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News Category: News

30th Anniversary of Harvard’s Student-Produced Ghungroo

Performers in Ghungroo

Ghungroo Performance in 2017


Produced by the South Asia Association, Ghungroo is the largest student-run production at Harvard. Over 300 undergraduate students work together to direct, produce and perform a wide variety of dances, musical selections, dramatic pieces and poetry inspired by the traditions of South Asia.

This year’s production will celebrate 30 years of Ghungroo with an alumni reception on Saturday afternoon after the matinee show. There are four Ghungroo performances on February 22-24, 2018. Tickets are almost sold out, so grab your tickets while they last!

SAI discussed the upcoming Ghungroo production with Ayman Mohammad and Simi Shah, co-presidents of the South Asian Association at Harvard (SAA) and producers of the 30th Annual Ghungroo performance.


Can you tell me about Ghungroo?

Ayman: We are now in the 30th year of Ghungroo! In 1988, students organized the first Ghungroo show to raise funds after a cyclone devastated an area in Bangladesh.  It has now evolved into an annual dance show that brings people together from South Asia and beyond.

Ghungroo is an all-inclusive performance that encompasses dances ranging from raas to bhangra, and new age dance forms. It brings both experienced and less experienced performers together into a large dance, whether or not they are part of the South Asian community. Ghungroo is open to everybody!


When did you first start participating?  

Simi: We both started as freshmen representatives for the South Asian Association. We got involved because of the aura of hype around Ghungroo. My first year, I choreographed a dance, which Ayman was in. Ever since then, we have been participating in the event in one form or another. This year as co-presidents of SAA, we had the opportunity to co-produce the show.


Can you tell me about your experience producing the show?

Ayman: It has been a very rewarding experience. However, there is a lot of logistical coordination behind the scenes to make sure that the show runs smoothly!  

Simi: The enthusiasm and dedication around the event is incredible. For example, if we need help painting a set, we can send a message and several people will show up to help. This speaks to how much Ghungroo means to people, both freshman who are just learning about Ghungroo for the first time and seniors who cannot believe this will be their final show.

This year has been particularly rewarding because we have been doing a lot of alumni outreach. We have connected with some of the founding members of Ghungroo who are coming back to see the show and how it has evolved. For the alumni reception, we collected alumni photos and memories and are hosting an alumni reception for them. We have about 60-70 alumni coming back for the show, with alumni from 1988 to 2017.


Can you tell me about the community that Ghungroo creates?
Simi: The unique thing about Ghungroo is that anyone can participate; we do not have auditions, participants fill out a form and producers place them in a dance. Ghungroo fosters community because people are either dancing with their friends or making new friends. For those who are not dancing, they are excited to go watch their friends perform.  

Ayman: My freshman year, I had zero dance experience when I joined the show. However, you do not need to be a good dancer to participate. Ghungroo is more about being a part of a community and the energy the show creates.


Can you share a favorite memory you have from the last few years of Ghungroo?

Ayman: Last year, when I was performing in the raas dance, I was front row and center. There was a dance move in which we were banging dandiya sticks on the ground, then the air, and so on. I was so carried away in the dance that I kept hitting the dandiya sticks long after everyone else has stopped! It was obvious that I made a mistake, but it was also obvious that I was really into the dance! All the people in the front row started cheering for me, I even heard someone shout, “it is okay Ayman!” Even though I messed up, I felt like it added to the show. That performance happened to be the night they video-recorded the show, so it has become this iconic moment that will live on forever.
Simi: The past last two years I have served as a choreographer. Last year we had this new dance step called “Happy Feet.” We did not know if people would learn it in time because it was a hard move. To my surprise, to this day, people come up to me to say, “I’ve been practicing my “Happy Feet”! Look how good I have become!”


What can we expect from this year’s Ghungroo?

Ayman: In Ghungroo, a skit ties all the dance pieces together. In past years, we have tackled different issues such as mental health, family dynamics and the generational gap between students and their parents who are immigrants.

This year, since it is the 30th anniversary, the plot is about the creation of Ghungroo and what it means to be a part of the show, and how Ghungroo brings the whole community together. It is a meta show about the show. Alumni can connect with the show by seeing their own history with Ghungroo and current students can see how different it was to be a South Asian thirty years ago creating the first Ghungroo.

Simi: In today’s climate, it is particularly important for people to see how the South Asian community has come together over the last 30 years to build a lasting bond and strengthen the community through Ghungroo.


What does Ghungroo mean to you?

Ayman: Ghungroo means inclusion. Everyone is part of something bigger than themselves, no matter their cultural or dance background- everyone is welcome. That is why I have been doing it for the last three years.
Simi: To me, Ghungroo is about passion, diversity, and community. It is about seeing people from all corners of Harvard and beyond come together to create something that has become meaningful to such a large group of people.

To both of us, having worked our way up through the South Asian Association, starting as freshman representatives to today as co-presidents, Ghungroo represents a journey.



This year’s show dates are:
– Thursday, February 22 at 7 PM ($15 GA; $12 Student)
– Friday, February 23 at 7 PM ($21 GA; $15 Student)
– Saturday, February 24 at 12 PM ($15 GA; $12 Student) [no senior dance]
– Saturday, February 24 at 7 PM ($21 GA; $15 Student)

Buy your tickets from the Harvard Box Office.

LIMIT: 1 student price ticket per HUID. Tickets are SEF-eligible. 

If you choose the Harvard Box Office Option, be sure to purchase a “GHUNGROO ALUMNI” ticket to receive the benefits of our alumni package. If you would like to pay via Venmo, please fill out our Alumni Ticketing form — contact


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“Social” Media: How Old Newspapers Help Us Understand Partition

Whenever my Pakistani family and acquaintances discuss the original ‘Brexit’, the 1947 transfer of governance to the new states of India and Pakistan, we mostly talk about communal tensions among Hindu, Muslim and Sikh communities, or focus on contemporary political shenanigans in the region. Though most branches of my family were directly affected by the events of 1947, we rarely discuss its personal and familial impact. This interplay of easy conversation and silences around the Partition is a trope in the inheritances of history and family mythology in many Pakistani and Indian families.  

The academic industry around Partition, however, has recently begun to understand that individual and social experiences, as Ilyas Chattha says, are “Partition history’s integral subject, not just its by-product or an aberration”.

We learn more about this world-changing event from the stories of men, women and children who were not in the top tiers of the Muslim League or Indian National Congress parties whose history has come to define this seminal event in the world’s memory.  

As a researcher on SAI’s collaborative Partition project, my goal has been to find and understand several pairs of opposites – care and violence, survival and death – as they co-existed in South Asia immediately before and after August 1947. In this massive, under-documented humanitarian episode, the ‘human’ element needs to be better represented in all its complexity.  


Picture 1 of 29

The echo chambers of nationalism present a challenge in developing a three-dimensional model of how the millions of people were affected by Partition, making it harder to conceptualize a true ‘people’s history’. A significant portion of this historiographic focus, certainly in the English language, has been on what would become ‘Indian’ stories, for a variety of reasons.

In the case of Pakistan, at least, the archives that could give shape to a subaltern narrative are lost, scattered or obscured behind concentric circles of privacy, without a will to even look. The country’s fledgling bureaucracy, as well as citizenry, lacked the pre-existing infrastructure and wealth that existed across the border, resulting in a relative flattening of Partition narratives in circulation.  

In the face of this, the rare academics who give time and attention to Pakistan have recently relied extensively on oral histories and also on media analysis to substantiate the description of the human toll of Partition – and, therefore, independence – beyond statistics (assuming these statistics even exist or can be traced).  

Newspapers, along with radio, in Urdu and English, were the main platforms available for displaced people (and those concerned with them) to make a case for themselves. There are classifieds advertizing business opportunities and details of lost loved ones, and passionate letters to the editor that signal discontent to state authorities.

Government organs and functionaries also relied on the tools of media to communicate with their new citizens, as they sought to shape that very citizenry.

There were photographs of politicians in ‘charismatic’ mode speaking and posing among refugees, who were often shown in either classic images of destitution and despair, or occasionally as heroic survivors, much like the new state of Pakistan, which claimed as part of its mystique a resilience in the face of many threats to its independence and security.  

Of course, these resources were most available to those with certain privileges. In a region with relatively low literacy, and where rural areas were particularly affected by disruption and displacement, English and Urdu-language media were not truly representative of the struggles and joys of life of over five million refugees (and the deduction and absence of a similarly-sized population of non-Muslim evacuees).  

The themes that emerge from the layout and content of a newspaper like Dawn, even when addressing the needs of the less privileged, can at best merely hint at the overall picture of what the newly-realized Pakistan meant for the lived experience of each of its constituents, especially those whose experience resisted easy packaging within bigger stories of the successful and best-possible emergence of the Pakistani state.   

With this caveat, I have selected clippings from a newspaper with socialist-leaning bona fides called the Pakistan Times (edited by eminent cultural figure Faiz Ahmad Faiz) to show how news around the partition was expressed and shared by individuals, providing insight into the motivations and struggles that official histories have glossed over.  

To contextualize these clippings, it is important to note that Pakistan was caught up in a frenzy of ‘pioneership’. Reporting on the Partition, into 1948, shared space with tales of battle and suffering in Kashmir and Palestine/Israel, lending an almost cosmological significance to local problems, which seemed to be reflected on the wider global stage.

It is also important to note that newspapers, as the original ‘social’ media, contained multiple voices, including dissenting ones. Hence, we have a remarkably regular series of messages by West Punjab’s civil supplies department, announcements about open meetings with police, as well as expressions of dissatisfaction with government actions, and direct communications between estranged friends and relatives (including non-Muslims).  

Nabil carefully scanning old newspaper clippings

Nabil carefully scanning old newspaper clippings

In selecting these clippings, I have chosen to highlight stories of unexpected relationships as well as glimpses into the lived experience of refugees and those individuals and organizations in relationship with these displaced.  

The economy of displacement included, in small ways, the continuation of connections between Muslim and non-Muslim, as private transactions around property occurred before sufficient government management of property exchange between departing evacuees and incoming refugees.  

The elite and upper middle classes were called out for aspects of their lifestyles during the ongoing emergency, and daily requests for aid to the national fund for refugee assistance (alongside reports of conspicuous donations made by schools, professional associations, townships etc.) emphasized generosity as a civic virtue of the new regime.

Newspapers facilitated communication in a period where other media were not as reliable. Refugees drew attention to the difficulties they faced in navigating their new lives. The government of Indore in India even used Pakistani newspapers to connect with potential incoming migrants. 

This archive, like most, is a static one, so we do not know the antecedents or after-life of any of these pieces of newspaper art and literature (what, for example, was the Hindu or Sikh refugee’s response to the Indore announcement?); nonetheless, these excerpts allow us to focus our lines of inquiry as researchers on the texture of the social fabric of the newly formed dominions, with neatness and linearity in some cases, and deep complexity in others. 


Nabil A Khan is a Visiting Scholar at the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. This is the first in a series of blog posts about SAI’s Partition Project.

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Remembering Asma Jahangir: “Pakistan’s Conscience”

By Mariam Chughtai, Ed.D. ’15, SAI Pakistan Programs Director

Mariam Chughtai and Asma Jahangir at Harvard in 2015


The auditorium was full as Asma Jahangir, who passed away this week at the age of just 66, delivered the Harvard Asia Center’s prestigious, annual Tsai Lecture in March 2015. Pakistani speakers at Harvard are quite rare, perhaps because anyone from the country who is consequential is, typically, also highly controversial.

Asma Jahangir was of course both, but the difference was that even those who disagreed with her respected her fearlessness. She was Pakistan’s conscience.

I remember first seeing her when I was a freshman at Kinnaird College, an all-women institution in Lahore, Pakistan. I sat at the very back of a large hall packed with young women, waiting to hear the great Asma Jahangir speak. We sat in awe of her bravery and most of us were also afraid for her life.

There were intense social debates taking place in Pakistan at the time, centred around a case she had taken on; her client was an adult woman who was asserting the right to marry without the consent of her guardian. She was facing down the religious right, which is not something many people attempt in Pakistan. Her fight went all the way to the Supreme Court of Pakistan, which eventually ruled in favor of a woman’s unilateral right to marry whomever she wanted without need for permission.

Asma Jahangir took on many of these challenges, any one of which would be enough to gather a lifetime of deserved plaudits. She was not only the most prominent human rights lawyer; she was the most successful.

In a society where women are sentenced to be gang-raped and honor killings are justified in the name of culture, Asma Jahangir relentlessly pursued new laws to protect women.

She represented the most persecuted victims in front of the Supreme Court. At a time when anti-blasphemy laws are frequently invoked to settle personal disputes and persecute minorities, Asma Jahangir represented Christians who were being held unfairly in jail, helping them get a fair trial.

She fought to restore children to the custody of their mothers. She challenged the state to fulfill its responsibility of providing education, health and employment to poor children, instead of trying them indiscriminately as juvenile offenders.

Her life was frequently in danger; she stood up to fearsome Pakistani regimes in the service of human rights and democracy. Tear-gassed, beaten and imprisoned, she led fellow activists from the Women Action Forum in the first public protest against military dictator General Zia in 1983, demanding equal rights for women.

There were death threats, assassination attempts and bullet holes in her office, but she continued to persevere right till the end.

I’ve often wondered how people like Asma Jahangir charge ahead despite these seemingly formidable odds. Religious political extremists labelled her anti-state and anti-Islam, stigmatizing her in the eyes of many. But in her struggles, you find a deep calm, anchored in the perpetual pursuit of justice.

Here is a text message that I received in the wake of her untimely death. To me, this embodies her essence:


aur jab jahan’num kay farishtay

fatwa-farosh molviyon ko

seekh maen pero kar

aag par bhoon rahay hon gay

tou aik divani aurat

kala coat pehan kar

khuda ki adalat maen

aen-e-asmani ki shik Ghafur-ur-Raheem kay tehat

gunah-garon ki bakhshish kay liay

dalael day ge

wohi Asma Jahangir ho ge


when angels

roast mullahs

on skewers

in hell

this same mad woman

in a black coat

will appear

before the lord


for clemency

for the holy sinners


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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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SAI Summer Grant Applications are Due February 15, 2018

SAI Summer 2018 Grant applications are due on February 15th, 2018. SAI offers Language Study Grants, Research Grants, and Internships Grants to students registered as either a Harvard undergraduate or graduate during Summer 2018.

SAI grants:


If you have any questions please contact Jee Soo Kang, Program Coordinator, at

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