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News Category: Bangladesh

Looking Back, Informing the Future: The 1947 Partition of British India

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Professor Jennifer Leaning discusses forced migration at one of our Partition seminars


By Tarun Khanna (Director, SAI; Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor, Harvard Business School)

Both my mother’s and my father’s sides of our family migrated from what is now Pakistan. As a result of Partition, many of them had to leave their lives behind, with years of hard work quickly wiped out, when they moved to New Delhi and were forced to start again. Partition has always been part of my family’s folklore but my grandfather, who bore the brunt of it, passed away very early. I never had the opportunity to discuss it with him.

At the SAI, we have embarked on a major research project to understand the history, context and continuing impact of Partition, as its 70th anniversary approaches. There has, of course, always been a great deal of interest in this defining historical event from scholars at Harvard and elsewhere. Professor Jennifer Leaning’s team from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has been studying Partition for more than a decade — her ongoing work is central to our collective research.

At the SAI, we have already undertaken a major interdisciplinary project of a similar scale. Our work on the Kumbh Mela was a very successful collaborative effort involving dozens of faculty, students, graduates and undergraduates. We created a platform so that other people could participate; scholars from the region as well as other universities around the world. We produced scholarly papers, videos, architectural designs and ultimately, a book.

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Student voices: Achievement gaps in state-regulated Madrasas in Bangladesh

This is part of a series of reports from Harvard students who have traveled to South Asia with support from a SAI grant.W17_Faiyad Zayan

By Zayan FaiyadHarvard College ’18

Faiyad conducted field research during winter session to identify root causes of the achievement gap in state-regulated Madrasas in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, 13.8% of total primary school and over 20% of total secondary school enrollment are in Islamic schools, popularly known as Madrasas. An overwhelming majority of Madrasas are in rural areas, comprise primarily of students coming from low income families and are known to have a persistent achievement gap. Over winter session, I conducted interviews in several state regulated schools (Aliya Madrasa) across 3 districts: Dhaka (2 schools), Mymensingh (3 schools) and Chandpur (7 schools). I conducted interviews with 2 officials from the Madrasa Education Board in Dhaka, Madrasa administrators (mostly school principal or next point of contact), teachers and students.   

Experience with interviews: Although we had received prior commitment from 13 Madrasas allowing us to visit and speak with stakeholders, 1 male-only Madrasa denied our request to enter. The only admin official present in the premises said that that he was not informed about our arrival and the principal (our contact) was unreachable by phone. Other institutions were relatively welcoming. Some institutions had pre-designated which teachers we could speak to while others allowed us to interview any and all teachers. About half, generously allowed me to sit in classes and follow the lessons. Administrator and teacher responses varied in openness: most answered our questions with sufficient details, some sounded more guarded in their response and a few asked us what we hope to do with their answers.

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International Photo Contest Winners

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

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SAI responds to Executive Order

The South Asia Institute (SAI) fully endorses Harvard President Drew Faust’s response to the Trump Administration’s executive order restricting travel to the United States.

We offer our full support to Harvard students, faculty, staff and affiliates, regardless of their country of origin or religious background, alongside the Harvard International Office and the university’s Global Support Services. We encourage all South Asia scholars to apply for our programs.

The work of universities in the world has never been more vital. The SAI is committed to the advancement of global scholarship and understanding, and our work in this fascinating, important region will continue. Across many borders, our diverse students and scholars are aiming to generate knowledge and insights that transcend and outlive any temporary barriers to progress.

Harvard President Drew Faust: We Are All Harvard


Harvard International Office

Harvard Global Support Services

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Working Paper: Domestic Violence and Social Change: Feminist Informal Justice systems in India and Bangladesh

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By Fauzia Erfan Ahmed, SAI Research Affiliate, Jyotsana Parajuli, and Anna-Lucia Feldman

Although feminist endeavors have succeeded in legal reforms that criminalize gender-based violence in India and Bangladesh, it remains a pervasive obstacle to gender equality for women. Sociocultural norms, which legitimize violence against women, are a major reason. The authors argue that reform of traditional informal justice systems, which reaffirm these patriarchal norms, need to be the central focus of feminist research. This working paper explores the literature on two such innovations that aim to provide social justice for low-income women who are survivors of domestic violence: the NGO (Non Governmental Organization)-reformed shalish, which includes women jurors in Bangladesh, and the nari adalat or women’s courts, established by the Mahila Samakhya Program in India. The units of comparison are government affiliation; mediation or arbitration practices; types of disputes; and jury composition. The differences between these two feminist alternate dispute resolution bodies reveals arenas where lessons can be learned. They highlight the advantages and disadvantages of state versus NGO feminism; peer mediator versus upper class mediator; and all-female jury versus mixed-gender jury. In conclusion, the authors recommend that these feminist informal justice systems include communal harmony in their philosophy and conduct proactive outreach so that women, who have been subject to communal violence, can also be petitioners.

Read the full paper.



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2017 Winter Grant Recipients

davey Discussing some of the major health issues seen from a visit to an urban slum in Delhi.The Harvard South Asia Institute has awarded 15 grants to support student projects over the Winter Session 2016 in January. These include 12 graduate students and 3 undergraduate students who will travel to India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Pakistan for research and internships.


Undergraduate Students
Mei Yin Wu Applied Math, 2017 Harvard College
Wildlife Conservation Trust Internship

Zayan Faiyad, Economics 2018 Harvard College
Field research to identify root causes of achievement gap in state-regulated Madrasas in Bangladesh

Mahnoor Khan, Government 2017 Harvard College
Desensitization to Violence and its Affect on an Individual’s Moral Decision Making in Pakistan

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Working paper: Gender, Governance, and Labor: The Globalized Commodity Chain and the Bangladesh Garment Industry

By Fauzia Erfan Ahmed, Associate Professor, Sociology and Women’s Studies, Miami University, Ohio, Research Affiliate, South Asia Institute, Harvard University

The vast scholarship on gender and globalization highlights the woman garment factory worker: her problems; and the ways in which she must struggle to overcome them. But few studies focus on how these women, in fact, form the lowest segment of the globalized commodity chain of the apparel industry. The author argues that, therefore, a comprehensive solution, to women workers’ voice, rights, and workplace safety, lies beyond the shop floor.  Scholars also need to study up.  Men and women, in higher chain segments, such as factory owners and buyers, should be investigated because they produce and reproduce power relations or governance through the globalized chain.

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Shafiqul Islam wins Water Prize

colwellislam2Congratulations to Shafiqul Islam, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Professor of Water Diplomacy at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, who was recently awarded the Creativity Prize for the Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz International Prize for Water (PSIPW).

The prize is awarded to Islam and his team member Dr. Rita Colwell, University of Maryland at College Park, for developing and testing a model that uses chlorophyll information from satellite data to predict cholera outbreaks at least three to six months in advance. Continue reading →

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Student voices: The shipbreaking capital of the world

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

IMG_0642By Marisa Houlahan, Harvard College ’17

With the support of the South Asia Institute, I spent the summer in Chittagong, Bangladesh, conducting ethnographic research for a senior thesis on the shipbreaking industry. Over the past decade, a confluence of geographic, historical, economic, geologic, and political factors has shaped South Asia, and Chittagong in particular, as the shipbreaking capital of the world. More than 70% of the world’s defunct merchant and passenger vessels are now dismantled in South Asia, where labor and environmental regulations are largely unenforced and shipbreaking yards do without the expensive infrastructure required to break ships in places like Japan, Korea, Europe, and the United States. The shipbreaking industry in Chittagong fills nearly half of the country’s growing demand for steel and provides thousands of jobs, however unstable. The industry is also responsible for the deaths of dozens of workers each year, who are victims of gas explosions, falling steel plates, and other accidents, and for leaching lead, asbestos, oil sludge, and other hazardous materials into the water, soil, and bodies of shipbreakers.

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