Reflections on Partition

20170203_183238The Harvard South Asia Institute (SAI) organized a focused group discussion to reflect upon the mass dislocations during the Partition of British India in New Delhi on February 3, 2017 at the India International Centre, New Delhi. Titled ‘Looking Back ‘Looking Back, Informing the Future – The 1947 Partition of British India: Implications of Mass Dislocations Across Geographies,’ the discussion was focused on facilitating a personalized dialogue about Partition. The event was a part of an ongoing SAI project to create an accessible archive to digitize the stories, records, and reflections of the 1947 Partition of British India in crowd proportions.

Meena Hewett, Executive Director, SAI, introduced the session and shared the background of the project and the ongoing efforts. She talked about Prof. Jennifer Leaning’s work on demographic and humanitarian consequences of conflict, which led to the birth of this project and shared Prof. Tarun Khanna’s (Director, HSAI) idea of collecting personal stories with regard to Partition through a crowdsourcing format. This project, she said, will not only provide crucial perspectives about the past but also be instrumental in giving insights about the future, especially with respect to the patterns of migration. Hewett invited the participants to share their impressions of the Partition and how they remember the event. She introduced the speaker and facilitator for the discussion, Prof. Uma Chakravarti, noted Historian and Professor of History.

Prof. Chakravarti deftly contextualized the project and highlighted the importance of documenting personal stories and recollections of Partition and sharing them with the community. Providing the historical background of the Partition of India, she established its importance as the largest exodus in human history and underlined the urgency of collecting stories of survivors, as very few of them remain. She also emphasized the relevance of the work in order to enrich historical knowledge and realities experienced. Prof. Chakravarti also highlighted how these stories connect us to our present and inform our understanding of history, nation, community and religion. She elaborated upon the importance of archiving and following the paper-trail in government records to understand how the events of Partition were documented. This also helps us in identifying the gaps in the narration of history. The other point of emphasis was on the significance of including stories of Partition from the Eastern border, which have largely been absent from the mainstream accounts of Partition, especially its consequences in the form of economic displacement.

20170203_184543The participants were comprised of people from diverse backgrounds, each of whom had a unique interest in the Partition of India. Some of the participants had personally lived through the Partition and experienced the dislocation which was the reality for countless families on both sides of the border. Others had had access to tales of Partition as the second-generation of the migrants, through recollections of the event from family members.

The sharing of personal stories included that of Mr. Kapoor who was eight years old at the time of Partition and was in Kashmir, India for a holiday when the decision of division was announced. His grandparents, who were in Pakistan and refused to move to India, were murdered by the mob even though their Muslim servant sacrificed their lives out of loyalty for them.

Another participant, Ms. Meera, shared that her grandparents in Pakistan were saved by Muslim neighbors who hid them from the marauders. She further commented that the issues of conflict do not arise between the citizens of either country but are reflective of the political differences of the governments.

In that same light, Ms. Kishwar Desai, who is curating a Partition Museum in Amritsar, talked about the importance of private memories. She shared the example of a family, which had donated the family swords which had been hidden by their grandfather at the time of Partition so that they are not used for murder. These, she remarked, are stories of loyalty and refusal to espouse violence and must be a part of public memorization of Partition.

Mr. Meghnad Desai talked about the psychological trauma of Partition, which prevented affected people from talking about their experience as they tried to move ahead with their lives. The past was too painful to be revisited. He also referred to the change observed in the second generation of migrants who are more willing to talk about it. Another participant, Ms. Prerna Makkar, talked about her father, who lived through Partition and his reticence to talk about it. She realized the intensity of its impact on him when he once started crying profusely while watching the film ‘Tamas’ and his attachment to his house in Patel Nagar, highlighting his fear of yet another dislocation.

The other themes that emerged from the discussion included: the politicization of memory, dynamics of caste within the survival camps, resilience of migrants and the need for documentation of success stories (especially those from Punjab), the idea of routinization of borders, how the memory of Partition informs the understanding of contemporary conflicts (especially apparent in the sense of betrayal that pervaded in the Sikh community after the 1984 riots), and accounts from defense personnel from British India who were confounded by the decision of which country to choose.

Learn how you can share your Partition story.

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International Photo Contest Winners

Congratulations to the following Harvard College students, who were chosen by SAI as winners for the Office of International Education’s Annual International Photo Contest. Each year, undergraduates submit photos from their summer travels around the world, whether from study programs, grants, or internships, and SAI selects winners for photos from South Asia. The winners were announced at a reception on February 10.

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Deadline to apply for Seed for Change Competition: February 15

INDIA DRAFTThe Seed for Change Program aims to develop a vibrant ecosystem for innovation and entrepreneurship in India and Pakistan through an annual competition run by the Harvard University South Asia Institute (SAI), in which grant prizes will be awarded to interdisciplinary student projects that positively impact societal, economic, and environmental issues in India and Pakistan. Projects in the early ‘seed’ stages are prioritized rather than start ups that, while may be in stages of infancy, have previously received substantial support.


  • Three teams will be given an initial prize of $5,000
  • One final team will receive up to $40,000


  • One final team will receive up to $7,500

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Research Assistant needed: South and Southeast Asian Art

Professor Jinah Kim (History of Art & Architecture) is looking for a Research Assistant to help her with various research projects, which includes an exhibition on Nepalese Buddhist art, a visual database project, a bibliographic project on the history of Indian painting, and a symposium on South and Southeast Asian Art.  Familiarity with one or more Indic languages (especially Sanskrit) is desirable but not required.

An ideal candidate would have strong organizational and management skills. Web design/ site management experience would be a plus. Hours are flexible, but the job will demand at least 4-5 hours per week with an option of being a 20hours/week position. Salary range: between $14.50-18.50/hr. Job Duration: Spring 2017. Open to both graduate and undergraduate.

If interested, please email Jinah Kim,

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Student voices: Forest Practice in India

House_inside_areca_garden_at_Kabbinale,IndiaThe following report was written by Aaron David Mendonca, Master candidate in Design Studies, Energy & Environments, Harvard Graduate School of Design. Mendonca is the founder of the Craftsmen, the runner up in SAI’s 2016 Seed for Change Competition. The Craftsmen is small forest enterprise facilitator that creates new value chains, provides year-round employment, and trains communities in sustainable harvesting practices.

Mendonca received a summer grant from SAI to conduct further research on forest practice in India. The following is a report based on his summer.

The deadline to apply for this year’s Seed for Change Competition is February 15.

Organizations In The Field

Meetings and engagements were held with various entities ranging from Forest Communities, Village Economic Development Committees,  Producer Companies, Cooperatives, Self-help Groups, Chief Conservative Officers, Divisional Forest Officers, the Forest Research Institute Dheradun, Tourism Bodies, Research Organisations, Forest Product Enterprises, Investors and Support Institutions.

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SAI hosts knowledge exchange workshop on neuroscience

EQ4C2831On January 7, SAI, in partnership with the Institute of Bioinformatics and Applied Biotechnology (IBAB), hosted a Knowledge Exchange Platform on neuroscience for students in Bangalore to interact with different players in the science ecosystem.

The students were part of the Boston Bangalore Biosciences Beginning (B4) Young Scientist Development Course on neuroscience, a 2-week immersion course run by SAI and IBAB to to introduce Indian students to the excitement of brain science.

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SAI to host weekly seminar series on Partition of British India

0126 Partition Seminars_The Harvard South Asia Institute is pleased to announce a weekly seminar series focusing on the Partition of British India every Wednesday evening through February and March. The series, part of the SAI research project ‘Looking Back, Informing the Future: The 1947 Partition of British India – Implications of Mass Dislocations Across Geographies’ will explore issues that have often been ignored in the context of the Partition as well as discuss their relevance and impact today, both in South Asia and in other parts of the world. Through two-hour seminars spread over eight sessions, faculty, students, and community members will be brought together to explore the various facets of this complex historic event.

SAI will produce a podcast series based on the seminars, in which distinguished faculty and visiting scholars explore the history, context and continuing impact of the Partition.

All seminars will be from 5:00 – 7:00PM in CGIS S050, 1730 Cambridge street, Cambridge, MA. Add to your calendar. *Locations subject to change, please check our site for updates.*

The seminars are free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served.

Seminar resources.

Letter by SAI Director Tarun Khanna: “We are embarking on a major research project to understand the history, context and continuing impact of Partition”

Join the conversation: #SAIPartition.

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A fruitful trip to India

3By Naren Tallapragada, Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and Francesco Wiedemann, MIT

Tallapragada and Wiedemann were winners of SAI’s inaugural 2016 Seed for Change Competition for gomango, which provides low-cost refrigerated transport to food producers in India. Since the spring, they have been working to implement their idea on the ground in India

In December 2016 we visited India to start building our business (gomango) enabled by a Seed for Change grant from the South Asia Institute. On our trip we met players in food, retail, and logistics across the country who were excited by our vision to make cold chains in India affordable and sustainable. Our journey took us from the fish docks of Mumbai and food factories of Aurangabad to the wholesale markets of Delhi and office parks of Bangalore. Along the way we tested our technology and gained valuable insight into the psychology of Indian consumers and corporations.

As the inaugural winners of the Seed for Change competition and active members of the entrepreneurial ecosystem at Harvard, we have been able to take our venture further and faster. By sharing our learnings and our progress in this post and ones that follow, we hope to give back to the community that has supported us so generously.

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