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News Category: Blog


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

Resources:

Harvard International Office

Harvard Global Support Services

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Student voices: The Politics of Knowledge


In search of a South Asian climate: Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew

In search of a South Asian climate: Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew

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 Ehrlich, PhD Candidate, Department of History

A summer research grant from the South Asia Institute took me recently to a handful of archives across the UK: three in Scotland and one in London. The research was primarily in English and Indo-Persian source materials connected with my dissertation, “The East India Company and the Politics of Knowledge.” These materials ranged from the mundane to the mystical; from the collections and correspondence of administrators to the poems and petitions of scholars. My project aims to give a new account of the political and ideological uses of knowledge in South Asia, in the eventful decades around 1800. Such materials are its evidentiary bread and butter.

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Student voices: Researching History Textbooks in Sri Lanka


At the Jaffna Fort

At the Jaffna Fort

This 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 Sarani Jayawardena, Harvard College ’17

A history textbook is a complex item, lying at the intersection between ethnic politics and education policy. I did not think about that as a student in school – then, the history textbook was something to read, memorize, and cough back up at end-of-year examinations. But when governments write curricula or textbooks, the history textbook starts to mean much more. It becomes a tool by which the state can transmit its historical narrative, its version of the official past of a country. It becomes a direct articulation of what the state considers an accurate narrative and a desirable national identity for its citizens.

Yet “national history” is subjective: differences in identity – whether by race, religion, language, social status, class, or gender– can drastically alter personal conceptions of history. Thus multi-ethnic countries face a multiplicity of versions of past and conceptions of identity. Many South Asian nations have witnessed ‘textbook controversies’ or ‘textbook wars’ because of this complexity.

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Student voices: Nepal in recovery


Peng4This 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 Haibei PengMaster in Architecture, Harvard Graduate School of Design, 2017

Haibei traveled to Nepal over the summer to work on her research project ‘The Nested Scale of Time: to protect and display biodiversity in South Asia through research on agriculture and seed bank.’

With the generous support from SAI Research Grant, I traveled through Nepal in May, 2016 for two weeks to conduct my thesis research on traditional Nepalese architecture and post-earthquake reconstruction in Kathmandu. During the two weeks I spent in Nepal, I traveled through Kathmandu, Pokhara and Chitwan national forest while talking to local residents, friends, foreign workers, volunteers and international organizations. Even though Nepal remains a poor country with bad infrastructure and is still recovering from the earthquake disaster, people here are all very friendly, welcoming and seem to share a happy attitude towards life and their country. Below are some of the most stimulating findings from my research.

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Alum Q+A: Saving the environment and improving women’s lives, one pad at a time


ruralgirls2This is part of a series of profiles of Harvard alumni who are young entrepreneurs in South Asia.

Menstrual hygiene is an obstacle for women in many developing countries, including India. Even as the use of sanitary pads becomes more widespread, new environmental problems have emerged for proper disposal.

Saathi, founded by several MIT/Harvard graduates who met while studying mechanical engineering, is trying to change that. They have developed an eco-friendly pad made entirely from local banana fiber that is fully compostable and bio-degradable.

SAI recently spoke with three of the founders, Kristin Kagetsu, CEO, Amrita Saigal, CFO, and Grace Kane, CTO, to learn more about the product and how they hope it improves the lives of women in India.

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Empowering girls through education


DSC04905

Shantha Sinha, left, with Jacqueline Bhabha

By Anisha Gopi, Project Manager

On July 25th, 2016 the Harvard University South Asia Institute (SAI) and Tata Trusts hosted the second webinar of a multi-part series on Women’s Empowerment. The webinar titled ‘Empowering Girls through educational access and opportunity:  What enables deprived girls to succeed’ was led by Professor Shantha Sinha, one of India’s leading child rights activists and founder of M. Venkatarangaiya (MV) Foundation. Professor Sinha was formerly the Chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and has been honoured with the Raman Magsaysay Award and the Padma Shri. The webinar was moderated by Professor Jacqueline Bhabha, Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, and Director of Harvard FXB Center for Health and Human Rights.

The 90 minute webinar focused on factors enabling girls to attend school, challenges faced by school-going girls and successful strategies for ensuring girls have access to secondary education. It was attended by grassroots practitioners, students and academicians from India, the US and the UK.

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Contribute to SAI’s Summer Blog!


tumblr_inline_nqk5t15pVG1rpydu2_500SAI welcomes submissions for its summer blog from Harvard students, faculty, alumni, and affiliates on an array of topics pertaining to South Asia. Submissions that were previously published elsewhere are welcome.

Examples of posts can include: student travel adventures in South Asia, an update on an organization you are working in South Asia, commentary on current events, discussions about your research project, news about student organizations, opinion pieces, and more. Photo collections are welcome!

As SAI’s work is cross-school and interdisciplinary, we especially look for posts related to our research areas: global health, humanities and art, religion, urbanism, social enterprise, education, gender issues, science, and more.

Here are some examples of past posts:

If you would like to contribute or have questions, please email meghansmith@fas.harvard.edu.

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Student voices: The exhilaration of breaking news


This is part of a recurring series in which we share reports from Harvard students who have traveled to South Asia with support from a SAI grant during the winter session.

Click here to read more reports from students.

Shaiba Rather, Harvard College ‘17
Internship with NDTV in India

This winter break, I was as up to date on the news as I ever have been and probably ever will be. As a research intern for New Delhi Television (NDTV), I read every Indian national paper, Kashmiri local papers, and even top US headlines. NDTV demanded that I constantly be informed of India’s happenings; it was challenging but surely rewarding. NDTV put me in an environment where my team members urged be to desire to know more.

The command center from which the editing staff would piece together the final show layout

The command center from which the editing staff would piece together the final show layout

I spent my month working behind Barkha Dutt, not only one of NDTV’s lead anchors but also one of the program’s editors. Ms. Dutt is best known for her coverage of the Kargil War and her frequent shows on Kashmir. Ms. Dutt has not only received numerous accolades as the Best Talk Show host but also earned a civilian honor from the government of India. To even start to work on her show, “The Buck Stops Here,” was intimidating to say the least.

To my relief, Ms. Dutt greeted me with a smile and a hug, transforming a TV legend into a friend. We shared our achievements and ambitions and then it was off to work. My primary role was as a research assistant. My job was to always make sure Ms. Dutt could do her job. After reading any and every newspaper I could get my hands on for the day, I would prep Ms. Dutt with the days happenings. We would quickly determine what the show’s focus for the evening would be, and then everything was a blur from there. People would carry two phones at a time and call whomever they could, trying to find the perfect panelists. We’d brainstorm clever show titles and impactful sub-titles. It was a crazed last second dash but by 9pm every Tuesday and Thursday, we’d have a show.

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Update from the field: Crafts in the Indian capital


SAI’s Livelihood Creation project is underway on the ground in India. The research project, supported by the Tata Trusts, aims to build knowledge and capacity around three key areas: rural livelihood creation (emphasis on the handicrafts and handloom sectors); educational, social and economic empowerment of women; and science and technology-based interventions for poverty alleviation.

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

Delhi has been India’s capital for several centuries. The British built New Delhi as the capital of India and Old Delhi served as a capital during the rule of the Mughal Dynasty. With the largest population among Indian metros, Delhi houses about 25 million people and is bordered by the state of Haryana on three sides (North, West and South) and Uttar Pradesh on the East. Delhi has been witness to various invasions and struggles for nearly a dozen centuries, right up to the independence struggle from the British colonizers. It is said that Delhi was built and broken down nine times by various invaders. New Delhi is the tenth version of Delhi in about 1,200 years.

Scripturally, the city is considered to be the capital of the Pandavas in the famous Indian epic, Mahabharata, where it is referred to as Indraprastha. Delhi is also a famous tourist attraction due to its many heritage structures and monuments which include the Red Fort (Lal Qila), Old Fort (Purana Qila), Qutub Minar, Iron Pillar, Jama Masjid, Lotus Temple amongst many others. The Swaminarayan Akshardham built on the banks of Yamuna as recently as 2005 was acknowledged as the world’s largest Hindu temple. So Delhi is a historians’ and architecture lovers’ paradise!

Handicrafts are quite popular in Delhi. Crafts from all states find a place here due to a lot of demand from locals and tourists coming from across India and the globe.  Even historically, arts and crafts found significant patronage from different rulers and dynasties that ruled Delhi. Each of these flourished and have been bequeathed generation to generation. As part of its field visits to study crafts organizations across India, the Harvard SAI team visited four organizations in Delhi.

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Studying the Kumbh Mela from many perspectives


APS_0244What happens when tens of millions of people form a temporary city on the banks of a holy river? In 2013, a team from Harvard set out to answer this question, and found that there is much more than meets the eye at the Kumbh Mela.

On Monday, January 18, the Harvard South Asia Institute (SAI) launched the book and exhibition Kumbh Mela: Mapping the Ephemeral Megacity in Mumbai at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya in partnership with the Asia Society India Centre and the Harvard Club of Mumbai. The event drew a crowd of more than 200 people, including Harvard alumni, community members, government officials, students, and members of the public.

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