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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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    Contribute to SAI’s blog!

    SAI’s blog welcomes submissions from Harvard students, faculty, alumni, and affiliates on an array of topics pertaining to South Asia.

    Take a look at some past posts:


    Interested in contributing? Email Meghan Smith, SAI Communications Coordinator,

      Teaching in Pakistan as an Act of Love and Courage

      This blog post originally appeared on Fernando Reimers’ blog.

      Members of the Harvard community gathered on Tuesday night, Dec. 16, for a vigil on Harvard Yard in honor of the victims of the Peshawar attack.

      By Fernando M. Reimers, Ford Foundation Professor of International Education, Director, International Education Policy Program, Harvard Graduate School of Education; SAI Steering Committee member

      I awoke this morning to the painful news that seven cowards had entered a school in Peshawar, in Northern Pakistan, where they had murdered 132 students and 9 teachers and staff. My heart goes out to their families and friends. I share the pain of those, still in disbelief, that anyone would intentionally target civilians not engaged in combat, in a school, with the deliberate intent of killing them.

      A group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, in the name of the Taliban, as an act of war against the Pakistan military. Only they, in a world of delusion, think there is a justification for this gruesome act. No one else in the world shares their view of reality, not in Peshawar, not in Pakistan, not in the world. The assassins who conceived that it was fair game to assassinate hundreds of teenagers and their teachers to achieve some goal are alone in their thinking, they lack reason and soul. I can only imagine the grief of their mothers, of their spouses, of their families, in realizing how far the deep end of reason and reality these thugs have fallen. How their cowardice has robbed them of any sense of identification with country, with religion, with family. These murderers, and anyone else who enabled their crime, have no soul, they don’t belong in this planet, they are not recognizable as members of the human species.

      In their madness, these seven criminals targeted students and teachers in a school, a place where together they worked to advance understanding, to gain the knowledge and the dispositions to better understand the world and to improve it. This crime was committed in a house of light and of love.

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        Tragedy in Pakistan

        By Mariam Chughtai

        ‘‘When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers”

        Pakistan was struck with tragedy on Dec 16, 2014. Seven men armed with guns and suicide vests, went classroom-by-classroom killing children at a local Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan. The Army was able to rescue 960 people; of the 141 people killed, 132 were children.

        A Kenyan saying encapsulates today’s events: ‘When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.’ Earlier this week, people of South Asia came together in celebration for children’s rights, as Malala Yousufzai from Pakistan shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Kailash Satyarthi from India.

        Today, we come together in grief to realize the extent of work that needs to be done. The killing of school children today was claimed to be a planned and symbolic revenge by the Taliban for attacks against their women and children in the ongoing Pakistan Army operation Zarb-e-Azb.

        This is a day of deep reflection. War strategy against extremists, whether through drone strikes or carpet-bombing, must factor in the lives of children beyond collateral damage and prepare especially to protect the most vulnerable in society on both sides.

        Pakistan has spent much time preparing for outward existential threats but has yet to address the enemy within. A real solution needs judicial, political and civil society bearing responsibility in this fight against extremism.

        **The Harvard Pakistan student community has organized a vigil today at 5:30pm in Harvard Yard (by John Harvard’s statue) to share in each other’s grief and to unite in the standing up to extremism.


        Mariam Chughtai is a doctoral candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

          Ayesha Jalal: The Struggle for Pakistan

          By Mehjabeen ZameerEd.M Candidate, International Education Policy, Harvard Graduate School of Education; SAI Student Coordinator

          Jalal, right, with Ali Asani

          Jalal, right, with Ali Asani

          On Wednesday, December 3, renowned Pakistani historian Professor Ayesha Jalal of Tufts University, spoke about her new book The Struggle for Pakistan at a SAI Book Talk. Jalal highlighted the need for a comprehensive historical interpretation of Pakistan’s narrative and encouraged members of the audience to view the history of the country through a geopolitical lens rather than a religious one.

          The event was moderated by Professor Ali Asani, Professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Cultures at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Atiya Khan, South Asia Institute Aman Fellow, also participated as a discussant.

          Professor Jalal started off her talk by briefly touching upon the creation of Pakistan and argued that the theory of it being created was fallacious. The young state faced many problems, including the passing away of its founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and shortly after the assassination of its premier, Liaquat Ali Khan, which made the situation worse. In 1951, due to the Cold War and the regional dispute with India over Kashmir gaining eminence, the Pakistani military started coming to power.

          After this brief overview of the circumstances leading to the creation of Pakistan and leading to the rise of a powerful military, Professor Jalal then went on to interpret the 1971 separation of East Pakistan. She made the case that the context in 1971 was a mirror image of that in 1947, as it was all about power sharing.

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            Update from the Harvard Club of Mumbai

            Building a Better India: Doing Good While Doing Well

            On September 22nd, 2014, The Harvard Club of Mumbai hosted a lively panel discussion and Q&A session at Good Earth, Mumbai between prominent social entrepreneurs and eminent alumni on the future of social enterprise in India.

            This panel, held in partnership with the Princeton Club and Global Shapers, Mumbai (World Economic Forum), was honored by the presence of the following prominent leaders of social change in Mumbai:

            • Aditi Shrivastava, Head, Intellecap Impact Investment Network (I3N)
            • Prerana Langa, CEO YES Bank Foundation CSR
            • Krishna Pujari, Co-Founder, Reality Tours and Travels
            • Mayank Sekhsaria, Director DD Cotton/Co-founder Greenlight Planet

            These changemakers walked us through their journey in discovering how to make social change while also creating a profitable venture. They explored the challenges/rewards of building systems of social change that simultaneously serve as viable business enterprises.

            They talked about how to make such ventures sustainable, how to encourage innovation in social enterprise, how to encourage socially responsible practices in the corporate sector, and similar such issues. They summed up the discussion by offering ways in which sustainable social enterprise can serve as the engine of economic development in a rapidly changing India.

            Over 80 members of alumni clubs were in attendance. They enjoyed an elaborate high tea offered by Good Earth, Mumbai concurrent with alumni networking  and followed by a lively discussion and Q&A.

            -Vaibhav Lodha


            Are you a Harvard alum in South Asia who would like to share an update on your activities with the SAI community? Email Meghan Smith,

              SAI Fellowships

              SAI offers three opportunities for scholars and practitioners to continue their research at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

              Fellows are expected to reside in the Cambridge vicinity during the time of their award and to actively participate in the events and intellectual life of the Institute. Fellows are also expected to contribute to the greater Harvard community by teaching, mentoring, or advising students. In addition to the stipend, fellows are provided with health insurance, as well as transportation costs for those traveling from South Asia to Cambridge.

              Aman Fellowship

              SAI offers three opportunities for scholars and practitioners to continue their research at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Fellows are expected to reside in the Cambridge vicinity during the time of their award and to actively participate in the events and intellectual life of the Institute. Fellows are also expected to contribute to the greater Harvard community by teaching, mentoring, or advising students. In addition to the stipend, fellows are provided with health insurance, as well as transportation costs for those traveling from South Asia to Cambridge.
              Total stipend for one term: $20,000

              Babar Ali Fellowship

              The Babar Ali Fellowship supports recent PhDs, those in the final stages of their PhDs, and advanced professional degree holders in areas related to Pakistan.
              Priority will be given to candidates who demonstrate prior educational history that has taken place largely in Pakistan, and plan to return to Pakistan upon completion of the fellowship.
              Total stipend for one term: $20,000

              South Asian Studies Fellowship

              The South Asian Studies Fellowship supports recent PhDs in the humanities and social sciences related to South Asia. Research topics can cover any period of South Asian history or contemporary South Asia. Candidates must be able to provide evidence of successful completion of their PhD by June of the year of appointment and may not be more than five years beyond the receipt of PhD.
              Total stipend for one year: $40,000

              Deadline: January 15, 2015 for Academic Year 2015-2016

              News about SAI’s Fellows.


              Reflections from SAI Fellows:

              “The Aman Fellowship provided me an opportunity to take advantage of Harvard’s resources for my research and to connect with leading academics and researchers in the world. I discovered new avenues for my research and I will be following these leads in my academic career. I also used this opportunity to develop and submit different proposals for my future research projects in Pakistan and abroad.”

              -Muhammad Zahir, SAI Aman Fellow, Spring 2014

              “The fellowship gave me the the chance to get involved with different types of discourse on South Asia.”

              -Shankar Ramaswami, SAI South Asian Studies Fellow, 2013-2014

              “A number of my friends who were involved in environmentalist NGOs in India were talking about the new Forest Rights Act, and I decided to focus on it for my dissertation. And it’s that work on this law, and the movements that helped pass it, and the groups now involved in organizing people to claim land rights through it, that I wrote my dissertation on, and it’s that work that I am continuing right now at the South Asia Institute. I’m writing articles based on the research I did for my PhD, and I’m beginning my book manuscript”

              - Anand Vaidya, current SAI South Asian Studies Fellow, 2014-2015

                2015 Student Winter Grant Recipients

                SAI has awarded 18 grants to support undergraduate and graduate student projects over the Winter Session in January, 2015. These include 6 undergraduates and 12 graduate students who will be traveling to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka for research and internships.

                The projects cover topics from many disciplines, for example: Using microfinance to alleviate poverty, sustainable housing, the “Islamization” of Divorce Law in Pakistan, vernacular literature of Indian Christians, changing education in the third world countries using cheap computing devices, and internships at health ministries in Sri Lanka.

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                  Contemporary South Asia Student Blog: Arts and Humanities

                  This is the fifth blog post in a weekly series from a student enrolled in the course ‘Contemporary South Asia: Entrepreneurial Solutions to Intractable Social and Economic Problems’ co-taught by SAI Director Tarun Khanna. The course features several modules on issues facing South Asia: Urbanism, Technology and Education, Health, and Humanities.

                  This week’s focus: Art and Humanities, led by Doris Sommer, Ira Jewell Williams, Jr. Professor of Romance Languages and Literature, and Director of Graduate Studies in Spanish


                  By Siddarth Nagaraj, MALD Candidate, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy,Tufts University

                  Can art be a catalyst for social change? In the final lecture of our Humanities module, guest lecturer Doris Sommer, Ira Jewell Williams, Jr. Professor of Romance Languages and Literature, and Director of Graduate Studies in Spanish, strongly argued that it can.

                  Probing the class about why we consider art to be important, Professor Sommer argued that it not only has a potential to facilitate conditions for change, but that much of its ability to do so derives from aesthetics, which rejects the notion that art should be programmatically directed towards reform.

                  Professor Sommer began the class by discussing aestheticism, a school of thought that maintains that art exists for the sake of beauty rather than as a means of promoting social change. She contended that art is powerful because it celebrates beauty in ways that leave people “indifferent”, meaning that it excites them but leaves them able to walk away with enjoyment and without bias.

                  This generates a sense of pleasure that one does not feel when absorbed in purely utilitarian activities (such as work) that may be essential to survival and economic growth but cannot generate freedom, creativity and connectivity with other humans.

                  Having established this, Professor Sommer posited that arts-inspired interventions present opportunities to change public sentiment about important issues and can also induce collective action to bring about non-programmatic change, strengthening interpersonal bonds within societies.

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                    Philanthropy’s role in South Asia and the US

                    From left: Alnoor Ebrahim, Rohini Nilekani, and Geeta Pradhan

                    By Abhishek RahmanMDiv Candidate, Harvard Divinity School

                    Are corporations improving their environmental, social and governance footprint? According to the panelists at a SAI Special Event on November 18th titled ‘The Use of Philanthropy and Corporate Social Responsibility for Social Change in South Asia and the US,’ there is good reason to be optimistic, though there is much work to be done.

                    Moderated by Alnoor Ebrahim, Harvard Business School, the event, which took place at the Harvard Faculty Club, highlighted models of philanthropy and corporate social responsibility in India and the U.S. and included panelists Rohini Nilekani, chairperson of Arghyam Foundation, and Geeta Pradhan, an executive at the Boston Foundation.

                    Drawing from their diverse experiences in the private and public sector, the panelists agreed that progress in the field of philanthropy and corporate social responsibility in the past decade has been driven by a combination of evolving global guidelines, increased stakeholder expectations, and more demanding corporate disclosure requirements.

                    Recalling her personal trajectory in the social sector space, Nilekani talked about how the definition of philanthropy in India has changed from “having a big heart to now having big wealth.”

                    Commenting about the influence of her left-of-center political beliefs on her philanthropy, she told the audience, “I believe, in a country like India, only when we build a strong society or samaj, can development happen. So, I spend my philanthropic capital to build people’s institutions, which can resist the oppressive forces of the state and the market.”

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