This article originally appeared in the Harvard Gazette.
Grants help faculty shape study-abroad opportunities
By Alvin Powell, Harvard Staff Writer
New Delhi, Bangalore, Paris, Tblisi, Vienna, Dakar, Freiburg.
Harvard summer students will have the option of classes on three continents through six new summer-abroad programs being developed and implemented by Harvard faculty, thanks to grants from a fund designed to expand study-abroad opportunities and encourage innovation in those experiences.
“They’ll get immersion in a completely different context, exposure to a different society,” said Tarun Khanna, the Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor at Harvard Business School, director of Harvard’s South Asia Institute, and the architect of a summer study-abroad class that places students in Indian nonprofits that are leveraging the promise of mobile phone technology. “I believe the immersion into a combination of library readings and real-world settings will be very instructive.”
The grants were awarded from the President’s Innovation Fund for International Experiences (PIFIE), which was created to provide seed funding to faculty members to develop academic experiences abroad for Harvard undergraduates. The fund was created as part of David Rockefeller’s donation to support student international experiences, and seeks to encourage participation by faculty members at the graduate schools as well as Harvard College.
In addition to Khanna, this year’s grantees include Emmanuel Akyeampong andOusmane Kane for programs in Accra, Ghana, and Dakar, Senegal; Sven Beckertfor a program in Freiburg, Germany; John Hamilton and Lisa Parkes for a program in Vienna; Robert Lue and Alain Viel for a program in Paris; andSteven Clancy for a program in Tblisi, Georgia.
The India program, Khanna said, will run from mid-June through mid-August. The heart of the program will occur in Bangalore, one of the centers of India’s high-tech industry, with a side trip to New Delhi. In Bangalore, students will spend several weeks working at one of two organizations that are using mobile phone technology to improve either health care or education. They will meet regularly as a group, led by Harvard instructors, to discuss their experiences and go over related academic content, such as advances in mobile phone technology, regulatory and legal issues, and user behavior. The program includes a debriefing and presentation in the final week in India and a campus debriefing in Cambridge.
Akyeampong, a professor of history and of African and African American Studies, sees this summer’s inaugural program in Dakar as part of a Harvard expansion into four key West African countries. A summer study-abroad program already exists in Ghana and he’d like to see programs established in Nigeria and the Ivory Coast.
“These are four countries that are too important to ignore,” Akyeampong said.
This summer, students will study language, history, and culture in Dakar, with field trips outside the city. The course, to alternate summers with the Ghana program, will be led by Kane, the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Professor of Contemporary Islamic Religion and Society.
In Paris, students will embark on a course that Lue, a professor of the practice of molecular and cellular biology, and Alain Viel, a senior lecturer on molecular and cellular biology, described in a proposal “as wildly creative and diverse as the imaginations of the student teams.” Students will study biological evolutionary principles and apply them to the evolution of technology and society in Paris. Students will develop projects that seek to take advantage of the opportunities presented by technology to more fully engage residents in improving urban life.
“The idea of collective contributions to an improved living environment shares many features with the evolution of populations, be they bacteria in a colony, cells in a tissue, or animals in an ecosystem,” Lue wrote. “This project-based program uses the principles of evolution at the molecular, cellular, and population level to innovate new models for engaging the citizens of Paris in meeting the urban challenges of their city.”
In Freiburg, Summer School students will be able to share the experiences that Harvard College students have enjoyed in a semester-long program since 2012, according to Beckert, the Laird Bell Professor of History. The program, to begin in 2016, will explore European answers to questions of the modern world, Beckert said. Support from the President’s Fund, Beckert said, has been critical to the planning process.
“[The program] blends the global and the local to give students an introduction to Europe and a deep international experienced in one of its most beautiful, centrally located cities,” Beckert said. “International experience is an essential part of education today. Students in our program will gain not only an understanding of foreign societies and cultures, but also a better understanding of their home societies and themselves.”
Looking ahead, students will gather in Tblisi in the summer of 2016 for a nine-week program that will combine Russian language classes with instruction about Georgia and about Russia-Georgia literary and cultural ties, said Clancy, a senior lecturer on Slavic languages and literatures and director of the Slavic Language Program.
“Georgia’s long history, fertile culture, intricate and beautiful language, rich folklore, unique choral and dance traditions, outstanding literary and cinematic history, and major archaeological discoveries will make for a unique international experience for our students,” Clancy said. “Quite simply, the President’s Fund will make this program possible. Support will enable us to explore the region, establish ties, and lay the infrastructure for the program in summer 2016 and beyond.”
SAI offers a variety of learning opportunities in South Asia for Harvard students through its grants program. Undergraduate and graduate students are invited to apply for research grants to support independent research and thesis field work. SAI has partnered with over 50 organizations in South Asia to offer internships to Harvard students.
SAI has awarded 35 grants for summer and research, internship, and language study in India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
Graduate Language Study
Joshua Ehrlich, History, PhD, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
Mughal Persian language study, American Institute of Indian Studies, Lucknow
Neelam Khoja, Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations, PhD, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
Punjabi language study, American Institute of Indian Studies, Chandigarh
Jason Smith, Religion, ThD, Harvard Divinity School
Tamil language study, American Institute of Indian Studies, Madurai
Tyler Richard, South Asian Studies, PhD, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
Tamil language study, Field Study, Tamil Nadu
Graduate Research Grants
Mou Banerjee, History, PhD, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
Subaltern Bengali Muslims and Christian Conversion Controversies in the 19th Century
Rohit Chandra, Public Policy, PhD, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
Evolution of India’s Coal Sector
Fletcher Coleman, History of Art and Architecture, PhD, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
Issues in Indian Ascetics: Early Chinese Buddhist Visual Programming through the Lens of Central Asian and Gandharan Religious Practice
Sutopa Dasgupta, Religion, PhD, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
The Annandmangal: Religion and Court in an Early Modern Epic from Bengal
Hardeep Dhillon, History, PhD, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
Archival research in Delhi related to Maulana Abul Kalam
Madiha Irfan, MTS, Harvard Divinity School
Divorce Law and Religious Authority in Pakistan
Asad Liaqat, Public Policy, PhD, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
What drives elite behavior in Pakistan? Testing Knowledge and Inter-Elite Obligation
Maung Nyeu, PhD, Harvard Graduate School of Education
Lost in Translation: Evidence from Oral Narratives in Mother Tongue and Written Narratives in the Language of Instruction
Mircea Raianu, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
The TATA Business Empire and the Ethics of Capital in Modern India, ca. 1870-1960
Jigyasa Sharma, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Evaluation of the Effectiveness of WHO’s Safe Childbirth Checklist in Reducing Prenatal Mortality in Rural Rajasthan
Niharika Singh, Public Policy, PhD, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
Understanding Patterns of High Educational Attainment but Low Labor Participation of South Asian Women
Lydia Walker, History, PhD, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
Self-Determination for Whom? Nationalism, Internationalism and 1960’s Decolonization
Graduate Internship Grants
Madhav Khosla, Political Theory, PhD, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
Modern Constitutionalism and the Indian Founding
Muhammad Zia Mehmood, Harvard Kennedy School
Understanding Mechanisms Underlying Extremist Influence: Peer Effects in the Presence of Extremists
Shweta Suresh, Harvard Kennedy School
Evidence for Policy Design – Confederation of Indian Industries Compliance
Angela Thurston, Harvard Divinity School
Empowering Girls and Strengthening Communities in the Slums of Mumbai
Undergraduate Internship Grants
Joanne Koong, Computer Science & Economics, 2017
Jana Care, Software Engineering Internship, India
Eleni Apostolatos, 2018
Harvard-Bangalore Science Initiative, Internship, India
Tamara Fernando, History of Art and Architecture & Economics, 2016
Chunkikuli Ladies College, Internship, Sri Lanka
Kavya Pathak, Neurobiology and Health Policy
Harvard-Bangalore Science Initiative, Internship, India
Leena Raza, Organismic & Evolutionary Biology and Health Policy, 2016
PUKAR, Internship, India
Julia Versel, Neurobiology, 2017
Harvard-Bangalore Science Initiative, Internship, India
Neil Davey, Chemical and Physical Biology, 2018
Vinay Iyengar, Computer Science, 2018
Diane Jung, Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology, 2017
Kais Khimji, Social Studies, 2017
Pranay Nadella, Economics, 2017
Pradeep Niroula, Computer Science and Physics, 2018
Eshaan Patheria, Social Studies, 2017
Parth Thakker, Economics, 2017
This article was originally published in the Harvard Gazette
By Corydon Ireland, Harvard Staff Writer
In the spring of 2009, Sheldon Pollock ’71, Ph.D. ’75, the Arvind Raghunathan Professor of South Asian Studies at Columbia, was sitting in a Cambridge café with Sharmila Sen ’92, executive editor at large at theHarvard University Press. “I took out the proverbial napkin,” said Pollock. The two sketched out what would be needed to publish his longtime dream: a series of volumes on classical Indian literature.
Why not 500 books over the next century, they thought: poetry, prose, philosophy, and literary criticism — and later science and mathematics? These largely unseen works, some of which date back more than two millennia, had in the last century shrunk to a canon available almost solely in Sanskrit.
Such a visionary series could bring to light again the heart of the longest continuous multilanguage literary tradition in the world, one that represents the most languages, at least 20 of them. The many languages of the Indian subcontinent, both living and dead, are a musical linguistic litany that includes Sanskrit, Prakrit, Pali, Marathi, Sindhi, Hindi, Tamil, Persian, Telugu, Urdu, Panjabi, and Bangla.
Why not a new series? A model format was already in place. The Loeb Classical Library, launched at Harvard University Press in 1911, now comprises more than 525 handsome volumes in Latin and Greek, along with solid English translations on facing pages. “Back when I was 19 or 20,” said Pollock during a phone conversation, “I very much thought a classical library for India along the lines of the Loeb was a terrific idea.” He called the series an object of “wishing and longing” for decades.
Wishing, longing on a napkin
Sen remembers the same day, when wishing and longing was sketched out on that café napkin. “Shelly told me about the idea,” she said. “I liked it very much. It was exciting to us both.” Sen, who was raised in Kolkata and has a Ph.D. in English from Yale, was aware of a publishing precedent, the Clay Sanskrit Library published by New York University Press, which stopped at 56 volumes.
Its benefactor, investment banker John P. Clay, a onetime honors student at Oxford who studied Avestan, Sanskrit, and Old Persian, died in 2013. (Pollock was co-editor and then editor of the Clay Library.)
A new library of Indian classics, Sen said, would represent all the old languages, including Sanskrit. It would feature attractive and literary translations into English. And it would use the appropriate Indic script on the left-hand page. (The Clay series uses transliterations in Latin script.)
The napkin was full. The idea was good. But where might the money come from to bring it to life? The project, which Pollock described as “the most ambitious ever taken on by an American university press,” needed an endowment, said Sen. “The marketplace doesn’t support these kinds of books.”
Enter Rohan Narayana Murty, with whom Sen and Pollock met in the fall of 2009, when Murty was a Harvard Ph.D. student in computer science. “We had one meeting,” she said. It was enough to convey the series idea and the money it would require. Immediately apparent, she said, was that “this was something very important to Rohan.”
Murty is the scion of a wealthy business family in Bangalore, India, with a history of educational philanthropy. His father is the information technology industrialist N.R. Narayana Murthy, co-founder of Infosys. His mother is the polymath computer scientist, social worker, and author Sudha Murty, India’s best-selling female author, with 136 titles to her credit.
Rohan Murty, now on leave as a junior fellow in the Society of Fellows, knew about the Loeb series, of course, said Sen, and wondered why there wasn’t a version for Indian literature. During his graduate studies at Harvard, Murty took a break from distributed computing and opportunistic wireless networks to delve into courses in the Department of South Asian Studies with Parimal G. Patil, professor of religion and Indian philosophy.
Then came the conclusion of what Sen called “a series of happy accidents,” beginning with that napkin sketch. In 2010, Murty founded the Murty Classical Library of India with a gift of $5.2 million to Harvard.
How should we plan and perceive the urban?
In this podcast, Namita Dharia, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Anthropology at Harvard University, and Graduate Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study, talks about the life of a migrant worker in urban India and how the construction industry is addressing issues of child labor and women’s safety.
Namita spent over a year at a construction site in India working on an ethnography of the real estate and construction industry in India’s National Capital Region, and is the author of “The Season of Migration in the City” in SAI’s publication The City and South Asia.
Read the full article: issuu.com/sainit/docs/thecityandsouthasia_final/9
Emerging demographic, economic and dietary factors suggest that a large burden of preventable illness is poised to develop in India requiring training for a new cadre of Indian nutrition scientists. There is a great need for nutrition researchers in the country, but few training programs exist.
In response to this critical gap in training, the Bangalore Boston Nutrition Collaborative (BBNC), a collaboration between St. John’s Research Institute in Bangalore (SJRI), Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), and Tufts University, was initiated in 2009 to build capacity and to provide research training for young professionals in the fields of nutrition and global health from India and other countries in the region.
SAI supports the project, as its goals align with SAI’s own vision of interdisciplinary collaboration to seek innovative solutions to critical issues in South Asia.
The Collaborative recently wrapped up its sixth annual course in January2015 in Bangalore. The intensive 2 week course provided up and coming Indian faculty and graduate students with skills needed for research careers in public health and nutrition.
Faculty included Christopher Duggan, HSPH, Rebecca Raj, Head of Clinical Nutrition Unit at St. John’s Research Institute, Richard Cash, senior lecturer on global health, HSPH, Ronald Bosch, senior research scientist in biostatistics, HSPH, Anuraj Shankar, senior research scientist in nutrition, HSPH, and SV Subramanian, professor of population health and geography.
“The eye opener was the biochemistry session. I learned so many new things about lipids.”
“I liked how the course connected people from various backgrounds and ethnicities to mingle and share their knowledge with each other.”
“We were able to attend the lectures of some of the most eminent scientists who shared their knowledge and expertise with us.”
“Overall, the course was a very high quality, technologically innovative, motivating, and encouraging course to enhance my knowledge in nutrition and research. Thanks for inspiring such budding scientists like me!”
“I got an overview of topics such as the importance of epidemiological studies and infectious diseases. Another advantage of the course is the interaction with fellow students and faculty who come from different background of science to share their experiences.”
“The course has given me a global picture of nutrition and helped me understand the various aspects of nutrition-based researches better.”
The group has also worked to develop distance learning curricula in east Africa and India involving internet-based case discussions, shared curricula, and shared opportunities for discourse. With funding from USAID, NIH, and a private foundation, they have built a collection of online resources for nutrition education.
He has worked with teams exploring early Palaeolithic sites in the Nefud Desert in Saudi Arabia and in the Soan Valley of Pakistan.
Another project includes the documentation and preservation of the endangered archaeological heritage along the ancient Silk Roads network in Pakistan that ran along the Indus River.
He has also teamed up with Prof. David Reich of the Department of Genetics, Harvard Medical School, to develop a project to study ancient DNA from excavated graves in north-western Pakistan. If successful, the study would be instrumental in understanding modern and ancient ethnicities in South Asia.
Most recently, Zahir has worked with the Japanese Centre for South Asian Culture Heritage (an umbrella nonprofit organization of Japanese archaeologists, conservationists, and art historians) and the Department of Archaeology at Hazara University, Pakistan, to develop a project for mutual cooperation and development of research projects and the preservation and promotion of cultural heritage of Pakistan.
Along with Mr. Atsushi Noguchi of Meiji University in Japan, Zahir has launched a multidisciplinary project, the “Stable Society Project,” to promote peace and stability in modern Pakistani society by promoting the education, traditions, and culture of Pakistan.
NGO tries to save South Asian relics
By Yugo Hirano
From the ancient Indian city of Mohenjo-daro to Buddhist Gandhara art, South Asia is rich in cultural heritage but under threat from economic sprawl and a lack of restoration capabilities.
To help preserve cultural sites at risk, a group of Japanese archaeologists has set up a nonprofit organization to provide advanced equipment and pass on their know-how.
Pakistan and India, for example, have numerous cultural heritage sites. With the exception of a few famous ones, however, most are little known globally and international aid is limited. Local authorities face financial constraints and in some cases are neglecting or abandoning sites.
Fearing the loss of heritage to the surge in land development in recent years, the Japanese group and other experts launched the Japanese Centre for South Asian Cultural Heritage in October last year.
“Through our network of researchers, we want to provide meticulous support in areas that (local) governments and international organizations can’t get around to,” said Atsushi Noguchi, the NPO’s secretary-general.
The center plans to supply local researchers with such advanced equipment as infrared laser scanners and radio-controlled helicopters for metric documentation and teach them how to use it.
The first project under way involves saving Buddhist artifacts in Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region that are expected to be submerged by dam construction.
Preservation of the sites, which include about 30,000 items comprising Buddha statues and pagodas, rock carvings and paintings dating from around 4,000 B.C. to the 10th century A.D., is a top priority as some of the murals have already been destroyed by the dam project. Experts believe there are also numerous cultural assets that haven’t even been identified yet.
In cooperation with Pakistan’s Hazara University, the group will use global positioning systems to record the locations of the cultural assets and document and survey the sites. The center in Tokyo will provide other assistance, such as data analysis.
While Pakistan is an Islamic nation, there are many enthusiastic scholars of Buddhist art.
“The Buddhism that was first introduced to Japan came from this region,” said Noguchi. “It is meaningful for us as Japanese to be involved in this.”
Congratulations to Gillian Slee, Harvard College ’16, and Sara Melissa Theiss, Harvard College ’15, 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.
First Place: “Jeweled Intensity” by Gillian Slee, Harvard College ’16, taken in Jaipur, India
Runner up: “Woman Making Pot of Food” by Sara Melissa Theiss, Harvard College ’15, taken in Sitapur, India
To present the greatest literary works of India from the past two millennia to the largest readership in the world is the mission of the Murty Classical Library of India. The series aims to reintroduce these works, a part of world literature’s treasured heritage, to a new generation.
Translated into English by world-class scholars, reflecting the highest standards of contemporary book design, and featuring elegant, newly commissioned typefaces, these volumes are a modern invitation to diverse pre-modern literary worlds in languages such as Bangla, Hindi, Kannada, Marathi, Pali, Panjabi, Persian, Sanskrit, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu. The series will provide English translations of classical works alongside the Indic originals in the appropriate regional script. New books will be added to the series annually.
This series is supported by a generous gift from Rohan Narayana Murty, computer scientist and true friend of the Indian classics.
The following is a list of works that have been printed so far:
The poetry of Bullhe Shah, which drew upon Sufi mysticism, is considered one of the glories of premodern Panjabi literature. His lyrics, famous for their vivid style and outspoken denunciation of artificial religious divisions, have been held in affection by Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs, and continue to win audiences today across national boundaries.
The History of Akbar, Volume 1
Thackston, Wheeler M.
The History of Akbar, by Abu’l-Fazl, is one of the most important works of Indo-Persian history and a touchstone of prose artistry. It is at once a biography of the Mughal emperor Akbar that includes descriptions of his political and martial feats and cultural achievements, and a chronicle of sixteenth-century India.
Therigatha: Poems of the First Buddhist Women
Therīgāthā is a poetry anthology in the Pali language by and about the first Buddhist women. The poems they left behind are arguably among the most ancient examples of women’s writing in the world and are unmatched for their quality of personal expression and the extraordinary insight they offer into women’s lives in the ancient Indian past.
The Story of Manu
Narayana Rao, Velcheru
The Story of Manu, by sixteenth-century poet Allasani Peddana, is the definitive literary monument of Telugu civilization and a powerful embodiment of the culture of Vijayanagara, the last of the great premodern south Indian states. It describes kingship and its exigencies at the time of Krishnadevaraya, Peddana’s close friend and patron.
Sur’s Ocean: Poems from the Early Tradition
Bryant, Kenneth E.
Hawley, John Stratton
Surdas, regarded as the epitome of artistry in Old Hindi religious poetry from the end of the sixteenth century to the present, refashioned the narrative of Krishna and his lover Radha into elegant, approachable lyrics. His popularity led to the proliferation, through an energetic oral tradition, of poems ascribed to him, the Sūrsāgar.
Read press coverage:
VIDEO: General Editor, Sheldon Pullock, speaks to Livemint
Livemint, Jan. 23, 2015
How to Design an Indian Classic
The New York Times, January. 8, 2015
The modern revivalists
Livemint, Jan. 24, 2015
Library of masterworks of Indian literature launched
Business Standard, January 15, 2015
New venture makes Indian literary classics accessible
The Times of India, January 16, 2015
First shelf filled in Murty Classical Library of India
The Higher Education, January 22, 2015
Where poetry meets math
The Hindu, January 22, 2015
The Books of Civilisation
Open Magazine, January 16, 2015
Narayana Murthy’s son Rohan Murty to take Indian lit classics global
The Financial Express, January 13, 2015
The Fifth Metro: Found in translation
The Indian Express, January 12, 2015
The Diplomat, December 12, 2014
This interview was originally published on Livemint.com.
Tarun Khanna is the Jorge Paulo Lemann professor at Harvard Business School, where he has studied and worked with multinational and indigenous companies and investors in emerging markets worldwide. He is also Harvard University’s director of South Asia Institute. Khanna has led several courses on strategy, corporate governance, and international business over the years. He currently teaches in Harvard College’s General Education on entrepreneurship in South Asia.
Apart from teaching, Khanna is also actively involved in the start-up ecosystem. In November, Khanna co-founded a Bengaluru-based business incubator, Axilor Ventures. Khanna is also co-founder at Chaipoint, a chain of 70 tea stalls in Delhi and Bengaluru that he started with students about 18 months ago. On the third day of the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), Khanna spoke in an interview about the Narendra Modi government’s engagement with scholars and about incubating start-ups in India. Edited excerpts:
You’ve been voicing concerns about India’s economic progress prior to the new government’s formation. Have your views changed after six months of the Modi government?
There is already a much more concerted attempt (by the new government) to solicit inputs from different people than I ever saw from the previous government, in a much more systematic way. My interpretation from the outside (I’m not part of this government in any way) is that policymakers are reaching out for thoughts from other people and trying to get diversity of views expressed as inputs of their policymaking process.
I would have personally been dismayed if they had come up with some grand pronouncements right off the bat because it would have indicated some degree of thoughtlessness. So I’m quite happy with the idea that they need a few months to think about the right direction and when to announce it. I agree that you will know more in 12-18 months. We are still in the honeymoon period and at some point the honeymoon expires and the results will be seen, but for the moment they appear to be taking a very systematic approach to soliciting inputs and it’s very encouraging.
Have you been approached to pool in ideas for the new government?
Yes, that’s how I know about it. Presumably, and here I’m extrapolating from my conversations with people who are working with the government and in the government, that they are soliciting inputs on topics that supposedly I would know something about. Mine being entrepreneurship and how to re-shape and nudge the fabric of society, the ecosystems in a way that predisposes more young people to starting enterprises of sorts and that’s a game-changer for the country. I don’t see any other way to generate the tens of millions of jobs that we will need over the decades.
Considering there were plenty of bottlenecks carried forward from the previous government, have any of those been corrected so far?
There are, in almost any policy arena, some lower hanging fruits that can be addressed in a year or two and there are some longer-term systemic things that you need to start addressing that take multiple years or even a decade to show results. So, I think it’s a bit early…you should absolutely hold Mr Modi’s feet to the fire in 12-18 months. It’s a bit too soon to declare that there is nothing to be seen as yet, that’s my view at least for now.
So there is a sentimental shift?
Oh yes for sure, there has been a huge sentiment improvement. I think just an expectation of a “can-do” attitude as opposed to a “we can’t do it” attitude, can help the country move forward in a variety of ways. I’m enthused by the motion towards trying to get good policy articulated. There are some good people in the government, technocratic people in the government, and that’s quite reassuring, that’s not always been the case. Certainly watching some of the new appointments, it’s quite reassuring. I won’t agree with them on many things, but that’s not the point, the point is that they are professionally qualified, honest, hard-working people, with a point of view and that’s what we need.
A historic visit is due, with US President Barack Obama visiting India this weekend. What are your thoughts on diplomatic and economic relationships between the two countries?
It is a great sign, there are so many opportunities for joint problem solving that the two countries have. I have fairly extreme views on it, but for instance, a lot of the healthcare experiments that we are running in this country, like mobile healthcare or mobile diagnostics, those things, or things like Devi-Shetty’s hospital in Bangalore, I think those lessons are directly applicable to the US healthcare mess. Similarly, mobile-money and the experiments in the sector, not just in India but other poor countries, are very relevant to some of the areas to the US where we are technologically behind. And the best way to uncover these opportunities is to really open the floodgates and let people interact, engage and have people come up with all sorts of things. So I’m quite excited by the extent to which both administrations are going to signal focus not just on the geo-political issues of the countries, not just Afghanistan-Pakistan and China, because those have to be addressed, but more traction will come if we have economic engagement on the ground.
While you speak of policy changes and your specialization being skill development, what are your thoughts on foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail?
There is no question that a big change in the country, like allowing FDI in retail, will trigger a fair amount of economic surplus and redistribution. Some of the traditional trading communities will, on occasion, be out-competed, but what the society and government need to realize is that the surplus created from organized retail, will be I think in order of magnitude—much greater, than any pain caused by this stress, so I’m hugely in favour of allowing FDI in retail. If you look at the history of any of the countries, a lot of modernization of infrastructure has happened as a result of modernization of the wholesale retail channel and we have tried to skip that step in some ways and that’s been a detriment to everybody other than the trading community. So it’s a challenge for this government.
What are the gaps that need to be plugged in skill development in the country?
There is a lot. I think of them as being three buckets, talent: capital and other enablers of entrepreneurs. In each of these gaps, I see some lower hanging fruit that can address within a year or so, we just need to have a streamlined approach to address these gaps. There are a lot of people in the country who are trying to think and do something this, there are a lot of industrial bodies, no shortage of people who are thinking of bits and pieces in the same things, but the government needs to somehow embrace this collective wisdom and channel it to this streamlined approach.
The place where the government is making some progress is the skill development, and they did a good job with the NSDC (National Skill Development Corporation).
But there are lots of other areas such as provision of debt capital, rationalization of intellectual property, there need to be exit and bankruptcy norms for failed start-ups—it’s very difficult to shut things down. The government should be looking at these issues too. Currently the problem is that different people are taking different shots at these bits and pieces, so we need someone to take a holistic approach of this.
Tell us more about your start-up Chaipoint. How has the journey from teaching entrepreneurship to being an entrepreneur been?
It’s early days, two years old and we’ve opened 70 stores in Bangalore and Delhi and we are opening in Pune soon. We hope to build about a 1,000 stores. It’s the most everyday business we have. We have decided we will use technology and streamline business processes to make it hygienic.
The first year was a year of experimenting, so we actually started small store in Bangalore in Koramangala and one in Pune. The Pune one we shut down pretty quickly because we made some basic mistakes. My student who runs it on a day to day basis, Amuleek Singh Bijral, originally from Patiala, had a career in technology and he and I and another student decided to start this. The experiment took 18 months and we got it angel funded through some colleagues of mine. Now it has some VC (venture capital) fund behind it and it’s scaling pretty nicely. It’s an example of how you can take the most mundane thing and soup it up.
I’ve also opened an incubator in Bangalore—Axilor Ventures—with four colleagues including two co-founders from Infosys. That is just started and it is going to start soliciting applications for students to be residents. We will do 3-4 different types of funds like zero start-ups, for college kids—we will give them small grants. We are also doing investments—decent size, large angel rounds. So right now we are approaching it like an entrepreneurial venture, we are going to struggle and iterate our way to the right model of an incubator. Axilor is my attempt to scale up what I’m doing with some like minded colleagues.
Another attempt by me is Aspiring Minds, which is an aspiring tech-software driven, talent assessment enterprise that started in Delhi (in Gurgaon) and now is the nation’s best talent assessment by far. It is used by 1,000 corporates now, we do a sweep of about 3000 colleges, we are in 6-7 countries, we just entered US and will enter China. It helps companies find talent they normally wouldn’t find and helps people with not-so-fancy degrees but who are smart, to find jobs.
What are your thoughts on liberal arts education?
I think it’s fabulous. People at HBS (Harvard Business School), lots of them who get in are from humanities, along with a mix of scientists, engineers and people from conventional economic backgrounds. I am a big fan of liberal arts education. I was to go to IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) Madras, but I chose to go to Princeton partly because I thought it would be much more intellectually stimulating.
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.
Modi is also engineering a massive infrastructure renewal by financing major investments in railroads ($100 billion alone), ports, roads, energy, and education. Indian planners say they need to build a city the size of Chicago annually to accommodate a rapidly urbanizing population. But a new wave of foreign investment won’t happen unless Modi pushes real reform measures through Parliament.
India and the United States are also drawn together by a common interest in countering terrorist and cyber threats. They are also focused on a newly assertive China under Xi Jinping’s leadership. Indian leaders complain that China continues to contest their disputed land border and is executing a “string of pearls’’ naval strategy by establishing access rights to ports in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Pakistan to hem in the Indian Navy in the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea.
This aggressive Chinese strategy has prompted India to seek closer naval and air cooperation with the United States as well as Japan, Australia, and the Philippines. Concerns about China will unite India and the United States in common cause for the decade to come. Both want to engage China economically and on issues such as climate change and proliferation. But neither is willing to see China dominate the critical sea lanes of the Indian Ocean and South China Sea through which a major share of the world’s energy and container traffic are shipped. India wants the US military to remain a major presence in the region. And many senior Indians argue that the United States should reconsider plans to remove its military from Afghanistan by the end of 2016 lest the Taliban be unleashed.
Obama will be received warmly in this vast country whose people have a genuinely upbeat view of the United States. Still, Washington has significant differences to work out with India on global trade talks, climate change, the frozen civil nuclear deal, and Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Crimea. Many here and in the United States also worry about Modi’s ties to the extremist Hindu nationalist movement the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh). These are not insignificant problems in this unique but sometimes frustrating partnership. But the long-term trend lines are mostly positive, which gives Obama and Kerry an opening to refashion ties with this key Asian rising power.
Nicholas Burns will chair a SAI Special Event, titled ‘The Politickle Pickle: A Conversation on Indo-US Relations‘ with Tanvi Madan of the Brookings Institution, which will be rescheduled.
Broken 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
SAI: Can you talk more about Paraveena Ahanger – I found her to have so much strength and courage for the work that she is doing. Where does that come from for the women, after struggling for so long without their family members?
NB: When I first met her, I was completely astonished by the courage of this mother, and her journey of searching for her son Javed in all the detention camps and prisons and army outposts. It’s a huge journey. I think women like Paraveena have a sense of resilience in them.
On top of that, the Kashmiri society and geography is very closed off – it is surrounded by high mountain ranges; it is a Himalayan territory. I personally think that there is a connection between the geographical factors that impact people. The harsh winters, the hardships of life generally in the villages of Kashmir are what can make a person resolute.
Another most important thing that I realized after a number of visits is how the culture of this particular society in Kashmir has a huge Sufi influence and faith system, which is not so much practiced in Islam throughout the world – it is slightly deviant. Yet, it is a strong and peaceful belief system that the local society has followed for years. In the film, you see her [Paraveena] praying, and there are shots of her going to shrines, which she does on a regular basis.
I think there is a huge amount of spiritual and active faith system working within these women, because otherwise, if we take it on a regular day-to-day basis, we will never be able to cope with the fact that our young sons and husbands and brothers have been taken. Coping with this needs something extra, and I think the women of Kashmir are very faith-bound. The Sufism, which is practiced in Kashmir, gives them a huge amount of strength.
SAI: Were the women receptive to you telling their story? Do they want the world to know what has happened?
NB: There are two sections of women [in Kashmir]. One section is made of women like Paraveena, who had gone ahead and made it their mission in life to find out what happened to their sons, brothers, and husbands. Another section includes women who are getting drawn to the movement which Paraveena had started, so they are slowly becoming aware of the justice system, which they think can give them a solution or conclusion. If there is a third category, it is the women who do not have access to the justice system, or who are far away from the resources which would enable them a kind of justice.
It is a universal story, because when I see Paraveena, and I see her resilience, I easily equate the struggle with South American mothers, for example, or Indonesian mothers, or African mothers, or anyone in a conflict-ridden society.
SAI: One thing that is striking about the film is your use of poetry throughout the narrative.
NB: I used that technique because, as a filmmaker, whenever I had seen a film based on a conflict-ridden society, there was always a certain stereotyping in terms of the directorial narrative. For example, if there is a film about Congo, or Palestine, or Peru, there would be a certain kind of narrative. I wanted to avoid that. And because my perspective was entirely from a woman’s point of view, I wanted to use poetry that would bind the entire narrative.
SAI: As a filmmaker, what kind of role do you see film and documentaries, and more generally, art, playing in activism and social change?
NB: I have just completed a photographic book on Kashmir. What we have done as a team is we have tried to have an image of Kashmir which is beyond the conflict. There is life beyond the army outposts in any conflict-ridden area, be it Afghanistan, Iraq, or Palestine.
I have tried to capture that life in this photographic book. For example, how a small child going to school, or a woman who is out on the road to make a living, are going about their daily life. I have tried to capture the life of common people whose destiny is not associated with the larger conflict of the place. So this is what a filmmaker or photographer can do. Instead of continuously projecting the bloodshed or the gory war, or issues of crisis, one can also project life that is ongoing – a narrative of the daily life.
The culture of Kashmir is very distinct. There, every day, a small boy or girl goes out early in the morning and gets handmade bread and enjoys it with an early cup of tea. And while going to the baker from one’s home, one will cross five army outposts. Kashmir has one of the highest army to civilian ratios in a peace period of time, only ranking behind Afghanistan. Wherever they [the civilians] are, they can not avoid these army postings.
As a filmmaker, photographer, or artist, all of us have the responsibility to project these elements of life in conflict. There can be visuals of a conflict area that go beyond the bombing sites and scenes of destruction. Eventually, this can help inform public opinion that may draw the attention of policy makers, and result in a better understanding of the situation. In a country like India or China, it is very complex.
SAI: You said you made this film from a woman’s perspective – what are your thoughts on how men and women experience these types of conflicts differently?
NB: There is a difference in approach between men and women in Kashmir. For example, for Paraveena, she was the one who took up this battle [of justice for the disappeared]. Still today, she is the one who has continued. She has four children, and her youngest daughter has taken it upon herself to fulfill the mission. However, Javed’s [Paraveena’s son] father, who was equally sad and depressed about the situation, had moved on with life.
I think the attitude with which men generally have is that after a point, they would let it go. The sustaining of many advocacy groups [like Paraveena’s] is largely because they have a woman leader. This helped me understand, from a gender point of view, how the conflict impacted the women more.
While researching the conflict, I found that many movies, films, and documentaries prepared on the Kashmir conflict in India, are, either coincidentally or rationally, led by women. In many cases, women have taken an active role in disseminating the whole situation to the rest of the media.
SAI: What does the future hold for Kashmir, and these women?
NB: I think the future of Kashmir is a very complex scenario. In a way, the Kashmiri people are extremely resilient, that for the last decades they have battled the conflict and they have moved on in life. That is the future of Kashmir. Life has to go on in Kashmir – it shouldn’t be crippled under the pressure of the state. The filmmakers, the artist, the poets, and everyone involved in media, should have active participation in continuing the dialogue of Kashmir with state representatives and stakeholders in whatever form they can. The state should not forget about the crisis of Kashmir, and that it is integral to India.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
On 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.
Yet, in every sphere— public and private, urban and rural, conservative and liberal—today’s presenters stressed the importance of assigning value to what we do. As our country enjoys greater importance on an international stage, we must look to development of our own social consciousness in every sphere. In India, a country that shelters one-fifth of humanity, the narrative that our generation crafts cannot be the narrative of our forefathers—we simply cannot afford it. The cost of moving forward without attention paid to our conscience and moral growth is too heavy for our society, government and even economy to bear.” - Zeenia Framroze, Harvard College’15
Highlights from Twitter:
Harvard US India Initiative was the best thing to happen to me !! pic.twitter.com/dY6HbDYGKh
— Archna Yadav (@archnaysblog) January 12, 2015
provocative and enlightening two days at HUII 2015, with accomplished personalities from all walks of life #harvard_us_india_initiative
— AAKANKSHA MIRDHA (@mirdhaaakanksha) January 12, 2015
Pearls of wisdom – integrity, competence and diversity – from Jayant Sinha’s at #HUII15.
— Aakash Aggarwal (@aakashsays1) January 10, 2015
— Sunit Jain (@Dhoklebaaz) January 10, 2015
“Change is the name of the game” Jairam Ramesh today at Harvard US India Initiative.
— Surbhi Arora (@surbheeee) January 9, 2015
Ideas are bullet proof says one of the speakers (Gautam Patel). Frees speech is not about comfort or conformity. #HUII15
— nikhil dey (@deydreaming) January 9, 2015
By Payal Narain, Program 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.
The seminar explored these needs in three separate sessions, new developments and the implementation of middle school, high school and college curriculum. The fifth and final session of the seminar was devoted to discussions for the creation of a three-year action plan to develop and implement educational curriculum for adolescents to address gender norms.
The first session started with a welcome address by Meena Hewett, SAI Executive Director, followed by an introduction and background to the Harvard Gender Violence Project by Jacqueline Bhabha, FXB Director of Research; Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights, Harvard School of Public Health; Jeremiah Smith, Jr. Lecturer in Law, Harvard Law School; Adjunct Lecturer, Harvard Kennedy School. Akshay Mangla, Assistant Professor, Harvard Business School, presented an overview of the current state of gender-relevant curriculum in middle school, high school, and college.
The first session ended with a presentation by Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director, Population Foundation of India on the organization’s innovative developments in communicating gender roles and changing stereotypes.
During the conference, SAI reinforced its commitment to supporting faculty-lead programs to address gender issues, both in-region and at Harvard. Professor Bhabha outlined the history of the Harvard Gender Violence Project that came into being in the wake of the brutal rape that took place in Delhi in December 2012, which sent shock waves throughout the world. South Asian students influenced Harvard faculty to convene to discuss this issue.
In India, the three-member Justice Verma committee was set up to report on the case, and suggest amendments to the law to prevent and punish sexual offences. The committee reached out to Professor Diane Rosenfeld, Gender Violence Program, Harvard Law School, for her viewpoint and inputs on criminal laws on sexual assault.
Subsequently, SAI became involved, and in July 2013 the organized an interdisciplinary conference on ‘Gender Justice and Criminal Law Reform’ in Delhi which was attended by leading law-makers, including the two surviving members of the Verma committee, police officials, education specialists, researchers and gender activists. Professor Akshay Mangla of Harvard Business School also joined the Harvard Gender Violence team. A seminar was held at the Radcliffe Institute in August 2014 and a webinar on tackling gender based violence was held by Professor Bhabha in November 2013.
During the first session, Professor Mangla gave a brief overview of his research and other available data on the current state of gender-relevant curriculum in middle school, high school and college. Survey results showed that while there was a wide gap in the policy and delivery of sex education, there was a clear demand – not only from women, but from men, who also thought that sex education was necessary.
Professor Mangla presented statistical data regarding the appropriate age to initiate gender based education, and who should impart it: parents or teachers. However, due to deep-seated taboos on the subject, parent-child and teacher-child communication is often poor, so often awareness is lacking. Clearly, innovation is needed to address this issue.
Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director, PFI, outlined the work of PFI, and highlighted the 2013 introduction of PFI’s very successful and innovative tool, entertainment education, in the form of a transmedia serial – Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon (I, a Woman can Achieve Anything) to communicate gender roles and implement behaviour change. The success of the program in its first season was based on feedback from viewers, which showed that this medium could reach out to the masses on a large scale, both in urban and in rural India.
The second session, facilitated by Akshay Mangla, addressed Middle School Curriculum Development and obstacles to implementation.The panelists included Maninder Kaur Dwivedi, Executive Director (Transport), Food Corporation of India (FCI), Shantha Sinha, Professor, Former Chair, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, Hyderabad and Prabha Nagaraja, Executive Director, Talking about Reproductive Health and Sexual Issues (TARSHI).
Government policy and adolescent education materiel in textbooks were also discussed. It was stated that much of the materiel available does not communicate the required gender values. While a number of government programs under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), like the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya Program (KGBV), and the Mahila Samakhya Scheme (MS), focus on encouraging education for the girl child, some Indian states were currently showing a drop in enrollment of boys. Therefore, state policy should be formulated taking local concerns into account. Many girls in school are exposed to gender-based violence – from mental to actual physical assault.
The need to scale up good pilot projects was stressed during the session, since the schemes launched were not achieving the necessary targets. Programs for scholarships and residential spaces for girls need expansion. There was further discussion regarding a change in nomenclature – Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE), instead of sex education, since many are apt to misinterpret this. It was also thought that CSE should start at the kindergarten level, to teach children about their body parts and sensitize them regarding ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’.
Session III of the event discussed the development of, and obstacles to implementation of Curriculum at the High School level and innovative practices. Jacqueline Bhabha facilitated the session with panelists Gurjot Kaur, Additional Chief Secretary and Principal Secretary, Women and Child Development, Rajasthan, Kanchan Mathur and Shobhita Rajagopal, Institute of Development Studies, and Ravi Verma, Director, International Center for Research on Women.
The panel discussed a male-centric approach to understanding the concept of masculinity through the Gender Equality Movement in Schools (GEMS) mainly related to HIV-AIDS awareness. This GEMS diary was inculcated into the school curriculum and provided a platform for parent-child interaction on gender sensitive issues. The Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) and the Kishori Shakti Yojana (KSJ) are government schemes that focus on secondary education and their relevance was discussed. The KSJ seeks to empower adolescent girls through nutrition and informal education, through a girl-to-girl approach. Girls wanting to go for more advanced studies face several obstacles that cause them to quit, in spite of their aspirations. Therefore, it is important to highlight success stories.
Session IV discussed College Curriculum, with Akshay Mangla facilitating. Panelists included Keshav Desiraju, Secretary, Consumer Affairs, Government of India, Mary E. John, Professor and Senior Fellow, Centre for Women’s Development Studies, and Aparajita Gogoi, Executive Director, Centre for Catalyzing Change.
The University Grants Commission (UGC) Saksham Report on steps taken for women’s safety and gender sensitisation in colleges and its depressing results were discussed. Either the minimum, or none, of the safety requirements were in place. Reform in teacher curriculum was urgently required – primary and secondary school teachers had some training related to gender issues, whereas this was completely lacking at the college level. Some participants recommended that the curriculum be developed in tandem with parents and teachers.
The panel also perceived greater scope for safe residential spaces for girl students so that they can be distanced from the negative impact of the home, since even the home is not a particularly safe zone for young women. Parallels were also drawn between incidents of sexual violence in Indian colleges and those that took place on campuses overseas.
The final session discussed the Next Steps for addressing gender norms in education, facilitated by Professor Bhabha. The key recommendations were that interventions by key stakeholders, family, schools, government, and non- governmental interventions were necessary to formulate and implement curriculum for adolescent education. SAI is ideally placed to convene such programs and scale up partnerships moving forward.
“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.
Namrata Narain: In the past couple of years, India has seen a huge change in its fortune. Two or three years back, the Indian economy was downgraded to an almost “junk” status by multiple financial agencies across the world. But after the elections in early last year, things started looking better; a new government came into power which promised development and an economic agenda to free the country from its socialist hangover.
All of us Indian international students at Harvard sat down and were talking about this change in India, and we thought that the time was right to talk about how we, as students, could participate in this larger trend of people moving forward, not just economically but ideologically. I think we are at a wonderful position now to contribute to this discussion on how India can be made better.
For the last couple of years, the larger narrative was focused on what was wrong with India, and I think in this conference, we are going to focus more on how we can make those wrongs right.
SAI: That’s great that you have a positive approach to the issues rather than negative.
NN: Exactly, because that generally does reflect the spirit of India right now. There is much more optimism, and the current government has an approval rating of 70%, which is unprecedented. There is a general feeling of happiness and optimism in the country.
[Based on the interest in the conference] there is a general belief that everyone can do something to improve India, which is very different from my parents’ generation, who thought individual efforts would go unnoticed. That is what we are going to embody in the conference – how we can individually contribute, one step at a time.
We are incredibly excited to interact with the speakers. We have made sure that each speaker has an incredible reputation in their field. We have journalists who are known throughout the country for being fair and un-biased and are extremely popular. We have professors from the best universities coming. We have the biggest names in the government.
We have all these incredible people who are where they are because they are extremely smart, and I think interacting with them and with each other will help us get a wider idea about what people are thinking about these problems.
SAI: What do you see as some of the challenges facing higher education in India, and what do you think the US and India could learn from each other?
NN: I think the Indian education system is interesting in how it sees the people who come first. For the students who are at the top of their high school or of their state, there are incredible opportunities and wonderful universities who produce all the leaders this country has. But, for people not in the top 5%, the education system is absolutely abysmal, and abysmal to the point that a lot of my very good friends go to universities where no one feels they need to work hard towards education. I’m unsure of why that is, which is why we have so many questions in the panel [on education at the conference].
One thing, in my opinion, that the best universities in the West can teach Indian universities is this value of academic honesty. At Harvard, I found it extremely difficult to come to terms with how absolutely honest I had to be in my work; this was a very new concept for someone who came from an education system that did not care or value original thought. I think the Indian system stands to gain a lot from honest academic research work that initiates original thought.
SAI: Can you talk a little about HUII’s mission, and what the group aims to do in the future?
NN: HUII is a very young organization. It was started 4 years ago when the founders realized we had so many great cultural organizations on campus, but none that catered to discussing concrete political, economic, or social problems in India. HUII tried to fill this gap by hosting conferences in India and the US. This conference is the first of this scale, and is aimed at making HUII a larger organization and defining its focus.
Most of us [in HUII] are students from India who are studying at Harvard. HUII is one way for us to keep in touch with what is happening in India. I think it’s very easy for international students to lose touch with the problems in their country. I, for the longest time, was more aware of what was happening with US politics rather than knowing full well what was happening with the elections in India.
HUII is one catalyst to bring forward these discussions and what is happening back in the homeland, which is an incredible resource. Moving forward, we will continue conducting such conferences and focusing on concrete policy-making initiatives and the concrete desire to create change and give back.
This interview has been edited lightly for clarity and length.
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.”
-Jacqueline Ma, Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology, Harvard College 2016; Harvard Bangalore Science Initiative, Bangalore
“Spending a summer exploring the educational system in India was both sobering and enlightening. Nevertheless, every experience reinforced the importance of education.”
-Sara Melissa Theiss, Psychology, Harvard College 2015, Prasad Fellow; VidyaGyan Leadership Academy, Uttar Pradesh
“Although the summer is indeed a very hot time in Delhi and not the most comfortable period of the year to reside there, this summer confirmed my belief that the city is a growing hub of intellectual activity and energy… An entire scholarly community from around the world descends upon Delhi during this time. I had the opportunity engage with and be part of this group, and I am extremely grateful.”
-Madhav Khosla, PhD Candidate, Department of Government; Centre for Policy Research, Delhi
“While both of us have worked in India before, this was also the first time we had run our own survey. We became very aware of all of the things, small and large, that can go wrong when doing fieldwork. The grant from SAI gave us the opportunity to run a small pilot survey that gave us the experience we needed so that our future surveys are run more smoothly.”
-Heather Sarsons, PhD Candidate, Department of Economics, GSAS; Dowry Payments and Female Welfare in India
Summer Grant Applications Deadlines:
All Graduate Grant Applications: February 13, 2015
All Undergraduate Grant Applications: February 9, 2015
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.
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, firstname.lastname@example.org
SAI offers three opportunities for scholars and practitioners to continue their research at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Please note: Do not write directly to Harvard faculty regarding SAI’s Fellowship opportunities. If you have questions, please consult our Frequently Asked Questions guide or email Program Manager, Nora Maginn, email@example.com
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
Arthur Bauer, MPA-ID, Harvard Kennedy School
Assessing microfinance’s effectiveness in alleviating poverty, India
Jeffrey Bryant, MPP/MBA, Harvard Kennedy School/Harvard Business School
January Term Research Position with HKS Evidence for Policy Design (EPoD) India Team, India
Ishani Desai, MPA-ID, Harvard Kennedy School
Understanding the factors that influence adoption: A study on menstrual practices and sanitary pad adoption in Gujarat, India
Hardeep Dhillon, PhD, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
Research project seeks to retrieve the history of the women’s movement in the 1970’s through the collection of oral histories. Following the guidelines established by the Oral History Association, Dhillon intends to interview prominent members of the 1970’s women’s movement, India
Joshua Ehrlich, History, PhD, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
The East India Company and the Politics of Knowledge, 1772-1835, India
Michael Haggerty, M.Arch 1, Graduate School of Design
Vernacular Construction for Urban Housing: New Structures for Architectural Practice to Deliver Sustainable Housing in Bangladesh
Madiha Irfan, MTS. Harvard Divinity School
Debates over the “Islamization” of Divorce Law in Pakistan
Rakesh Peter Dass, Th.D., Harvard Divinity School
Why Hindi? Translation Choices and Vernacular Literature Among Indian Christians, India
Jonathan Phillips, PhD,Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
Who Implements Programmatic Education Policies? Researching Surprising Patterns in Indian States, India
Sarika Ringwala, PhD in Public Policy
Empowering Citizens Through Service Delivery Reforms, India
Divya Sooryakumar, Ed. M, Harvard Graduate School of Education
Creating an SMS-based solution to an information gap for mothersto enhance their early childhood education and development practices for infants through the first 3 years of their lives, India
Hector Tarrido Picart, MAUD & MLA, Graduate School of Design
Remote Sensing Mumbai, India
Maria Qazi, MPA-ID, Harvard Kennedy School
Social protection and state legitimacy – the Case of Benazir Income Support Program
Chesley Ekelem, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and Health Policy, Harvard College ‘16
Internship with St. Jude ChildCare Centres, Mumbai, India
Angela Leocata, Harvard College ’18
Little Stars Internship to Develop English and Writing Program, Varanasi, India
Fei (Michelle) Lin, Human Developmental and Regenerative Bio, Harvard College ‘17
Internship at Heal Asia’s inaugural project – Sri Lanka Medical Relief Program, Sri Lanka Ministry of Health, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka
Jacqueline Ma, Human Developmental and Regenerative Bio and East Asian Studies, Harvard College ’16
Internship at HealAsia, Sri Lanka Ministry of Health, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Tarik Adnan Moon, Mathematics and Computer Science, Harvard College ‘15
Research on changing education in the third world countries using cheap computing devices, Dhaka, Bangladesh
Ishani Premaratne, Anthropology and Health Policy, Harvard College ’15
Work on GrowLanka and completion of partnership with Sri Lankan Youth Ministry, Vavuniya, Sri Lanka
Mass casualty incidents, from terrorist attacks, floodings, earthquakes to bus accidents, are chaotic. With proper knowledge about the principles of triage, even those with no medical training can help.
Mass casualty triage was the topic of SAI’s second webinar of the semester, on Nov. 19, on disaster management with Dr. Usha Periyanayagam (@uperiy), MD, MPH, International Emergency Medicine Fellow, Department of Emergency Medicine, Brigham & Women’s Hospital; Harvard Medical School.
Eight universities from three countries in South Asia participated in the interactive session, using videoconference software provided by the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (HEC), with a participation of around 100 students in South Asia, with many more watching online.
Dr. Periyanayagam has worked with SAI and the Aman Foundation to improve disaster response in Karachi, and has extensive experience in emergency settings around the world.
During the webinar, Dr. Periyanayagam explained that “triage” is not treatment – it is a method of sorting injured people and deciding who gets treatment first. “The goal of triage is doing the greatest good for the greatest number – it’s not doing everything you can for every patient,” Dr. Periyanayagam explained. She cited the 2013 Boston marathon bombing as an example of triage working correctly – of the 250 who were injured, no one who was transported to hospital died.
In many places in the developing world, including South Asia, inefficient triage can lead to patients dying who could have otherwise been saved. For example, if someone is slightly injured but is still able to yell and talk, they are sometimes the first taken to the hospital because they are persistent. With proper triage, they should be the last treated – those who are most injured are the ones who can not vocalize that they need help.
For people with no medical training, Dr. Periyanayagam explained that there are four main questions that should be used to evaluate each injured person:
- Can they walk? Anyone who is able to walk on their own should be separated from the more seriously injured.
- Can they breathe? Ask people if they need help, and anyone who can yell or scream is able to breathe sufficiently.
- Do they have a pulse? Another useful tip is to test their capillary refill – if you press on their skin and the color does not quickly go back to normal, they are seriously injured.
- Can they follow commands? Whether or not they are following instructions is an indicator of their mental state.
After a 15-30 second evaluation for each injured person using the questions above, Dr. Periyanayagam explained the process of color coding the injured. It is important to keep groups separate if possible to prevent confusion. The injured should be split in to four color categories, which will indicate how quickly they should get to a hospital:
- Black: Dead or unsalvageable, and will be brought to the morgue.
- Red: In need of immediate treatment, and will go to a hospital first. Red patients have abnormal breathing, pulse, and mental status.
- Yellow: Will receive delayed treatment. They have normal breathing, normal cap refill, and normal mental status.
- Green: Anyone who is wounded but walking – they should go to a clinic or somewhere other than hospital.
Dr. Periyanayagam also shared some tips for treating patients in the field even if you do not have a medical background. Controlling hemorrhage should be the first task, since loss of blood frequently leads to death for trauma patients.
First, pressure should be applied to the site that is bleeding, even if it causes pain. Dr. Periyanayagam said that many people make the mistake of not pressing hard enough because it pains the patient. Next, the bleeding body part can be lifted above the heart, which can help stop the bleeding.
Dr. Periyanayagam explained that tourniquets should be used only if all other attempts to control bleeding has failed. A tourniquet is a device used to stop bleeding by tying something tight above the injured body part, but can be dangerous and can cause damage. A tourniquet can be made with what is available, for example a scarf or belt, and should not be used for more than 90 minutes, or the result can be permanent damage.
Spinal immobilization is also important to make sure that a person is not paralyzed. Dr. Periyanayagam explained that it is important that the injured cannot turn their back or neck, so use anything you have available to immobilize them – for example, two shoes taped around the head. A splint can also be made using available materials, to set a broken leg or arm.
The webinar was a valuable instructional tool in the principles of triage, that should be widely known to everyone, even those not in the medical community. “Doing something is still better than doing nothing,” Dr. Periyanayagam said, in situations with mass casualties.
Students and faculty at participating universities had the opportunity to ask Dr. Periyanayagam questions directly during the webinar, as well as on social media. (See the conversation on Twitter here). Participating universities included Christ University in Bangalore, India, De La Salle University, Manila, Phillippines, and several universities from all over Pakistan.
The next webinar is TBD. Please check our website for updates. We will be adding more resources to our website in the future.
Bartholomew was the first artist to come to Harvard as part of SAI’s new Arts Initiative, which brings experienced and emerging artists to Cambridge whose work focus is on social issues related to South Asia, with support from the Donald T. Regan Lecture Fund. His works have been published in the New York Times, Newsweek, Time, Business Week, and National Geographic.
Bartholomow spoke at two SAI events during his week at Harvard. In a seminar on Nov. 4, ‘Anatomy of a Man-Made Disaster: Thirty Years Later, Remembering the Bhopal Gas Tragedy’, he spoke about his first-hand experience documenting the world’s worst industrial disaster. In A Personalized History of Indian Photography, 1880 to 2010, Bartholomow took the audience on a photographic journey in which he shared a collection of Indian photographers who have influenced him.
Bartholomew’s exhibit Coded Elegance will be on display at Harvard until Jan. 31, 2015 (CGIS South Concourse, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA; Open to the public Mondays-Thursdays 7am – 9pm; Fridays 7am – 7pm.) Coded Elegance is a series of ethno-anthropological photographs of tribes and people of the hills and valleys of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, and Manipur, taken from 1989 to 2000.
During his visit to Harvard, SAI sat down with Bartholomew to discuss his photo exhibit, the aftermath of the Bhopal tragedy, how photojournalism is changing, and how his South Asian heritage has influenced his work:
SAI: You said in your seminar on Bhopal that you viewed the victims’ lack of compensation as a “collective failure of the media.” What would success have looked like to you?
PB: Well, success for Bhopal would have been ten times, or a hundred times the volume of money, and the money actually reaching the victims and cutting out all the fraud, red tape, and all the corruption. That’s one part of it. The other, if there was a lot more money and a vision, then the cleanup, which is equally important, could have been completed at a very early stage.
Right now they don’t know what to do with all the chemicals sitting in there. It could have environmental consequences and health issues. There is talk about creating a dump to get rid of the chemicals – but where is that dump going to be? How is it going to be contained? So it’s one of those industrial issues, a modern contemporary issue, that is the same thing as what’s happened in Japan [the earthquake in Fukushima].
SAI: How do you think people are viewing the tragedy now, and how has this changed over time?
PB: People are just now tired. That’s what happens to anything – there’s a fatigue that sets in. It’s the same way that journalism has changed and the media has changed, because you hardly have any hard news anymore – it’s all about lifestyle and fashion, about people’s aspirations, because that’s easier to do, rather than look at the bad and the ugly.
SAI: How has photojournalism changed?
PB: There is no money now for long-term projects which show depth and have density. Right now, everything is about illustration. Now, media is being run by lawyers and bankers. It’s not being run by the old-style editorial people. It’s not just India – I’m talking worldwide, in America and the West. Everything is in flux. Look at Time magazine or Newsweek. And part of it is that the Internet has thrown the media houses into flux, because they didn’t know how to deal with the change and create a revenue model.
SAI: If a tragedy like Bhopal happened this year, would the media have reacted differently?
PB: Well, you would have had a lot more cell phone photos and much more immediate coverage. Citizen journalism would be thriving and active.
SAI: For people who are citizen journalists, and post photos on Instagram, there is a debate about whether that is good or bad for photography – what do you think?
PB: I don’t have a problem with any of that personally, because I use this analogy: Everybody can write, but who are the great writers, who can move people with their writing beyond cultural boundaries? It’s the same thing – everybody can photograph and make compelling pictures at a certain moment in time. It’s all a question of here and now. But what they do with their thought process, and how they continue to create year after year, is what matters.
The only thing that bothers me with the blogging and Instagram, is the process of authentication. In a media house, you always have the scenario where the journalist on the field reported, then there were researchers who fact-checked, and there was an editorial layer of what makes a story. That has its upsides and downsides.
SAI: SAI’s Arts Initiative brings artists to Harvard whose work focuses on social change. Can you talk about how you see art or photography playing a role in making social change?
Pablo Bartholomew: I don’t know if social change is possible like a pill, where you take a pill and your headache goes away. I think it’s much more of a very slow process. If people are looking for immediate results, I don’t think that there is going to be that sort of instant gratification. I think any kind of change is a gradual process, and then once you have marked the beginning, then you can see how much progress there is. And of course, people have to be prepared for failure. And that’s one of the humbling aspects, to see how that failure can be gratifying.
SAI: Can you talk about your exhibit [Coded Elegance] that is on display? It’s so vibrant and colorful. What drew you to the Nagas people, and lead you to document them?
PB: Many of my personal bodies of work have a resonance with family. There are 30 Naga tribes between Arunachal, Nagaland, and Manipur, which border Burma to the East and Arunachal on the North borders China. It was originally the Nagas in Nagaland that I went to photograph and discover for myself, because of childhood stories. When my father was escaping the Japanese during the Second World War, and walking to India, he encountered the Naga tribes. Currently, I am trying to find permission to walk the route, the General Stilwell Route, into Burma, a 30-day march that my father walked.
This project has a resonance and family history for me. When I went there [Nagaland], I found this amazingly beautiful people. For other exhibits I have done on the Nagas people, I called them ‘Marked with Beauty.’
This exhibit is called ‘Coded Elegance,’ which points a finger at the fashion industry in India, because this [the Nagas] is true fashion. Every object that they wear, or every piece of fabric or jewelry or marking, has a meaning. You can only get certain markings or wear certain jewelry if you have achieved a certain kind of merit. Everything is very visual. That is why there is a ‘Code.’
SAI: While you were working on the exhibit, did you ever feel like an outsider trying to understand this code?
PB: No – I feel much closer to that end of the world anyway, since my mother is half from Bengal, in the East, and my father is from Burma. I have always been fascinated by tribes, and tribal people. I started to make many friends with the Nagas kids who came to study in Delhi, so there was already a bond. Through them, I learned about their culture.
SAI: How were you received as someone looking to document their culture? Were they open to sharing?
PB: Not necessarily. That’s part of the hardship – it [the photo collection] took me about 10 years, from 1989 to 2000. There is a fair amount of time that I invested in the region. Many of these practices now are ceremonial or hidden.
SAI: Can you talk about the colors – they are so vibrant in this exhibit. On the other hand, many of your Bhopal photos are black and white. How do you see the difference between black and white and color photography? Is that always a conscious choice?
PB: Black and white is beautiful – but it lost its commercial applicability within the media after the mid-80s. Then everything went color. For many years, even Time magazine in the 80s published black and white, until they went color. It’s kind of sad that you couldn’t shoot black and white. On the other hand, to be able to masterfully handle color is not the easiest thing. Now, with the digital era, it has become much easier.
SAI: What is your process like as a photographer – are you always in the photographer mindset?
PB: I think it’s a natural process of having a recording device with you. Not always is what you do is great – you fail a lot, and it’s the jewels that shine through.
SAI: One of SAI’s Seminar Series tracks is ‘South Asia Without Borders.’ In your work, how do you see borders in South Asia, and also as someone whose heritage represents many countries in South Asia?
PB: That is something I’m working on – I’m starting in Burma, and I plan to work over the next 5 years all over the region. I will work in Bangladesh, Pakistan, in India, all to connect the family thread.
This interview has been edited lightly for clarity and length.