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News Category: Students


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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Call for applications: A Workshop on Genomic Applications in Healthcare & Translational Research


Workshop on Genomic Applications in Healthcare & Translational Research

 

The aim of this intensive workshop is to introduce highly talented Indian students to the emerging area of genomics and enable them to explore the power and excitement of Next Generation Sequencing technologies to address clinically relevant research questions. The workshop will train participants on the experimental aspects of genomic sequencing and computational analysis of sequencing data through didactic and research lectures and  hands-on sessions.

 

The workshop is sponsored by the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India.
Institute of Bioinformatics and Applied Biotechnology
Biotech Park
Electronics City Phase I
Bengaluru 560 100
India
Tel: 080-285 289 00, 080-285 289 01, 080-285 289 02

 

dbt-logoIBAB_Logo

 

 

Themes

  • Cancer genomics and translational medicine
  • Population genomics
  • Infectious and rare disease genomics
  • Nutri genomics
  • Genomics of non-coding RNA
  • Epigenomics

Confirmed Speakers

Cynthia C. Morton (Harvard Medical School), Marc Lenburg (Boston University), Maha Farhat (Harvard Medical School), J Carrot Zhang (Broad Institute), MRS Rao (JNCASR), Rakesh Mishra (CCMB), K Thangaraj (CCMB), Amit Dutt (ACTREC-Mumbai), Vinod Scaria (IGIB-New Delhi), P Dasaradhi (InStem,Bangalore), Aswin S Seshasayee (NCBS, Bangalore), Subha S (IBAB), Vibha C (IBAB), Vijayalakshmi M (IBAB)

Deadline: November 15, 2017

LMSAI aims to notify applicants by late November regarding decisions.

Qualifications

  • Open to pre-doctoral, doctoral and post doctoral researchers in Life Sciences /Biotechnology / Bioinformatics / Computer Science, currently engaged in a relevant area of research
  • Students currently enrolled in MBBS / M.Pharm programmes
  • Exceptionally talented undergraduate students

Selection:

The applications will be scrutinised by an international panel. A maximum of 25 participants can be accepted

Application Instructions:

  1. Please look below for applications to apply to the genomics workshop.

You will need to submit the following materials:

  1. Upload an updated curriculum vitae—listing your academic degrees (including disciplines and dates the degrees were received), your publications, research presentations, previous grants and/or fellowships, and any additional experience that shows scientific background and productivity.
  2. One page Statement of Interest, describing how your participation in the workshop will help in the advancement of your career
  3. Recent academic transcript(s)
  4. Two letters of recommendation.

Applying to the B4 Genomics Workshop
These instructions apply to non-Harvard candidates ONLY.  If you have any questions, please email Jee Soo Kang (jkang1@fas.harvard.edu).
1. Request an XID: https://xid.harvard.edu/xid-apps/displaySSCreateForm.do  You MUST do this in order to apply.  Please wait at least 24 hours after requesting an XID to apply to the Genomics Workshop.  Otherwise, you will not be able to login.
2. Go to this link:
https://apps2.registrar.fas.harvard.edu/carat/applicant/newApplication?applicationPurposeId=16&fundingSourceId=7083
3. Toggle to the “XID” Login Option instead of the “HarvardKey” Option and login with your XID.

4. You should be taken straight to the application page for the “B4 Genomics Workshop.”  If you are not, search up “B4 Genomics” to look for the application.

Instructions to Apply to B4 Genomics Workshop

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Crossroads Summer Program 2017


Fifty driven, accomplished students from eleven countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East formed the inaugural cohort of the Harvard South Asia Institute’s Crossroads Summer Program. They are all first-generation college students – the first in their families to participate in higher education, many from challenging financial circumstances – and came together in the heat of Dubai from August 11-14, 2017.

The successful cohort was an even balance of male and female students, from diverse backgrounds. There was, for example, a young woman from Quetta, a city in Pakistan with the country’s lowest female literacy rate. Another student had worked as a garbage collector to pay his school fees.

These young people face challenges that are far beyond the experience of most Harvard students; their success fulfilled one of the main goals of the program. And as the video below shows, they also managed to have a little fun along the way.

Leading scholars from Harvard led the key sessions:

  • Tarun Khanna is the Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor at the Harvard Business School and Director of the South Asia Institute at 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.
  • Kristin E. Fabbe is an assistant professor in the Business, Government, and International Economy Unit.

This unique program was a collaboration between the Harvard South Asia Institute, Harvard Business School Club of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the Dubai International Financial Centre, with the support of Air Arabia, the Carlton Hotel, Dubai Future Accelerators, and Emirates Grand Hotel. It offered a fully-funded career development opportunity and introduction to top-level American university culture for students who might otherwise have their ambitions curtailed by circumstances beyond their control; with their dedication and conduct, these students showed very clearly the value of such opportunities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Congratulations, Class of 2017!


Here at SAI, we are wishing the young minds of tomorrow the very best as they celebrate their triumphs, diligence, and vigor. Happy commencement!
Commencement_Hero Banner1
(PC: Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer)

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Highlights from the Harvard India Conference


unnamedThe annual Harvard India Conference, which SAI co-sponsors, was held at the Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business School on February 11 & 12.

Videos from the event.

The following article was written by DiyaTV.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (Diya TV) — Two days, 90 speakers and over a thousand attendees at one of the largest student-led conferences about India in the U.S. For the last 15 years, every February, eminent personalities of India from political, entertainment, business and science milieus descend on the Harvard campus to share their stories, visions, challenges and missions to infect the young Indian diaspora in the US with an idea of a better India in the global context.

India Conference 2017 was aptly themed, ‘India – The Global Growth Engine.’ A United Nations report forecasted India to be growing at 7.7% in 2017 besides a global recession (just 2.2% in 2016). However, most speakers cautioned the audience from undue fervor as the country continues to reel in poverty—23.6% of the total population lives under $1.25 per day on purchasing power parity. Multitude of the panels like those discussing agriculture, entrepreneurship, urbanization and women’s rights, kept the focus firmly on the challenges with a smattering of success stories.

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Student voices: Understanding the role of fathers in their young childrens care, health, and development


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

By Joshua Jeong, Doctor of Science Global Health and Population 2019

Through the generous support of the South Asia Institute’s Winter session Research Grant, I was able to travel to Pakistan this January to launch a primary qualitative research study, which will comprise one chapter of my doctoral dissertation. More broadly, my dissertation utilizes a variety of methodologies to better understand how fathers contribute to their young children’s early well-being in specifically low- and middle-income countries. For my qualitative study, I am focusing specifically in Pakistan and employing both in-depth interviews and direct parent-child observations with mothers and fathers to understand drivers and experiences around parenting in the particular cultural context of rural impoverished Pakistan.

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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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Student voices: Tiger reserves and nature preserves


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

By Mei Yin Wu, Harvard College ’17

This wintersession I interned with the Wildlife Conservation Trust as a fellow working in the economics division. Having had traveled a fair bit, I was surprised to find Mumbai a beast of its own. During the first couple of days in the city, I was overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of people and traffic. Mumbai is one of the ten most densely populated cities in the world (8 of which are in the Indian subcontinent). Due to the enormous size of the population, there is a large demand for motor vehicles, which inevitably contributes to higher levels of particulate matter in the air. Issues such as air pollution and water sanitation safety, however, are by no means unique to India. Most developing countries face these problems and in fact, most developed countries have experienced these issues in the past. But generally with consistently high growth rates, like the ones India has recently enjoyed, comes increased expectations of standards of life. I believe that India will face increasing pressure to combat the environmental issues that seem inherent to the process of economic development.

Despite the initial discomfort that came from adapting to new traffic patterns and air quality, I grew to appreciate the abundant diversity of Mumbai. Being a financial hub, Mumbai attracts people from all over India and as such, is home to many diverse cuisines and religious practices. I was able to sample Southern Indian street food at Matunga and “sizzlers,” Chinese Indian fusion dishes, in Nariman Point. According to my peer fellow, Pooja, people celebrate all religious holidays in Mumbai. In her circle of friends, her Muslim friends would invite her over for Eid, and she would return the favor when it came time for Diwali. Many people I spoke to seemed to disbelieve the claim of religious differences being the primary factor behind Indian-Pakistani conflict and instead viewed the conflict as a matter of politics. While the conversations I had were by no means necessarily indicative of popular opinion, it was interesting to hear local perspectives as a supplement to the views posited by Western professors.

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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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