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News Category: In Region

SAI and Tata Trusts Begin Social Enterprise Partnership in India


Harvard Faculty Jacqueline Bhabha, Conor Walsh and Satchit Balsari

(l-r) Jacqueline Bhabha, Conor Walsh and Satchit Balsari


A wide range of India-focused research, innovation and social entrepreneurship projects are under way, led by leading Harvard University scholars and academic colleagues from two other world-class educational institutions: the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of California, Berkeley (UCB), in an unprecedented collaboration with Tata Trusts, one of India’s largest and most important philanthropic organizations.

This is Phase II of a long-term partnership between Tata Trusts and the Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute (SAI), Harvard University. Phase I was a series of successful pilot projects over an 18-month period, in three areas: women’s empowerment, rural livelihood creation in the handicrafts sector, and the use of science and technology for livelihood creation.

“We have a lot to learn from challenges on the ground while sharing what we as academics uncover through our deep dive research on issues affecting entrepreneurship in India. This partnership with the Tata Trusts is laying the foundation for innovative knowledge exchange between academia and practitioners.” – Professor Tarun Khanna, Director, SAI, and Professor, Harvard Business School.

“We’re looking forward to continuing our partnership with the Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute at Harvard University, which has a unique capacity to gather together the best minds from a wide variety of disciplines, all dedicated to solving the most complex social problems in India.” – Manoj Kumar, Head of Innovation, Tata Trusts.

The projects, described below, are firmly rooted in India and based on rigorous field research on the ground.




Prototyping Wearable Robotics for Physical Disability

Faculty: Conor Walsh (Harvard)

The development of a series of consumer-oriented, affordable, wearable devices, to address physical disability in India.


Task-shifting, Training and Technology: Validating the 3T model

Faculty: Satchit Balsari (Harvard)

This project will prototype the 3T model for primary healthcare delivery, through the use of mobile and digital health technologies.


Project Prakash

Faculty: Pawan Sinha (MIT)

Treatment for curably blind children, illuminating fundamental questions regarding the brain and learning.


Low-cost Toilets in India

Faculty: Rahul Mehrotra (Harvard)

An examination of the issue of public sanitation in Mumbai, with a special focus on community toilets in the city’s slums and informal settlements.


Unpacking Prevention: Community-level Strategies to Build Child Protection and Rights in India

Faculty: Jacqueline Bhabha (Harvard)

Field research in West Bengal, Bihar and Telangana.


Deflouridation Water Filters

Faculty: Ashok Gadgil (University of Berkeley, California)

India has over 66 million people facing risk of developing fluorosis and it is also home to the 5th largest bauxite deposit (3037 million tonnes). This study systematically investigates the factors governing performance of diversely-sourced bauxite ores.


Maternal and Child Health and Nutrition:

Faculty: Chris Duggan (Harvard)

The SAI team would act as the platform on which entrepreneurs in the nutrition and food industry could come together and learn from global experts in the field to design and fund new industries and/or new commercial products that are well designed for mother and children.


Cook Stoves

Faculty: Ashok Gadgil (University of Berkeley, California)

Berkeley has stove designs that reduce fuel consumption per meal by 50%, cost US$20, and produce 50% less smoke than a traditional biomass fire.


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Student Voices: Education in Maharashtra and Gujarat


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

This Winter Session, Cole Scanlon traveled to India to conduct fieldwork for his thesis which will include a cross-country comparison of school leaders in India and the USA. 

Scanlon is passionate about equity in education around the globe. Over the past two years, Scanlon and his collaborator, Luke Heine, have worked together to create a Harvard students’ guide aimed at leveling the playing field in college admissions, and have launched the nonprofit Fair Opportunity Project.


Transcript from Cole Scanlon’s Vlog


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Harvard College International Photo Contest Winners

Congratulations to the following Harvard College students, who have been 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 – from study programs, grants, internships, and so on – and SAI selects winners for photos from South Asia. The winners were announced at a reception on February 2, 2018.

View past winners.


Special Prize: “Washing Machine” by Beverly Brown, Mumbai, India 

“Two summers ago my sister and I went on a backpacking trip through Asia. She had just graduated college, and we wanted to take advantage of her time before she started work. After much debate, we decided to go to India and Japan. We had traveled together through Europe before, but for this trip, we were looking to broaden our horizons and experience new things. 

In India, we got a taste of a completely different way of life. This laundry service in Mumbai washes the clothes of hundreds of families. Workers walk around the neighborhood collecting clothes and bring them back to wash. They get to know these families so well that they have no problem keeping the clothes separated by family since they know who owns each piece of clothing. I love how this photo captures the movement of the workers. The two men in the foreground are rinsing clothes while the man slightly behind them is throwing the cloth against the stone in the same way a washing machine would tumble its load.”


“Washing Machine” by Beverly Brown




Honorable Mention: “Festival of Saint John” by Emma Seevak, Goa, India

“I spent the summer living in Goa and interning at Sangath, a research NGO that works to improve mental health for people of all ages. One innovative strategy that Sangath uses is training lay people to deliver mental health interventions under the supervision of professionals. I spent the summer working on a qualitative project called Lay Health Workers Experiences in Task-Sharing, which focuses on the experiences of lay health mental health counselors across India.

This photo was taken during the Festival of St. John in June, around the start of monsoon season. During the festival, people traditionally jump into wells and other bodies of water. It’s a very colorful and joyous time. This photo came from a village called Siolim, which is famous for its colorful boat races. I learned so much from my time in Goa and feel so grateful for the experience.”


“Festival of Saint John” by Emma Seevak, Goa, India, Internship

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Sanjay Kumar Celebrates One Year as SAI India Country Director

SAI India Country Director Sanjay Kumar


SAI India Country Director Sanjay Kumar recently celebrated his first anniversary in the role.  Kumar is responsible for expanding SAI’s presence in the region. He has initiated a monthly India Seminar Series, beginning in January 2018. 

In addition to his work as SAI India Country Director, Sanjay recently wrote a powerful op-ed in The Hindu about food wastage as a “social delinquency.”


How did you first connect with the Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute? Could you describe your career path?

I started my career in Delhi as a grassroots organizer at SEWA, one of India’s largest organizations for women. I worked at SEWA for nearly two decades, leading the expansion process as SEWA Bharat Director in five Indian states. As a passionate photographer, I also documented the lives of women workers in the informal economy.  I exhibited my photos at many international art galleries, including the House of Commons in London.

Towards the end of my time at SEWA Bharat, I was looking for a career-building challenge. I spent a year at the Harvard Kennedy School as a Mason Fellow, where I received a Master’s in Public Administration. At Harvard, I realized the potential for translational research and that the synergy between action and knowledge in India is lacking.

I participated in key SAI events while I was at Harvard. When I heard about the opportunity to work as the SAI Country Director in India, I quickly realized the position would be the right platform for me to facilitate the connection between knowledge and action.


Could you describe your experience as a Mason fellow?

During my time as a Mason Fellow, I was looking for new ideas and connections. The program is ideal for people who want to spend a year in school learning new skills and building relationships. It gave me an opportunity to interact with classmates from 85 different countries, and learn about their cultures and the challenges they face. We made important connections and built foundations for future collaborations.

The Mason Fellowship Program trains Fellows to understand public administration in a humane, effective and democratic way. I acquired a diverse skill set and values that have shaped how I engage with my current responsibilities as the SAI India Country Director. My formative years at SEWA made me an effective, grounded, and responsible community leader and the Mason Program enhanced my ability to collaborate globally.


You are celebrating one year on the job. How has the SAI India office changed over the last year?

I am fortunate to be the first SAI Country Director in India. When I accepted this position, I knew that setting up a new office would be challenging. I had gone through the same process for SEWA, as I was responsible for setting up its new office in Delhi. The difference is that with SEWA, I had the job for many years and had a large team. With the SAI India Office, I came out of my comfort zone to build up a new office with just one other team member. Thankfully, we received a tremendous amount of support from our Cambridge office, especially from SAI Executive Director Meena Hewett and SAI Faculty Director Tarun Khanna.

Our first office space was temporary and we have since moved to a more permanent home. We are now in the process of building our India office team. This past year, I have been involved in nearly every aspect of the office, from organizing talks by faculty to facilitating connections between students from Delhi, Mumbai, Jammu, and Kolkata with Harvard alums, government, and private sector contacts. 


What are your hopes for the Delhi office in the next several years?

I would like to see the Delhi office become an intellectual hub and platform, in which we engage with people from academia, the government, civil society, and the private sector. Since SAI is a multidisciplinary platform within Harvard, I would also like to reach out to faculty and invite them to do more work in India.

The SAI India Office plans to follow the example of the Cambridge office and conduct interdisciplinary work that engages with the arts, sciences, humanities, and social sciences. Through innovative training with our faculty members, we hope to support researchers, academic leaders, administrators, and students in India. Furthermore, I would like to see our projects, programs, and the knowledge generated by our faculty members inform the actions of policymakers, the government, and civil society organizations.


Could you tell me about the India Seminar Series?

We just launched our India Seminar Series, which brings together Harvard faculty, affiliates, and thought leaders from India and around the world to share their work in Delhi. This Seminar Series will help the Delhi office build a robust intellectual community.

The first seminar was held on January 15, 2018. Professor S.V. (Subu) Subramanian spoke on “Childhood Stunting in India: Lessons Learned and Future Directions”, and was moderated by the Head of Nutrition, UNICEF India. The event was attended by approximately 75 people from various international development organizations, academic institutions, and others.

The next seminar is on February 22, 2018. Professor Richard Cash will speak about infectious diseases, those that have disappeared and others that are new or re-emerging. The seminar is titled, “Goings and Comings: The Changing Patterns of Infectious Diseases in India and South Asia”.


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The Challenges of Using Wastewater to Grow Crops in India

Bus stop sign in Ahmedabad that reads “Sewage Farm” in Gujarati


Alka Palrecha Rawal is currently a SPURS Fellow at MIT and an SAI Research Affiliate. She is Director of People in Centre, which provides consulting services for developmental programs. She holds a master’s degree in landscape architecture from the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi. With more than 20 years in community development with a focus on water resource management under her belt, she is currently interested in policies and institutional processes for the safe reuse of urban wastewater for agriculture in the outskirts of towns and cities in India. 


How did you first become interested in studying water?

I first became interested in water while I was in school to be a landscape architect.  After I graduated, I found the practice of landscape architecture in India to be quite narrow, too often catering to the interests of a private and elite sector.  This practice conflicted with my desire to serve the interests of a larger public.  My first foray into public water rights and usage was with ‘Narmada Bachao Andolan’, an anti-dam movement in India.

Then some years back, during my visits to neglected service areas of my home city, Ahmedabad, I found a bus stop surrounded by vast lush green agricultural fields, unlike anywhere else in the city. To my surprise, the bus stop sign read ‘Sewage Farm.’  As I continued to explore, I found a ‘Sewage Farmers’ Cooperative’ signpost and office. My curiosity grew, and I contacted the farmers to learn more about ‘sewage farming’ in India. The farmers and others across Gujarat taught me about wastewater use for irrigation in India as well as the challenges to realizing the resource potential of wastewater use.


What is a common misconception about safe reuse of wastewater and what strategies are you using to address public health concerns?

The public, many experts, and the government see the reuse of wastewater for irrigation as unacceptable. The first step in making wastewater ‘safe,’ is education through scientifically-sound studies from reputable sources that prove that wastewater irrigation is not a health hazard. In fact, municipal wastewater is replete with nutrients.

Farmers who grow with wastewater also consume their own produce. I have found no difference in incidence and occurrence of diseases of the farmers consuming food grown using wastewater versus farmers who consume freshwater-irrigated produce. However, further studies are required to understand the health impact of wastewater used for irrigation in India’s tropical climate. During our field visits, some incidences were found in which farmers who work with wastewater had contracted diseases.

Legalization and de-stigmatization will help establish safe practices for farmers. The stigma of re-using wastewater results in farmers not disclosing their practice of wastewater irrigation. If disclosed, they fear consequences from the government as well as consumers. Despite the stigma, however, farms are increasingly using wastewater.

The ‘safe’ use of wastewater is dependent on two variables – the contaminants in the wastewater and the crop that is irrigated. Continuous monitoring and reasonable constraints of these variables are required for safe use. City managers, farmers and pollution control authorities should work in tandem to ensure standards of safe practice.


What is the benefit of safe wastewater reuse?

City populations in India are growing, thus the wastewater generated is increasing. Municipalities already find it challenging to dispose of this excess wastewater.

Furthermore, increasing freshwater scarcity has led to a proliferation of unregulated wastewater reuse.

The solution is to design an affordable wastewater treatment with a simple compliance mechanism for farmers. This will turn wastewater into a valuable resource for city governments, farmers, and pollution control authorities.

Overall, wastewater can annually irrigate around 1.5 million hectares of land area and has the potential to contribute about one million tons of nutrients and 130 million days of employment.


What excites you most about coming to MIT and Harvard?

MIT is a hub of technological innovation and social venture! My mission is to change perceptions and practices of wastewater irrigation.  MIT is helping me acquire the necessary technological, institutional and managerial skills to actualize this mission. My goal is to learn about low-cost treatment technology for farm irrigation and make scientifically-sound comparisons with different kinds of wastewater usage.

The Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute has provided me with opportunities to connect with other fellows and faculty at Harvard. Here, I am able to connect with like-minded fellows who are interested in collaborating on the project after my fellowship is over. The T.H. Chan School of Public Health is a valuable resource for scientific studies on the health impact of wastewater reuse. Dr. Richard Cash, who has a vast knowledge of sanitation and related diseases, has kindly agreed to mentor me.


How might you implement your research when you return?

There are immense opportunities to network in Cambridge. In India, I am trying to form partnerships with local governments, farmers, and authorities to promote wastewater irrigation. When I return to India, I will be able to bring technical knowledge, scientific guidelines on safety with a public health perspective, and a simple compliance mechanism.



This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Organizers Discuss India Conference 2018

Three women sitting next to each other on a bench

India Conference organizers Namrata Saraogi, Anjali Mathur and Snigdha Kumar


SAI is one of the partners of the student-run India Conference, which will take place on February 10-11, 2018. Three of the organizers spoke to SAI about their involvement with the conference and this year’s theme of “Disruptive Innovators.”

Anjali Mathur manages operations, Snigdha Kumar works on media and marketing, Namrata Saraogi works on seeking financial contributors and Prateek Kanwal oversees the management of panels. 


What is the India Conference and how did you first become involved with it?

The India Conference brings together students of Indian origin from across different schools for two days in February to discuss policy and business issues in India and South Asia.

We joined the conference team because of the opportunity it provides to meet people from different schools and professions, and because it brings over 200 speakers from India to have conversations about the country that we love.


What is “Disruptive Innovations” and why it is important in 2018?

In the last few years, India has witnessed remarkable innovation across sectors. Aadhaar, the Unified Payment Interface, technology-based education and health delivery, and low-cost solar power are a few examples of this trend. In our daily lives, innovations are changing the way we consume news and entertainment, and have wide-ranging implications within the political and social spheres. This year, we not only want to celebrate innovations taking place in India, but also shine a spotlight on areas that will benefit from such disruption.

The India Conference will bring together major stakeholders in different industries for a weekend of enriching discussion and insights. We have managed to bring together a stellar line-up of speakers, including Kamal Haasan, Barkha Dutt, Amish Tripathi, Sabyasachi, Poonam Mahajan, Nidhi Razdan, Adil Zainulbhai, Divya Spandana, Kavin Bharti Mittal, Byju Raveendran, Punita Sinha, and many more. 


What was your process for choosing the speakers?

It is a very decentralized process. Once we decided on the theme of the conference, we recruited a team who pitched their panel ideas. We then went through proposals for speakers who have worked in the sector and whom we thought would be able to enrich conversations.


Who are some of the speakers that you are most excited about and why?

We are excited about many speakers including:
• Bezwada Wilson, an Indian activist, who will bring varied perspectives on complex challenges confronting contemporary India and the costs of rapid urbanization.
• Barkha Dutt, who will be delivering a keynote about her journey as a woman in the media.
• Paro Anand and Amish Tripathi, who will talk about disruptions in literature.


How has the India Conference evolved over the years? 

The India Conference has grown immensely since it began 15 years ago. It is one of the largest conferences about India in the US and has a legacy of bringing together government officials, business leaders, academics, artists, athletes, and philanthropists.


What impact do you hope this conference will have?

Through this two-day immersive program, we hope that students, professionals, and leaders across industries can continue to have discussions, generate ideas and find tangible solutions to help address some of the key issues the country is facing.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Learn more about the conference here. 

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Seed for Change Winning Project Update

Seed for Change


About Seed for Change | Apply | Inspiration


Sutopa Dasgupta is part of Sakhi, the team that won SAI’s 2017 Seed For Change competition. She spoke to SAI to update us on the status of Sakhi’s project – the development of high-quality, affordable, and environmentally safe menstrual cups for people in India.

In 2018, Sakhi will launch its pilot program with the Sri Likhi Women Welfare Association in Vishakapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India.  Each program will include a site-specific training curriculum.  Sakhi custom designed and tested their FDA-approved menstrual cup and sterilization case in collaboration with Casco Bay Molding.

Sutopa is currently a PhD student in South Asian Studies at Harvard University. 

The 2018 Seed for Change application is due on February 15, 2018.


What fueled your interest in menstrual management in South Asia?


My research is on South Asian religion and culture.  Specifically, I have been looking at the social construction of the auspicious and the inauspicious—and related to this, what gets designated as taboo and why. I look at the way ideas and values have traveled and changed over time.

Through my research at Harvard, I have found that the characterization of menstruation is as something inauspicious and polluting. Menstruating women as impure or taboo in many social contexts have long histories in South Asian culture and this continues to perpetuate stigmatization today. For example, women are prohibited from entering the temple during their periods and are prohibited from touching certain foods or being in certain spaces in their own homes.

Tackling the issue of menstruation in the real world was a natural progression of my research. My project, funded by SAI, addresses the challenges menstruating women in India face today—with the idea that we cannot address issues of stigmatization without also helping women feel empowered in their menstrual health management. Thus, we have a two-fold approach: first, putting an environmentally sustainable and safe menstrual management product in every woman’s hand and secondly, by raising awareness around menstruation so that women feel empowered to manage their menstrual health and resist taboos that are detrimental to their safety, mobility, and agency.

We have to empower women to get them engaged in managing their own menstrual health. So much of the stigmatization has to do with patriarchal perspectives, including the lack of inadequate sanitation in workplaces and schools.


How has your project progressed?

I have spent the last few months building relationships so that our project can manufacture and distribute culturally-specific menstrual products and establish menstrual health programming in India. Designing menstrual products that are customized for the Indian market, FDA approved and safe for the body. It facilitates managing menstruation safely and with dignity. Since the menstrual cup we have designed and manufactured allows single inserts that last all day, it also alleviates the problem of absenteeism at school or work; the sterilization case that we designed helps maintain privacy and sanitation in water-scarce environments. Both are reusable and there is no environmentally polluting disposal required. You cannot do that with a tampon or a pad. This menstrual cup and case could last a woman ten years and so is economically much more viable too. I really want women to feel empowered with the use of these products, and to feel a sense of ownership of their bodies.

I am building a social enterprise model where women will take these subsidized cups that the grant is funding, and sell them to establish an income for themselves. This last mile distribution model is key to raising awareness and putting women in charge of the sale and distribution of these products. A culturally-specific training curriculum accompanies the distribution of the menstrual management kit—so there is plenty of support in place.


Can you talk about some of the challenges you have faced during this process?

Addressing a stigmatized area such as menstrual management involves a complex process of raising awareness in order to change the social dynamic.  Women are afraid to talk about their periods and how they manage them in public; it is a taboo subject. We have worked with our advisor, Dr. Langer, in conjunction with specialists at the Harvard School of Public Health to help us deal with these challenges.  We are also partnering with local community leaders so that they are the ones leading the training sessions. Setting up your own business, distribution and teaching women how to use the product one by one to help the business grow is not easy—so each effort is locally managed and emerges from local demand.  

Even in the USA, talking about menstrual health management is not easy to do. We talk about condoms all the time, for which, by the way, there is no tax levied. Whereas menstruation is penalized, as we have to pay taxes on menstrual products. Why do we have to pay a tax on an item that is a necessary and natural part of managing women’s health? There is an enormous inequity with respect to managing menstruation for women across the globe. Eventually, I would like to expand this project, but for me as a South Asian, tackling the challenge in South Asia is the first step.


What has been the impact of receiving this grant money from Seed for Change?

Harvard’s Seed for Change support allows this aspiration to make a difference in women’s lives in India to become a reality. It has also broadened the impact of my research interests and given it greater scope and application. The first thing I did when I got the grant was to attend the Society for Menstrual Research Conference in early June where I presented on this project and got great feedback. There is a collective of researchers, activists, public health professionals and politicians trying to create policy around this important topic. With Harvard’s support, I was able to take this project to the next level.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Spring Seminar Series Announcement

Students in a seminar

Harvard College student asks Shehla Rashid a question during her seminar

SAI will host dozens of seminars and co-sponsored events in Spring 2018, on topics including the arts and humanities, social sciences, and science. Information on additional events will be updated throughout the semester.




Cities of Delhi: Differentiated Citizenship in the Capital City
Patrick Heller, Lyn Crost Professor of Social Sciences and professor of Sociology and International Studies, Brown University
Chair: Sai Balakrishnan, Assistant Professor of Urban Planning, Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design
Wednesday, Feb. 7, 4:00 PM – 5:30 PM, CGIS South, S050, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge MA
Possible through the generosity of the Asia Center


India Conference
Saturday, Feb. 10 and Sunday, Feb. 11, Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School, Cambridge MA


Unwilling Hosts: Partition, Assam and Entangled History of People
Arupjyoti Saikia, Professor in History & Suryya Kumar Bhuyan Endowment Chair on Assam History Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati
Chairs: Professor Sugata Bose, Gardiner Professor of Oceanic History and Affairs, Harvard University; and Professor Sunil Amrith, Mehra Family Professor of South Asian Studies, Harvard University
Co-sponsored by GSAS




Client Preferences in Broker Selection: Competition, Choice, and Informal Leadership in India’s Urban Slums
Adam Auerbach, Assistant Professor, School of International Service, American University
Chair: Emmerich Davies, Assistant Professor of Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education
Friday, March 2, 2:00 PM – 5:00 PM, CGIS South, S050, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge MA

Doris Sommer, Ira and Jewell Williams Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and of African and African American Studies
Friday, March 9, 12:00 PM – 2:00 PM, CGIS South, S154, Harvard University, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge MA
Possible through the generosity of the Asia Center


Violence Exposure and Ethnic Identification: Evidence from Kashmir
Nicholas Sambanis, Professor of Political Science, The University of Pennsylvania
Friday, March 16, 2 PM, MIT, Lucian Pye Conference Room, E40-495, 1 Amherst Street


Waste of a Nation: Garbage and Growth in India
Assa Doron and Robin Jeffrey, Authors, Waste of a Nation
Chair: Martha Chen, Lecturer in Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School
Monday, March 19, 4:00 PM – 5:30 PM, CGIS South, S250, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge MA
Possible through the generosity of the Asia Center

Bo Sax, Mahatma Gandhi Assistant Professor of Political Science and International and Public Affairs, Brown University
Chair: Parimal Patil, Professor of Religion and Indian Philosophy; Chair, Department of South Asian Studies
Tuesday, March 20, 4:00 PM – 5:30 PM, CGIS South, S250, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge MA
Cosponsored with the Asia Center and the Department of South Asian Studies

Arvind Raghunathan and Sribala Subramanian South Asia Visiting Fellowship Seminar
Raile Rocky Ziipao, Arvind Raghunathan and Sribala Subramanian South Asia Visiting Fellow
Chair: Ajantha Subramanian, Professor of Anthropology and South Asian Studies, Harvard University
Thursday, March 22, 4:00 PM – 5:30 PM, CGIS South, S250, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge MA
Possible through the generosity of the Asia Center

Where Women Rule
Hasna Moudud, SAI Research Affiliate
Chair: Roderick MacFarquar, Leroy B. Williams Professor of History and Political Science
Monday, March 26, 4:00 PM – 5:30 PM, CGIS South, S250, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge MA
Possible through the generosity of the Asia Center

Sanjoy Chakravorty, Professor of Geography and Urban Studies, Temple University and Visiting Fellow, Center for the Advanced Study of India, University of Pennsylvania
Chair: Sai Balakrishnan, Assistant Professor of Urban Planning, Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design
Wednesday, March 28, 6:00 PM – 7:30 PM, CGIS South, S250, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge MA
Possible through the generosity of the Asia Center

Seed For Change Initial Pitch Presentation
Thursday, April 3, 2:00 PM – 6:00 PM, CGIS South, S020, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA

Murad Khan Mumtaz, Artist and Researcher
Chair: Jinah Kim, Gardner Cowles Associate Professor of History of Art and Architecture
Friday, April 6, 2:00 PM – 5:00 PM, CGIS South, S153, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA

Visiting Artist Seminar
Monday, April 9, Cambridge, MA
Co-sponsored with the Asia Center-Porte Fund and made possible through the generosity of the Asia Cente

Soz-A Ballad of Maladies
Tushar Madhav, Director: A Ballad of Maladies
Sarvnik Kaur, Writer: A Ballad of Maladies
Chair: Ashutosh Varshney, Sol Goldman Professor of International Studies and the Social Sciences and Professor of Political Science at Brown University
Monday, April 9, 12:00 PM – 2:00 PM, CGIS South, S250, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA


Gustav Papanek, President of the Boston Institute for Developing Economies; Professor of Economics Emeritus, Boston University
Chair: Tarun Khanna, Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor, Harvard Business School; Director, SAI
Wednesday, April 11, 4:00 PM – 5:30 PM, CGIS South, S030, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge MA
Made possible through the generosity of the Asia Center

Tariq Modood, British Pakistani Professor of Sociology, Politics and Public Policy at the University of Bristol
Thursday, April 12, 4:15 PM – 6:15 PM
Co-sponsored by the Center for European Studies

Bitter Pills: The Global War on Counterfeit Drugs
Muhammad Zaman, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor of Biomedical Engineering and International Health at Boston University
Friday, April 13, 3:00 PM – 4:30 PM, Harvard Book Store, 1256 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA
Co-sponsored with the Harvard Book Store and made possible through the generosity of the Asia Center

Monday, April 16, CGIS Knafel Building Concourse, 1737 Cambridge Street, Cambridge MA

R. Siva Kumar, Indian contemporary art historian, art critic, and curator
Chair: Jinah Kim, Gardner Cowles Associate Professor of History of Art and Architecture
Week of April 17, Cambridge, MA

Tarun Khanna, Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor, Harvard Business School; Director, SAI
Friday, April 20, 12:00 PM – 2:00 PM, CGIS South, S050, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge MA
Co-sponsored by the Asia Center

South Asia Population Genetics
David Reich, Professor, Harvard Medical School
Priya Moorjani, Assistant Professor of Genetics, Genomics and Development, University of California, Berkeley
Richard Meadow, Director, Zooarchaeology Laboratory, Peabody Museum of Harvard University
Michael Witzel, Wales Professor of Sanskrit, Harvard University
Monday, April 23, 4:00 PM – 5:30 PM, CGIS South, S010 or S020, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge MA

Infrastructure Networks and Urban Inequality: The Political Geography of Water Flows in Bangalore
Alison Post, Associate Professor of Political Science and Global Metropolitan Studies, University of California, Berkeley
Chair: Emmerich Davies, Assistant Professor of Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education
Friday, April 27, 2:00 PM – 5:00 PM, CGIS South, S354, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge MA

Road Traffic Injury Symposium
Monday, April 30, 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM, CGIS South, S010 Concourse, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge MA
Co-sponsored with Harvard Global


Thursday, May 3 and Friday, May 4, CGIS South, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge MA

May 2018, 9:00 AM – 9:00 PM; Cambridge MA

Sunday, May 13, 2:00 PM – 6:00 PM, CGIS South, S010, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge MA


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Spotlight on Harvard Fellow: Shalini Singh

Picture of Shalini Singh

Shalini Singh


Shalini Singh, a 2018 Nieman Fellow, has worked for the Indian news magazine The Week and the national daily, the Hindustan Times, with a focus on gender, culture and environmental issues. She is a regular contributor to the People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI) and a founding trustee of CounterMedia Trust, the nonprofit that owns PARI.  

Shalini Singh spoke to SAI about her career in journalism and her goals as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard.  


As a part of the People’s Archive of Rural India, could you tell what impact you have seen the organization make? 

 The People’s Archive of Rural India is a digital repository founded by the well-known Indian journalist, P. Sainath. I was his student many years ago. We believe that rural issues do not get as much attention in the mainstream as they should, and so some of us joined hands with him and formed the People’s Archive of Rural India in 2014. In less than three years, the site which goes beyond being a news-site to include oral histories and dying occupations has picked up eight awards. Nationally, PARI has inspired Janaavishkaara, a People’s Participatory Portal, in the state of Kerala in India. Over 30 district newspapers in the state of Karnataka that don’t have a web presence are carrying PARI’s stories. Publishers such as LeftWord plan to bring out readers on PARI’s stories, others are republishing its stories in children’s textbooks. There has been a request for help with design in setting up a people’s archive of township jazz in South Africa, while a People’s Archive of Nova Scotia is ready to roll out.  

In November 2016, when demonetization happened in India, the mainstream was mostly focusing on what it meant for urban folks. They were not looking at the people who depend completely on cash, the poorest of India’s population. The People’s Archive of Rural India sent out a handful of reporters, some already stationed in rural areas, to investigate how this change completely upturned rural livelihoods. While the mainstream was looking at what was happening to the urban population, we were looking at people who were the worst affected.  


Could you describe a meaningful experience you have had since being a founding member of the People’s Archive? 

Last June, I mentored a young journalist named Stanzin Saldon working out of Kargil, the site of the India-Pakistan war in 1999. She wanted to do a story on two local women from different castes and religions who opened up a tailoring shop together. It was going to be a warm story about how in this sensitive region, these women had come together, but she was worried about how to ask them personal details about their lives, such as their age. Part of my role was to help her break her barriers and be more confident in her reporting while having sensitivity. It was interesting to see what she was comfortable with, and how I could learn from her.  


How do you see the People’s Archive growing in the next several years? 

India can be looked at in 95 historical regions, and we would like to have one journalist in every region plus fellows covering climate change, manual scavenging etc. The money we have raised so far takes care of about 10 journalists or one-tenth of what we need. In the next five years, we hope to have enough money to fund the full 100 fellowships. Visibility is important, but at the end of the day, it is about the field reporting and groundwork. 


How did you become interested in working with rural populations? 

When I first became a journalist, I did not want to write about celebrities, gossip, and fashion, which many editors would want you to. There is nothing wrong with these topics; however, because a majority of the country does not have access to these lifestyles, it was always on my conscience to bring out untold stories. Journalists are in a position to give voices to a large number of people who otherwise don’t get heard. 

I applied to the Nieman Fellowship to reflect on my value as a journalist and to think about next steps.  


Can you talk about your goals as a Nieman Fellow?  

As a Nieman Fellow, I want to look at the arts to inform my work. A couple of months ago, I was at a local independent music performance and one of the artists used clips from the Charlottesville violence. It became a somber performance and inspired me to reflect on how arts are drawing from current events. 

This past fall, I saw WARHOLCAPOTE, a play at Harvard’s A.R.T. It was a real-time conversation between Andy Warhol and Truman Capote adapted into a theater piece. The intersection of a journalistic story and theater is one of the things I would like to explore going forward. 

In my first semester at Harvard, I took a theater class where we learned how to study someone’s subjectivity. It was a theoretical look at how to get under the skin of another person, how they think, and what informs them. It was not about learning how to act, but more about how to fine-tune empathy.  



The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

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Rohingya Crisis: Rakhine’s Fallen Mosques

A photograph of a mosque overgrown with vegetation

A mosque in Buthidaung, Northern Rakhine State that was condemned following the 2012 conflict. Photo: Cresa Pugh.


By: Cresa Pugh, Doctoral Student in Sociology & Social Policy, Harvard University


“You can look, but you can’t take a photo.” I was standing on the main street of downtown Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State, on the westernmost edge of Myanmar. To my left was a street vendor selling papaya and mangosteen; ahead of me was a dense urban jungle of palm trees and thicket, and between us stood a uniformed military official, with an AK-47 draped over his shoulder, leaning against a pile of sandbags and a tangle of barbed wire and plywood. Rising above the trees were the weathered remnants of the minarets of Sittwe’s oldest mosque, Sawduro Bor Masjid, which was destroyed in riots that swept the city more than five years ago.

In 2012, longstanding tensions between the Buddhist and Muslim communities in the region erupted into a bloody conflict that claimed the lives of hundreds of individuals and led to the forcible displacement of all Muslims into militarized camps in and around the city. Prior to 2012, Sittwe was home to 73,000 Muslims–nearly half the population of the city–yet today there are virtually no Muslims remaining, save those confined to the camps who are not allowed to leave the premises.

During the conflict, most of the mosques in Rakhine were burned, vandalized or razed to the ground by mobs of anti-Muslim Buddhist nationalists who fear what they perceive to be a rapidly expanding and increasingly dangerous foreign element. While the Rohingya, an ethnic and religious minority group, claim indigeneity to the region and may have roots dating back to the 700 AD, the population has been increasingly marginalized and persecuted on the basis that they are ‘illegal’ South Asian immigrants. Most recently a violent military crackdown in response to a Rohingya insurgent attack led to the killing of hundreds of individuals and the mass displacement of more than 600,000 Rohingyas across the Bangladesh border where they still await repatriation or settlement.

Today in Sittwe, the only reminders that there was ever a Muslim community in the city are the shells of ancient mosques dotted across the landscape. Since 2012, all mosques in Rakhine State have been permanently shuttered, many of which are under heavy protection by military personnel in order to prevent individuals from entering to worship or commit further vandalization. Now overrun by monsoon-fed mangrove forests, the structures stand in defiance of a society that has, over several decades, attempted the erasure of its Muslim population. While the mosques remind us of the existence of this community, their charred, crumbling, dilapidated character speaks to the violence exercised upon those who worshipped, learned and communed within their walls.



Mosque covered in vegetation

A mosque in Sittwe, Rakhine State that was torched and destroyed in the 2012 conflict. Photo: Cresa Pugh.


In January 2017, I received a grant from the South Asia Institute to begin my research in Rakhine and returned in June 2017 to conduct interviews in the Rohingya and Rakhine communities. I gained access to the military encampments and spoke with Rohingya individuals and families who had been displaced during the 2012 riots.

I arrived at the camp on June 26, which happened to be Eid al-Fitr, and was greeted by men with machine guns, but also by young girls in purple velvet dresses with bows in their hair, men in suits and crisp button-downs, and women in floor-length satin outfits bedazzled with jewels–all celebrating the holiest day on the Muslim calendar, a subtle act of resistance to a state and society that has stripped them of their humanity.

Asking what they missed the most about their home in Sittwe, many of them said freedom of movement, economic and educational opportunities, and freedom of worship. A makeshift building made of thatch and corrugated metal–similar to the structures that serve as homes where families sleep on bamboo mats atop mud floors–within the camps function as a mosque. Only men are allowed to enter–the women must pray at home. The mosque is bare and hostile; it is not a space for social communion, and my informants spoke with a heaviness about their mosques in Sittwe which had been destroyed, with only memories remaining.

In 2012, 17 mosques were demolished in the riots and since then, Rakhine’s security and border affairs minister has called for the destruction of the remaining mosques and madrasas (religious schools) built after 1962. Mosques are more than simply houses of worship and represent more than the symbolic, religious and spiritual elements of Islam. They constitute the social, cultural and political life of adherents to the faith, thus the destruction of a mosque is an assault on the very fabric of a community, the collective memory of a people. And the rampant destruction of mosques across an entire city and state–and the charred rubble, or mere emptiness, that lies in its place–stands as a testament to the attempted systematic erasure of a practice, a culture, and a people.


Mosque covered in vegetation

Sawduro Bor Masjid mosque in downtown Sittwe, Rakhine State that was vandalized during the 2012 conflict and later condemned. Photo: Cresa Pugh.


As I gazed up toward the minarets of Sawduro Bor Masjid, I removed my phone from my bag and started to aim it upward, but I was told by a friend that it was against the law to take photos of the destroyed mosques. As he whispered this to me, the armed guard stared blankly in my direction. Were the officials nervous that a journalist might document the mosque destruction as evidence of religious persecution that would tarnish the state’s image? Is the fear that I might be too curious about a population that has been deemed the enemy? I spent the next several days searching for places from which it would be safe to photograph the decaying mosques, the ghosts of the displaced worshippers looming present.

On my final night in Sittwe, I met a friend for dinner at a teashop that was opposite a mosque slowly being reclaimed by the jungle. We were greeted by an overweight dog. My friend reminded me of an interview we had conducted several days prior with a Muslim community leader being held in a nearby military camp who told us about having to flee his home in the middle of the night during the 2012 riots. My friend explained that the dog in the shop belonged to this man, and the owner of the shop, who was Buddhist Rakhine, began looking after the dog once his owner was detained. The shop owner explained that she maintained a strict halal diet for the dog because she knew his owner did not eat pork. My friend and I seasoned our rice with ‘kalar lay,’ an Indian spice named after the racial slur used for Myanmar’s Muslims. My friend tells me that only Muslim dogs bark at night because they miss their owners and that many of the dogs left behind after the conflict now sleep in the mosques, waiting.


Mosque covered in vegetation

A photo of Sawduro Bor Masjid in downtown Sittwe, Rakhine State taken from inside the Rakhaing State Cultural Museum. Photo: Cresa Pugh.


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