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Multidisciplinary Research Projects

Mapping the Kumbh Mela

The Kumbh Mela is a Hindu religious fair that occurs every 12 years at the confluence of the Ganga and Yamuna rivers on the plains of northern India.  Today it draws tens of millions of pilgrims over the course of a few weeks to bathe in the sacred rivers. Harvard faculty and students from the Faculty of Arts and Science, Divinity School, Design School, Business School and the School of Public Health, traveled to Allahabad to study this “pop-up mega-city.”

More about this project.

Social Sciences


Adolescent Agency and Overcoming Gender Violence

Overcoming vulnerability and exploitation are the biggest obstacles to a girl’s social agency in South Asia. Researchers have extensively studied the obstacles preventing disadvantaged girls from accessing secondary and college education.  An opposite approach that looks at how underprivileged girls have managed to successfully complete high school and move on to higher education. What other contextual factors contributed?  How did they become “positive deviants”? Understanding education success is central to realizing gender equality, securing employment, and reducing early marriage, teen pregnancy and domestic violence.

Faculty Directors: Jacqueline Bhabha (Harvard School of Public Health), Akshay Mangla (Harvard Business School), Diane Rosenfeld (Harvard Law School).
In region partners: Poonam Muttreja (Population Foundation of India), Maninder Kaur (Ministry of Human Resource Development, India.), Shanta Sinha (University of Hyderabad), Tanya D’Lima (World Bank), Nandita Batla (International Center for Research on Women).

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Indian marketFormal and Informal Businesses in India: Data, Linkages, and Regulations

To promote inclusive growth in India, there is a need to get a better understanding of the composition of businesses, how they operate, what constraints they face. The goal of the proposed project is to generate a better understanding of  a) the size, location and characteristics of businesses in India, both formal and informal, over time based on the last few rounds of the labour force and economic census data; b) the diversity of production relations within and between firms (employer, own-account, contracting and sub-contracting, regular and casual wage labour) through both a literature review and data analysis;  c) the linkages between formal and informal businesses through a literature review; d) which regulations help or hinder informal enterprises through a literature review; and e) modes of capital accumulation and patterns of technological change across industry sectors through a literature review.

Faculty Directors: Martha Chen (HKS) and Richard Freeman (FAS and National Bureau of Economic Research)
Partners: Amit Basole (UMass/Boston), Deepankar Basu (University of Massachusetts/Amherst), G. Raveendran (retired, Government of India), Joann Vanek (Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing).


Primary Care DeliveryPrimary Care Delivery

Primary care services are a key means to reducing the disease burden and improving equity, as well as controlling the high financial burden on households arising from an unregulated market. Primary care services depend on a defined package of health promotion, prevention, and treatment initiatives that involve individuals and communities linking with health workers and health facilities. This project will look at opportunities in both urban and rural South Asia for private programs to develop high-quality, low-cost primary care service delivery to meet the demand of lower- and middle-income consumers for a trustworthy service.

Faculty Directors: Peter Berman (Harvard School of Public Health)
Regional partners: Afsana Kaosar (BRAC), Aamir Khan (Indus Hospital, Pakistan), Nachiket Mor (Health Management  and Research Institute, India.)


Looking Back, Informing the Future: The 1947 Partition of British India- Implications of Mass Dislocations Across Geographies

Despite abundant historical and political scholarship on Partition, and despite a growing literature of personal reflection and fiction, very little had been done, even after 67 years to search the extensive archival records of British India and the three countries that evolved from Partition to specify what actually happened to the millions who chose to or were forced to move to another country in a very short period of time. The ambition of the Partition Project is to develop a rich and empirically grounded understanding of Partition from this perspective: how many people chose to or were forced to move; where did they leave from and where did they go; how many people died and where; how many people suffered and where; and what efforts were made by government and civil society to mobilize relief and mitigate these severe consequences?

Faculty Director: Jennifer Leaning (Harvard School of Public Health, FXB Center, Harvard Medical School)
In Region Partners: Swaleha Shahzada Citizens Archives of Pakistan; Aman Foundation, Pakistan.





King Lear by Pablo BartholomewSouth Asian Arts at SAI

The 2008 Report of the Task Force on the Arts called for Harvard to make arts “an integral part of the cognitive life of the University.” SAI Arts Initiative serves as a resource for students and faculty across all disciplines to explore critical issues of South Asia through the lens of art and design. This program supports mid-career museum directors, curators, museology students, and artists with the aim of developing under-served museums into robust institutions, hosting South Asian museology students for independent studies, and showcasing emerging South Asian artists. Arts at SAI sets out to provide expertise to curatorial and conservation professionals, offer Harvard’s state-of-the-art research facilities to doctoral museology students, and give emerging South Asian artists a prestigious platform to exhibit and discuss their work.

Faculty Directors: Jinah Kim and Doris Sommers (FAS)
Partners: Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, HBS, Harvard Extension School, Harvard Museums, GSD

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Bombay CityThe Contemporary South Asian City

Rapid economic growth is resulting in the transformation of the urban city in South Asia. The prominent role that cities in South Asia like Colombo, Dhaka, Karachi, Delhi, and Mumbai will play in the world arena merits a deeper look into understanding the contemporary South Asian city. The research would include day long workshops in the six cities, followed by a synthetic seminar at Harvard to explore the potential research projects that might emerge from these workshops. The findings from the workshops could be developed into a semester long studio taught at Harvard. The themes would include issues of affordable housing, conservation, public space, urban infrastructure and sanitation.

Faculty Director: Rahul Mehrotra (Graduate School of Design) and Justin Stern (PhD Candidate, Graduate School of Design)
Partners: Arif Hassan, Karachi, Fuad Mallick, BRAC, Bangladesh, Jagath Munasinghe, Colombo, Sri Lanka

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Literacy about Religion in Contemporary South Asian Issues

An executive education program focused on enhancing religious literacy for professionals in public policy, media, and education. Participants will learn a method for understanding the complex roles that religions play in contemporary political and cultural affairs; discover how this method functions in specific professional sectors (e.g., business, journalism, international relations, public health, etc.); and learn about the application of this method through case studies located in specific contemporary contexts relevant to the participants.

Faculty Directors: Ali Asani (Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences) and Diane Moore (Harvard Divinity School).


Urban South AsiaUrban India Atlas

The project will help develop a new taxonomy for Tier-II (average population of 1.9M) and Tier-III cities (population size, between 100,000 and 1M) which are currently advancing disciplined and rigorous development plans, and will emerge as specialist centers of industries such as IT, manufacturing, or tourism and cultural heritage. Six cities have been selected, and regional partners in each city are being cultivated: Jamshedpur (Industrial Town), Erode (Market Town), Tirupati (Religious Town), Mhow (Cantonment Town), Agra (Heritage Town), Panjim (State Capital). Outputs will include a literature review on urbanism in South Asia, roundtable meetings with country partners, a two-day symposium on specific cities, seminars and studios offered through the GSD, and a series of publications pertaining to each city.

Faculty Director: Rahul Mehrotra (Graduate School of Design) and Justin Stern (PhD Candidate, Graduate School of Design)
Partners: World Monument Fund, Aga Khan Foundation.