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A person leaning out the window of a moving train in Goa, India. Photo by JK.
Applications for Winter 2021 Student Grants are now open. Click here to learn more.

Each semester, the Mittal Institute offers grants to Harvard students to further their research, language study, or internship opportunities. This semester, 14 students were awarded grants to carry out projects during the 2021 Wintersession, ranging from the creation of a timeline of South Asian history from the dawn of Indus valley civilization until 1947 CE, to language studies on Sinhala, Bangla, Kashmiri, and more.

Below, read about the projects each of our student grant recipients are carrying out this winter, and stay tuned throughout the spring semester to read their reports on what they learned.

The 2020–2021 Winter Student Grant Winners:

Research Grants

Love, Labor, and Legacy: Chinese and Indian Migrants in British Malaya, 1890-1960, Sudarshana Chanda

Chanda’s research project examines close, interpersonal relationships between Chinese and Indian migrants in British Malaya from the 1890s to the end of colonial rule in the 1960s by focusing on three principal occasions that brought them into close contact: political solidarities, interracial marriage, and interracial adoption. In the 1890s, British colonial Malaysia and Singapore — then referred to as Malaya — received one of multiple waves of mass migration that dispersed more than one million Chinese and Indians across port cities, rubber plantations, and tin mines. Chanda’s project uses a combination of case studies gleaned from oral histories, memoirs, and travelogues to explore these relationships.

A Timeline of South Asian History: Dynasties, Rulers, and Key Events, Vaishnavi Patil

Patil’s digital humanities project aims to present a detailed and comprehensive chronology of dynasties, regions, and key events throughout South Asian history, stretching from the dawn of the Indus Valley civilization through 1947 CE. Previously, Patil had worked to build a comprehensive chronology for the period between 200 BCE to 400 CE in South Asian history and realized that no chronological resource exists in the digital space or in a print medium. The goal of her project is to present a comprehensive chronology that will be valuable to scholars of history, art history, South Asian studies, and those interested in the particulars of South Asia’s geographic regions.

Causes and Consequences of Premature Deindustrialization in India, Varun Gupta

Gupta is using the Wintersession to study the barriers to manufacturing growth in India and propose potential solutions. He notes that India has de-industrialized prematurely, with the manufacturing growth in the country plateauing at a much lower level of GDP per capita than in other industrialized countries — despite the fact that manufacturing growth is essential in the employment of India’s large workforce. He believes that there are likely to be multiple contemporaneous causes that contribute to the problem of de-industrialization and is using this research opportunity to evaluate those constraints.

Nanu: A Film on the Life of an Elderly Matriarch in Chittagong, Bangladesh, Nuri Bhuiyan

Bhuiyan’s Bengali culture inspired her to create a multi-generational film about her Bangladeshi family and the immigrant experience. During the Winterssion, she is workshopping a draft of the film, overhauling its cuts, color, and audio. The footage was recorded over the course of three weeks that Bhuiyan had previously spent in Bangladesh, documenting her grandmother’s day-to-day life. The project will culminate in a nonfiction short movie, entitled “Nanu,” meaning “grandmother.” It will delve into the themes of elderly loneliness, matriarchy, and diaspora.

Reforming India’s Election Finance System, Shaheen Madraswala

Madraswala is working to understand the implications of India’s current election finance system and leverage global evidence to design a politically and technically feasible alternative. She notes that India’s sustained commitment to democracies for over seven decades has made it an anomaly among post-colonial, developing countries, but this commitment has come at a cost, with the cost of electoral democracy in India now the highest in the world. Madraswala aims to develop a policy proposal to solve for the unrestricted and unregulated nature of political financing, to cut the prohibitive costs of elections in India that may serve as a financial barrier to political entry and to prevent the unchecked nature of campaign finance that skews policy priorities toward the interests of the wealthy. 

Buddhist Nuns and Biodiversity: Ladakh Nuns Association Digital Sustainability Project, Emma Lewis

Lewis is collaborating with the Ladakh Nuns Association on an ecological and cultural documentation project to create a record of plants and their medicinal uses, while recording and digitally archiving the experiences of nuns working at the intersection of conservation and healthcare. She is performing her research through virtual interviews and obtaining photos taken by the nuns in a three-week collaboration. Lewis will use the photos and videos of the medicinal plants harvested by the nuns to develop the foundation for a digital archive that can document Ladakh’s endangered medicinal plants and their uses, providing an evolving record of the education, healthcare, and conservation leadership of Tibetan Buddhist nuns.

An Analysis of School Leadership from the Grassroots, Jonathan Mendonca

Mendonca is documenting the stories of school leaders who have demonstrated exceptional leadership in Affordable Private Schools of Maharashtra, India during the COVID-19 pandemic. In India, nationwide school closures and physical distancing mandates brought conventional education to a standstill, but many school leaders worked to ensure educational continuity and support for the wellbeing of their students. Mendonca will draw lessons from these stories and convert them into a usable form for other grassroots practitioners to benefit from.

Rivalry and Innovation in Sectarian Grammars, Radha Blinderman

Blinderman has set out on a study to analyze the sectarian grammars of Sanskrit — a new development in early modern India that represents a unique intersection of language and religion — in the context of caste struggles, reinvention of hierarchies, and modeling of religious communities through language. She analyzed two of the earliest sectarian grammars: the Harināmāmṛtavyākaraṇa by Jīva Gosvāmin (16th century CE) and the Prabodhaprakāśa by Balarāma Pañcānana (17-18th centuries CE), both of which pioneered a hybrid genre of grammar that combined language instruction with theological edification.

Language Grants

Sinhala Language Study, Alexis Brown

Brown is participating in an intensive, remote language study of Sinhala with a tutor located in Sri Lanka. This work will serve as the foundation for her dissertation on the Rasavāhinī, a Buddhist text written in medieval Sri Lanka. She will perform a close intertextual reading that will be attentive to the text’s language and formal features, with the aim to shed new light on a text that is considered one of the most important works among post-canonical Pali literature in South and Southeast Asia, yet one that has received little scholarly attention in the West.

Bangla Language Intensive Readings and Research, Bennett Comerford

Comerford will pursue a readings and research curriculum with a native speaker and professional Bangla language instructor, Nandini Abedin, Lecturer in the Asian Languages and Literatures Department at the University of Washington. He is working one-on-one with his instructor to receive assistance in translating two challenging 19th-century Bengali literary texts. This knowledge will be instrumental in better understanding and analyzing select Bangla language texts that are central to his dissertation project, which focuses on the religious and racial elements at play in the two texts.

Bengali Language Study, Louis Copplestone

Copplestone is participating in a 4-week remote language study of intermediate conversational Bengali with a private tutor, Ashoktaru Panda, who previously taught at the American Institute of Indian Studies in Kolkata. Together, they have prepared a syllabus that totals 60 hours of language immersion, focused on developing skills in conversation and catered to providing intensive immersion in the idiomatic use of the language. Copplestone notes that the lessons in Bengali will create the basis for future independent language learning in support of his dissertation and future research, as well as future field research in West Bengal, Tripura, and Bangladesh.

Kashmiri Language Study, Peter Dziedzic

Dziedzic is pursuing an intensive study of the Kashmiri language virtually through the American Institute of Indian Studies and the University of Kashmir. As a first-year doctoral candidate in the Committee on the Study of Religion, Dziedzic studies the early modern and contemporary religious culture of Kashmir, long-renowned for its religious scholarship by both Muslim Sufi and Hindu Šaiva scholars and literary production in Sanskrit, Persian, and Kashmiri. Despite previous training in Persian and Sanskirt, Dziedzic requires more advanced and guided training in Kashmiri to comprehend Kashmir’s primary source materials.

Mughal Persian Language Study, Shaharyar Zia

Zia is receiving training in Mughal Persian (Indo-Persian), a primary language of his research, through one-on-one instruction with tutors at AIIS. With his research work on Islam in South Asia, Persian is an enormously important language for Zia to learn in order to comprehend primary and secondary sources relating to his field. He will focus on developing his reading ability in Indo-Persian texts of late 16th and 17th centuries to build the skills to sift through manuscripts and other published materials for his research.

Internship Grants

Internship with Ankuri, Nidhi Patel

Patel is working with the Agency for Non-Conventional Urban and Rural Initiatives (ANKURI), a nonprofit outside the city of Dehradun that empowers women and children in rural village communities in India through education and income-generating programs. The organization currently supports 100 women in rural communities with their educational and employment needs through initiatives like knitting groups, organic farming, and literacy training. During the internship, Patel will broaden her knowledge and engagement with education and non-profit work and aims to help ANKURI in developing a teaching curriculum for the village’s Literacy Center, targeted at elementary school students.

Applications for Summer 2021 Student Grants are now open. Click here to learn more.