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News Category: India

Harvard’s New “Embassy” in India


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The Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute’s (SAI) new India office, in the heart of the beautiful Lutyens-designed part of New Delhi, has officially opened, marking a new era of Harvard’s direct engagement with the region.

“Harvard would not be what it is if it was not capable of attracting the best brains from all over the world,” said Mark Elliott, Vice Provost for International Affairs and the Mark Schwartz Professor of Chinese and Inner Asian History, to the Times of India newspaper last week. “We intend to create a small embassy at the institute, which will help the students and researchers to study at Harvard.”

Professor Elliott officially inaugurated the new office on Friday, March 16, 2018. In his speech, he made it clear that a greater regional presence is vital for the university’s future scholarship:

“We believe that our Delhi office will enable us to grow our collaborations with Indian academic and cultural institutions, contribute to the development of outstanding research across the sciences, social sciences, and the arts and humanities, and further strengthen our already close ties with numerous Harvard alumni who live in India and across South Asia.”

Dozens of Harvard alumni attended the event, thanks to the Harvard Alumni Association’s tireless efforts to bring people together and maintain these valuable networks. Harvard historian and Indian Member of Parliament Professor Sugata Bose, SAI Executive Director Meena Hewett and SAI India Country Director Dr. Sanjay Kumar were also present.

It generated wide coverage in the Indian media, too, in major publications like the Hindustan Times, Financial Express and the aforementioned Times of India.
In the first event since the Delhi office’s opening, SAI Faculty Director Tarun Khanna, Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor at Harvard Business School, will speak on April 5, 2018, about the institute’s commitment to studying and researching all aspects of South Asia, alongside its productive partnerships with major Indian institutions in the arts, social entrepreneurship, and life sciences.
“Our presence continues to grow in South Asia – with a new SAI flagship office just opened in Delhi – as well as our strong connections to the diaspora in the US and beyond,” he said, recently. “With the infrastructure in place, we have the experience to do extraordinary inter-disciplinary research and produce valuable knowledge that will shape future scholarship in diverse fields as well as influence contemporary policy.”



SAI Hosts Four Artists from Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and India


SAI is pleased to announce our 2018 Visiting Artists, who will be at Harvard from mid-March to mid-May. During their time at Harvard, the artists will display their work on campus, meet with students, attend courses, and give public seminars.

Check back on our site for details about the seminars and exhibition.


Imran Channa, Pakistan

Imran Channa’s art practice interrogates the intersection between power and knowledge. His primary focus is on the documentation and dissemination of historical narratives and events. He explores how fabricated narratives can override our collective memory to shape individual and social consciousness and alter human responses. His work draws attention to the instruments of documentation, highlighting how photography, archeology, and literature record, frame and manufacture history. He is interested in how these modes pervert knowledge and the construction of consciousness.

Images of the 1947 partition of Pakistan and India are the central motifs of his practice. He reworks historical images to forge new narratives, relocate historical truth, and interrogate the influence of subjectivity. Photographs are often the only ways of retracing the past for subsequent generations who did not experience events first-hand. They are paradoxical — containing the capacity to understand fact as well as create fiction.


Rajyashri Goody, India and England

Rajyashri Goody’s art practice revolves around the complexities of identity seen through the lens of larger social, political, economic, and religious structures at play, and consequently the tug between power and resistance that manifests itself within minority communities. Her interests lie within the interpretation of caste in India, particularly the strengthening voice of Dalit resistance since the 1920s. Caste-based discrimination is still very much alive in both urban and rural India, with crimes against Dalits such as rape, murder, beatings, and violence related to land matters committed approximately every 18 minutes. Yet, as Sharmila Rege put it, there is an “‘official forgetting’ of histories of caste oppression, struggles, and resistance.”

Goody’s aim as an artist is to contest this “official forgetting” by drawing out both political and personal Dalit narratives and weaving them together to reflect upon everyday acts of resistance in the current sociopolitical climate of India. Her artworks, whether they take the form of installations, photography, or more recently, text and ceramics, often result from a series of conversations and interviews. One of her ongoing projects incorporates Dalit autobiographies, which contain vivid and complex descriptions of food, cooking, eating, and hunger. She highlights and recycles their extracts on food to create “recipes” from their own words, compiling a cookbook of sorts as an ode to everyday resistance and an act of resistance itself against “official forgetting.”


Kabi Raj Lama, Nepal

Kabi Raj Lama is a contemporary printmaker based in Kathmandu, who primarily works with lithography and the Japanese mokuhanga (woodcut) medium. His work examines themes of natural disasters, trauma, and religion. Lama sees the complexities of natural disasters as multidimensional — affecting both tangible and intangible worlds.

Kabi’s exhibition, “From Kathmandu to Tokyo” in 2014 reveals the trauma of his experience in Japan where he witnessed and lived through the catastrophic tsunami that struck Japan in 2011. The artist’s decision to work with woodcut medium on traditional Lokta paper served as a cathartic experience. The motifs in this series were inspired by the wreckage and havoc created by the tsunami, as well as the Fukushima radiation that destroyed cities, and took away uncountable lives on land and sea.

In 2016, Kabi Raj was away from his home at residencies in Germany and China, when the Great Earthquakes struck Nepal in 2015. The earthquakes killed 8,686, injured 16,808, rendered thousands homeless, and leveled heritage monuments and places of worship. Kabi’s prints made while in Germany and China are poignant narratives of memory and loss. His work explores what the earthquakes destroyed as well as what they revealed. One source of inspiration for Lama was the hidden sculptures from the inner sanctums of Kasthamandap, which the earthquake exposed to the public when the building came down. For one of Lama’s ongoing projects, he recently traveled to the Everest Region in an effort to capture the moment of the earthquake at the world highest peak. He prepared and carved wooden boards from which he has created several editions of prints.


Faiham Ebra Sharif, Bangladesh

Faiham Ebra Sharif is a freelance multimedia journalist and photographer, who has several years of experience working as a reporter, newsroom editor and presenter in national electronic media. Sharif’s areas of research include colonialism, climate change, ethnic minorities, film, human rights, indigenous people, labor rights, migration, popular culture, refugees, Rohingya crisis, sports, tea industry and underprivileged children. He is involved with different cultural and political movements. Through his visual narratives and journalism, Sharif explores the lived-experiences of marginalized people both in South Asia and globally.

His current project, Cha Chakra: Tea Tales of Bangladesh sheds light on the plight of the tea garden workers of Bangladesh who are among the lowest paid and most vulnerable laborers in the world yet are strangely invisible to the global media. Currently, the project concentrates on labor rights and conditions within Bangladesh’s tea industry, which are a direct result of a long history of colonialism and oppression. This project aims to collect the undocumented history of the global tea industry through photography, oral histories, and archival materials. While at Harvard, Sharif plans to continue his archival research and collect materials related to the global tea industry from Harvard’s libraries and museums. He will also photograph the tea culture in USA and spread awareness about the phenomenon though public events and publications.

Other ongoing projects include Rohingya: The Stateless People, The Fantasy Is More Filmic than Fictional: Bangladesh Film Industry and Life in Progress: People Living with HIV.



“Epistemology is the Key to Tribes’ Emancipation”

Raile Rocky Ziipao


Raile Rocky Ziipao is the 2017-2018 Arvind Raghunathan and Sribala Subramanian South Asia Visiting Fellow at SAI. His research interest includes frontier’s highways, the political economy of Indigenous/Tribal/Adivasi peoples development, critical infrastructure studies, philosophy of Indigenous methodology (perspective from within), and an alternative path to modernity.

In an interview with SAI, Raile Rocky Ziipao discusses the importance of his research and initiatives regarding infrastructure in Tribal-dominated areas.

Ziipao will give a seminar on his research titled “The Question of Tribes in Northeast India,” Thursday, March 29, 2018.


How did you first become interested in infrastructure development?

My research project began in my home village of Purul. During monsoons, the roads are not drivable and electricity is so irregular that in some places, there are electric poles with no wires. People have to climb to the top of the mountain for cell service. To get to school, students have to walk for miles. When I go to other parts of the country, the infrastructure is much better. I began to wonder why roads and electricity are so bad in Tribal-dominated areas.

In the sensitive social and political context of India’s border and frontier region, it is crucial to research the impact of infrastructure development on ecosystems, communities, and livelihood. For this reason, I wrote my Ph.D. thesis on infrastructure development and social dynamics in Manipur. My dissertation examines the dynamics of infrastructure development in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of how the state of India plans, executes and politicizes infrastructure. My analysis gives primacy to infrastructure within the development discourse in Northeast India and provides a basis to understand the issues of access, inclusion, equity, and social justice.


What is the importance of roads in your current research?

My current research explores how road development and territorialization take place in Northeast India. One track of my research examines British Colonialism from a historical perspective and asks why the British built roads during the Colonial period? How do roads and colonization take place together?  How did the Tribes form a resistance effort when the British were encroaching upon them?  

Roads are political paths; the development of roads is entwined with the extractions of natural resources and political control of Tribal Areas. My research examines both contemporary and historical road development projects in Tribal areas. I draw connections between the legacies of Colonialism to the Indian state’s development approach. Roads for territorial expansion and resource extraction were the core agenda of the colonial project. The post-colonial Indian state, on the other hand, built roads in the region for securing the borders, promoting regional integration, and linking external markets.

Road development in Northeast India focuses on national highways and transnational highways, ignoring feeder and village roads. Budgetary allocations for village roads are very small. One of my case studies was the so-called Frontiers Highway, which borders China; and the Trans-lateral Highway, which connects India, Myanmar, and Thailand. These highways, in a way, bypass the local economy and local people.

Another case study is of the People’s road, which the Manipur government has ignored for more than 30 years. However, the community used social media to recruit help. With active community participation, they built 100km of the road without any government support, successfully connecting three states in India: Manipur, Nagaland, and Assam.


What are some of the challenges that Tribal Societies in India face today?

Tribes are at the bottom of any social development indicators in India. Tribal people make up 8.6 percent of the total Indian population (104.3 million people). My research utilizes epistemology to examine how India’s dominant framework centers on Caste Societies and theorizes Tribal Societies as the periphery. The dominant framework does not explain the social reality of Tribes. From 1951 to 1990, development projects such as wildlife sanctuaries and dams have displaced 21 million people in Tribal areas. The caste society decides everything for the non-caste society, which explains why they are at the bottom of all social indicators — such as literacy and infant mortality.

Tribes in India have a social structure, which is different from that of so-called mainstream society. Tribes are the non-caste society in India: A category opposed to that of caste, which is a pervasive feature of the larger Indian society. However, Tribes are not a homogenous category. The 2011 census categorizes 705 individual ethnic groups as Scheduled Tribes in India, some with populations as big as 1 million and some with less than 1,000. Tribes are also diverse in terms of culture, traditions, and value systems. While formulating development policy, the challenge on the part of the Indian state is to provide space for synchronizing Tribal peoples’ lived experience, their traditional institutions, and value systems along with the modern values of equality, justice, freedom, fraternity, mutual respect, emancipation, and non-discrimination. Development policy conceptualized and based on the premise of population size and dominant culture has further escalated the tension and development disparity between dominant societies and those living at the margin of history, economy, and crisis of identity.

While theorizing development, it is essential to problematize the Indian state’s assumption that Tribal destruction and displacement are necessary for national economic growth. This does not mean that Tribes do not want to be part of development. Rather, outside forces should not superimpose development but should align with the ethos of the Tribe.


What is the origin of the Tribal Intellectual collective India?

I belong to the Poumai Naga Tribes, which is located in Northeast India in the state of Manipur. I am part of the Tribal Intellectual Collective India (TICI), which Bodhi SR (national co-convener) initiated a few years ago. The collective has approximately 150 members who come from Tribes across the country from Ladak (border of China), Northeastern States, Andaman and Nicobar Island, Central India; from both small and large tribes; and a balance between male and female members. 

We draw inspiration from Professor Virginius Xaxa’s theoretical contribution to tribal studies in India. Tribes in India face two waves of Colonialism, what Professor Xaxa calls “double colonialism” — one from the British and one from the non-Tribal Indian population. Hence, the problem of trying to unravel Tribal social reality from the post-colonial framework of South Asian Studies. Tribes still have yet to experience a post-colonial reality. For Tribes, post-colonial reality and framework is just an idea. This is why it makes sense for us to look at the binary of caste and non-caste society, and from the waves of colonialism.

Xaxa argues that “a tribe is a whole society like any other society, with their own language, territory, culture, customs, and so on. Hence, as societies, tribes must be compared with other societies and not with caste, as has been the case in sociological and anthropological writing.”

The TICI’s theoretical framework includes:

  • The need to posit epistemological premises that challenge gender and class stratification within Tribe/Adivasi societies.
  • The need to produce knowledge that does not affirm the further oppression of “Dalit/Mulnivasi” societies.
  • Does not render invisible, silence, or immobilize small tribes/Adivasi societies.
  • While theorizing “development,” do not perpetuate the State’s current “development paradigm,” which frames Tribe/Adivasi displacement and destruction as necessary for national economic growth.

Furthermore, TICI aims to bring Tribal perspectives into focus by creating the theory, “perspective from within.” This theoretical approach acknowledges that everyone has their own way of looking at the world and that everyone has a right to look at and understand their own social reality. This theory is in contrast to dominant societies, who think of their theories as truth and position other perspectives as an expression of their emotions or a political statement. We see that as problematic because we all have perspectives, no one can stake claim to the truth. We acknowledge that we have a perspective, and we try to acknowledge that others have their own perspective.

The collective has a national seminar, this year’s seminar “Tribal Towns, Small Towns, Border Town and New Towns: Governance, Development and Change” will take place in August. We have also published two books, with two forthcoming, and have been successfully running our online publications, known as TICI Journals, for the past five years.


What has it been like for you to be at Harvard?

Harvard’s incredible resources — the classes, professors, academic environment — are very different from what I have experienced. Harvard gives me a space to reflect, take a step backward, and look deeply at the social reality of my home. Harvard also supplies me with academic tools to analyze and compare these different social realities.

When I am in my village, there is no concept of hierarchy. When we have a dialogue, we sit together — when there is a discussion, a decision can take two or three days. There is no stage, and there is no shouting. Because of this, I am non-hierarchical in nature. During my first talk at Harvard, I felt uncomfortable being on the center stage, since it was my first time in such a situation.

I am grateful for the opportunity that SAI has given to me — rarely do Tribals get access to this kind of opportunity. For instance, I am the first generation in my family to have access to higher education. For me, making it to a top-class university like Harvard is significant, and at first, I could not comprehend how I would face it. However, the staff at SAI have been supportive and friendly.

The best part of being at Harvard has been my academic growth and being part of the knowledge production.  TICI argues that epistemology is the key to Tribes’ emancipation. For our movement to be more than reactionary, we need to produce knowledge. For too long, dominant societies have put us within their framework. I contribute towards the collective by publishing in my area of expertise — Tribes and infrastructure development in conflict areas.


You recently gave a talk with the Boston Study Group. What sort of partnerships and collaborations emerged from that talk?

The talk gave me a space to reach out and collaborate with people from other marginalized groups. The Indigenous people from Australia and Central America who came to my talk were shocked that there are 104.3 million Indigenous people in India. The talk gave us a space to learn about each other’s issues. It makes sense to have a global collaboration across groups, for example, The Boston Study group is active with Dalit rights and issues and connects them with Black Lives Matter and Roma people. Historically these are different locations, but there were similar processes of marginalization. In the future, we hope to learn how to widen our horizons of collaboration, regardless of national boundaries.



This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

Full List of Events to Celebrate Opening of SAI Office in New Delhi

The Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute (SAI), Harvard University, is officially opening its new India headquarters in New Delhi. Throughout 2018 and beyond, leading scholars from South Asia-related fields are delivering a series of free public lectures in Delhi, and the new SAI HQ marks a new era of Harvard faculty and students directly engaging with the region, gaining invaluable insights and experience by committing time and resources in South Asia.


Full List of Events in March and April:

Thursday, March 8
1947 Partition of British India
Professor Uma Chakravarti, Historian
Urvashi Butalia, Author, and Publisher

6:00-7:30 PM
Seminar Hall 1,
Kamla Devi Complex, IIC, N. Delhi


Friday, March 16
The Lakshmi Mittal SAI Office Opening
Mark Elliott, Vice Provost of International Affairs; Mark Schwartz Professor of Chinese and Inner East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University

6:00-7:00 PM
The Imperial Hotel; Flr. 1
Janpath, N. Delhi


Thursday, March 22
Reviving Public-Private Partnerships in India: Highways Leading the Way
Rohit Kumar Singh, Managing Director of Indian Highways Management Company Ltd; HKS ‘04

6:00-7:30 PM
Seminar Hall 3,
Kamla Devi Complex, IIC, N. Delhi


Tuesday, March 27
Human Origin, Health, and Disease: Genomic Perspectives
Dr. K Thangaraj, Scientist, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, India.

6:00-7:30 PM
Seminar Hall 3,
Kamla Devi Complex, IIC, N. Delhi


Thursday, April 5
Trust and Creativity: Fostering Entrepreneurship in Developing Countries
Tarun Khanna, Director, The Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute, Harvard University; Professor Harvard Business School

6:00-7:30 PM
To be confirmed


SAI India Seminar Series: Uma Chakravarti and Urvashi Butalia on Partition


SAI’s new India Seminar Series, at our Delhi headquarters, is gathering steam. We have plenty of exciting events planned for Spring 2018 and will continue for the rest of the year and beyond. You can find all the details on our events page and by subscribing to our weekly newsletter.

On March 8, 2018, feminist historian Uma Chakravarti and feminist publisher Urvashi Butalia gave a seminar on Partition.


Uma Chakravarti is a feminist historian who taught at Miranda House, University College for Women, Delhi from 1966 to 1998. She is the Delhi project director for the SAI Partition Project,”The Demographic and Humanitarian Consequences of the Partition.” Chakravarti writes on Buddhism, early Indian history, caste and feminism, and contemporary issues.

Urvashi Butalia is the author of “The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India,” which centers oral histories from subaltern communities and women who experienced the Partition. Butalia co-founded Kali for Women, India’s first exclusively feminist publishing house. Following the closure of Kali for Women, she founded Zubaan Books.

Second Annual SAI Crossroads Program







To be determined

The Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute, Harvard University (SAI) Second Annual Crossroads Program is a fully-funded career development opportunity for students from the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, and Africa, who are the first in their families to attend college and may also be facing challenging financial and social circumstances.

The 2018 program will run from September 23 – 28, 2018 at the DIFC Academy of the Dubai International Financial Centre (Dubai, UAE).

Leading Harvard faculty will teach an intensive, multidisciplinary four-day curriculum in Dubai, for accomplished, motivated youth.

This program is a collaboration between the Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute, Harvard University, Harvard Business School Club of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the Dubai International Financial Centre, with the support of Air Arabia, the Carlton Hotel, Dubai Future Accelerators, and Emirates Grand Hotel.

Applications will open March 15, 2018. Please find application instructions here.


Program details

  • Class size: up to 60 students
    • 150 candidates will be shortlisted. Short listed candidates will be asked to submit a 2 minute video sharing their leadership experience and why they should be considered for the program.
  • Location: Dubai International Financial Centre, Dubai
  • Cost: FREE (The program will cover the costs of international travel, board, lodging and class materials. Visa costs are the responsibility of selected candidates.)
  • Application deadline: Tuesday May 15th, 2018 11:59 PM Eastern Standard Time (EST).  
  • Questions: Write to 


Faculty Leaders

  • Tarun Khanna is the Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor at the Harvard Business School and Director, the Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute, Harvard University.
  • Karim R. Lakhani is Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, the Principal Investigator of the Crowd Innovation Lab and NASA Tournament Lab at the Harvard Institute for Quantitative Social Science and the faculty co-founder of the Harvard Business School Digital Initiative.

Before contacting the Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute, please read through the answers to Frequently Asked Questions.


Deadline Tuesday, May 15th, 2018, 11:59 PM EST. 


SAI Director Tarun Khanna to be on Committee to Choose India’s 20 ‘Institutes of Eminence’

Professor Khanna


The following article, originally published in ThePrint, covers SAI Director Tarun Khanna’s participation in the Prime Minister’s Committee to select India’s 20 world-class ‘Institutes of Eminence.’


New Delhi: The Prime Minister has formed a high-powered committee, headed by former Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami, with Houston University President and a senior Harvard academic on board to select India’s 20 world-class ‘Institutes of Eminence’, ThePrint has learned.

Former bureaucrat Gopalaswami will head the Empowered Expert Committee (EEC) that will, in effect, be the final authority to select the 20 institutes from a list of 104 that have applied for the coveted status.

The former CEC is currently vice-president of the Vivekananda Educational Society, an organization affiliated to the RSS, which runs a group of schools around Chennai.

Conceived and formulated under the close scrutiny of the Prime Minister’s Office, this high-priority project aims to catapult Indian institutes to global recognition. The Centre has promised unprecedented academic and administrative autonomy to the chosen 20. Ten of these will be government-run and receive special funding.

A committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary had shortlisted the members for the EEC, which has finally got approval from the PM who heads the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC). The EEC members are expected to serve a three-year term.

Gopalaswami, a Padma Bhushan awardee, is a retired IAS officer from the Gujarat cadre. Currently, chairman of the Kalakshetra Foundation, Gopalaswami had courted controversy in 2009 for recommending removal of Election Commissioner Navin Chawla when he was CEC.

Prof. Tarun Khanna, who was schooled in New Delhi, is the Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor at the Harvard Business School and Director of the Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute, Harvard University.

Renu Khator, holds the dual titles of chancellor and president of the University of Houston. She is the first Indian American to lead a major research university in the United States. The Uttar Pradesh-born Khator is a well-known scholar in the field of global environmental policy. She was also awarded the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman by the Indian government.

Dr. Pritam Singh, former Director IIM Lucknow and MDI Gurgaon, is the fourth member of the EEC.

Of the 104 institutes in the fray for the status of ‘eminence’, 71 are government funded ones including most of the IITs, IIMs and a number of NITs. Top private institutes are also in the fray.

The experts of eminence

The EEC is critical to the concept of ‘Institutes of Eminence’ and the government wants its members to be above board. It is also felt that members with global work experience may help these institutes achieve global status.

The EEC will recommend names of the chosen institutes to the University Grants Commission. It will also monitor and review these 20 institutions of eminence to ensure quality, decide on appeals, liquidation of corpus fund if needed, verify compliance to financial requirements if required, assess deviations from goals and standards identified.

Since the notorious UGC inspection regime is being waived for these institutes, a disclosure-cum-review mechanism will be brought in for which the EEC may rope in foreign experts.

The EEC will review the institutes once in three years for adherence to their implementation plan until they achieve the top 100 global ranking slot for two consecutive years. The institutes will also have to inform the EEC every year about their progress and may be asked to address deficiencies or face penal action if they fail to deliver.

ThePrint had reported how the government had drawn up an impressive short list of 36 to appoint the EEC members. Among these were the Principal Economic Advisor Sanjeev Sanyal, former NITI Aayog vice-chairman Arvind Panagariya and former RBI governor D. Subbarao. A number of well-known Indian academics in top positions in foreign universities were also on the shortlist.


Read the original article. 


Correction by SAI: ThePrint’s article states Professor Khanna was “schooled in Delhi”. In fact, he completed his secondary education in Bengaluru and Mumbai, before heading to Princeton University as an undergraduate. 

SAI India Seminar Series: Dr. Richard Cash on Infectious Diseases

Dr. Sanjay Kumar introduces the seminar with Dr. Richard Cash moderated by Dr. A K Shiva Kumar

Dr. Sanjay Kumar introduces the seminar with Dr. Richard Cash moderated by Dr. A K Shiva Kumar


SAI’s new India Seminar Series, at our Delhi headquarters, is gathering steam. We have plenty of exciting events planned for Spring 2018 and will continue for the rest of the year and beyond. You can find all the details on our events page and by subscribing to our weekly newsletter.

Here, SAI’s India Country Director, Sanjay Kumar, reports on the most recent event. On Feb 22, Dr. Richard Cash, Senior Lecturer on Global Health at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, spoke about infectious diseases.


Dr. Cash began with a historical overview of the evolution of infectious diseases in South Asia during his 50 years working in the region. Smallpox, which once caused millions of deaths has disappeared, thanks to immunization. Mass immunization has also virtually eliminated neo-natal tetanus and polio and vaccines have dramatically decreased the incidence of measles and rubella.  Other interventions have greatly reduced the incidence of diseases triggered by infections such as liver cancer (hepatitis B immunization), trachoma, and rheumatic fever.

Most new infections are zoonoses, which are diseases that spread from animals to humans. Cattle, apes, wild ducks and bats are the origin of diseases like measles, HIV, influenza, Ebola, and Nipah.  He observed that the expression of new and re-emerging diseases is variable and that understanding the context is critical.

If a new virus develops efficient person-to-person transmission it could potentially lead to a new global pandemic. This is of particular concern regarding new strains of influenza virus, which, because it’s an airborne infection can be easily spread through global air routes.  The short incubation period and the global shortage of vaccines (produced by somewhat out-dated techniques) further contribute to its spread. 

The rise of new diseases can be very costly and have a significant economic impact on a country.  Economic considerations can also affect control strategies.  In the case of bird flu (H5N1) the Government of India based its control program on the culling of infected or exposed chickens. Farmers, however, received very little compensation after their chickens were killed so they stopped reporting outbreaks in their flocks. It is vital to evaluate the needs and values of the community and develop a structured program accordingly. 

Dr. Cash focused on preventative measures to limit the development and spread of new and emerging infections. He compared India with neighbors like Sri Lanka to show how other countries have worked on community-based initiatives and dealt with public health. Publicity, awareness and a centralized information system help communities to understand where the diseases come from and how they spread. Without easy access to this information, outbreaks can. Inequality and poverty in India are risk major factors and need to be addressed if the development and spread of new and emerging diseases are to be limited and controlled.


A previous version of this article contained technical inaccuracies in our reporting of Dr. Cash’s talk – these have since been amended.

SAI Director Interviews Former Chairman of Pharmaceuticals Giant Cipla

Closely related to the issues raised by Dr. Cash’s talk in New Delhi, Dr. Yusuf Hamied told Professor Tarun Khanna, in an interview for Harvard Business School’s Creating Emerging Markets‘ project, how and why he fought to supply cheap generic drugs to Indians and people from other emerging countries, breaking the dominance of large multinational pharmaceutical companies.

Watch extended clips of the interview.

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.


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