Click to Subscribe & Stay Informed via Email!

Subscribe Here!

Subscribe and stay informed about our latest news and events!
  • Please List your Professional Affiliation

News Category: Students

Wintersession Opportunity in India

Eligibility: Any current Harvard undergraduate student, sophomore through senior. While the program’s focus is to use science to inspire students to think about leadership and social innovation, we encourage students from all concentrations to apply.
If you have any questions, please contact Christopher Li (Associate Director) at
More information: Those interested in applying are strongly encouraged to attend one of the two info sessions with Dr. Dominic Mao, Program lead, PSIL:
Monday, Nov 5, 7.30PM 
Thursday, Nov 8, 7.30PM
Venue: Sherman Fairchild 095B (MCB/CPB Concentration Office) 
Faculty Chair: Venkatesh Murthy, Professor & Chair, Dept. of Molecular & Cellular Biology 
Director: Dominic Mao, Lecturer in Molecular & Cellular Biology



Deadline: Sunday, November 11 at 11.59PM

Fall Class: Muslim Devotional Literatures in South Asia: Qawwalis, Sufiana Kalam (Sufi Poetry) and the Ginans

Religion 1814 / Islamic Civilizations 184; (FAS)/HDS 3375

Faculty: Ali Asani,Professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Cultures

Sever 106, Weds 3-5pm

This course explores traditions of Islamic spirituality in South Asia through the lens of three genres: the qawwali, concerts of mystical poetry;  sufiana kalam, Sufi romantic epics and folk poems; and the ginans, hymns of esoteric wisdom recited by the Satpanthi Ismailis. Since these genres represent examples of language, symbols and styles of worship shared across Islamic and non-Islamic denominational boundaries, we will also examine their relationships with other Indic traditions of devotion, particularly those associated with the so-called sant and Hindu bhakti movements. Special emphasis will be given to the impact of contemporary political ideologies, globalization and the revolution in media technology on the form and function of these genres and their relationship with contemporary communities of faith in South Asia and beyond.

Fall Class: Contemporary Developing Countries: Entrepreneurial Solutions to Intractable Social and Economic Problems (SW47)

Fall 2018
Mondays and Wednesdays 3:00-4:15 pm
Sever Hall Rm 113 (Harvard Yard)

This course will provide a framework (and multiple lenses) through which to think about the
salient economic and social problems of the five billion people of the developing world, and
to work in a team setting toward identifying entrepreneurial solutions to such problems.
Case study discussions will cover challenges and solutions in fields as diverse as health,
education, technology, urban planning, and arts and the humanities. The modules
themselves will be team-taught by faculty from engineering, the arts, urban design,
healthcare and business. The course will embrace a bias toward action by enabling
students to understand the potential of individual agency in addressing these problems. All
students will participate in the development of a business plan or grant proposal to tackle
their chosen problem in a specific developing country/region, emphasizing the importance
of contextualizing the entrepreneurial intervention.

• To provide a framework through which to think about the salient
economic and social problems of the developing world.
• To view a complex problem through a variety of disciplinary lenses, to
appreciate that each lens reveals different facets of the problem, and to
recognize that they collectively cause one to consider and re-consider
candidate solutions.
• To recognize that candidate solutions do not usually admit of a “quickfix”,
rarely yield to a technological panacea, and are usually contextdependent.
• To work in teams on a candidate entrepreneurial solution, and to
demonstrate an appreciation of the trade-offs involved in embracing that


View the course poster here.  

2018 Summer Grant Recipients

The Mittal Institute has awarded 22 grants to support student projects over the Summer Session 2018. These include 17 graduate students and 5 undergraduate students who will travel to India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, and Pakistan for research and internships.



“Business Development Internship at Impact Guru”
Sahil Lauji, ’21

“Cancer Patients Aid Association Internship”
Jeyna Doshi, ’20

“Internship at the Harvard Business School India Research Center”
Frances Tercek, ’21



“Rohingya, Muslim, or Bengali?: Media, Power and Public Opinion in Myanmar”
Daniel Wood, ’19

“Senior Thesis on Perpetrator Motivations for Sexual Violence in the 1971 Pakistan-Bangladesh War”
Zuneera Shah, ’19



“Intermediate Mughal Persian Summer Language Program in Lucknow, India”
Peter Dziedzic, Masters of Divinity ’19

“Language Grant for AIIS Tamil Summer Program”
Yang Qu, Masters of Divinity ’19

“Summer Sanskrit Intensive at the Ranjung Yeshe Institute, Kathmandu, Nepal”
Louis Copplestone, PhD Candidate in Art & Architecture ’23



“Addressing the Severity and Geography of Child Protection Outcomes to Improve Health Equity: Lessons from Nepal using the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey”
Amiya Bhatia, ScD Candidate ’20

“A Literacy Intervention Using Cultural Resources of Linguistic Minority Indigenous Students”
Maung Nyeu, EdD Candidate ’20

“Becoming Rakhine: A Field Study of Religious and Ethnic Violence in Rakhine State, Myanmar”
Cresa Pugh, PhD Candidate in Sociology and Social Policy ’22

“Indians on the Move: Mobility, Dissent and Law in the Early Twentieth Century”
Hardeep Dhillon, PhD Candidate in History ’20

“Myanmar’s Transition at the Margins”
Courtney Wittekind, PhD Candidate in Anthropology ’22

“State-Building after Democratization: The Effect of Electoral Competition on Governance”
Natasha Murtaza, PhD Candidate in Government ’21

“Territories of Belonging: A Peoples History of Borders in Modern South Asia”
Aniket De, PhD Candidate in History ’22

“The Value of Electricity Reliability and the Distributional Incidence of Power Outages in India”
Kevin Rowe, PhD Candidate in Public Policy ’21

“To See the Invisible Wonders: Vision, Place, and Writing in Tibetan Pilgrimage Literature”
Catherine Hartmann, PhD Candidate in the Study of Religion ’19

“We are all Actors in the Performance: Power, Law, and the Media in the India-Nepal Borderland”
Kristen Zipperer, PhD Candidate in Anthropology ’22

“What is the New Dalit Middle Class, and What is its Relation to Development Discourses and Hindutva Politics?”
Kanishka Elupula, PhD Candidate in Anthropology ’19


“Children’s Art Museum of Nepal”
Edwin Leonardo Pãrraga, Masters of Education ’18

“The Bengal Institute for Architecture Landscapes and Settlements”
Andy Lee, Masters in Urban Planning ’19

“The Bengal Institute for Architecture Landscapes and Settlements”
Ciara Stein, Masters in Urban Planning ’19


Congratulations, Class of 2018!

Harvard’s Commencement was Thursday, May 24, 2018. The Mittal Institute asked two graduating students who have been involved with the Institute to reflect on their time at Harvard and their plans.


Ranjani Srinvasan, Harvard Graduate School of Design, Masters in Design and Critical Conservation ‘18


What as your favorite class or activity while at Harvard?
In my 2nd year, I became interested in political ecology and began to attend the fortnightly Political Anthropology Work Group at Harvard Anthropology. This quickly became my favorite activity. I was able to gain access to a wide range of academic work and discussions, which spanned geographies and methods.

What was a highlight or favorite moment related to your Mittal Institute grant/work?
I received both my research grants to investigate the historical making and present condition of Kolar Gold Fields, Karnataka. This allowed me to meaningfully engage with the local Dalit mining community on the ground and conduct detailed interviews. My favorite moment was hearing an extremely detailed and insightful political analysis of the Bharat Gold Mines Limited (BGML) from Vellavan, a security guard.

What are you most looking forward to doing post-graduation?
I look forward to working towards the establishment of a Museum of Dalit History in India and contributing to anti-caste struggles.

Do you have any advice for current students or students thinking about applying to Harvard?
To current students: Don’t be afraid to engage with little-known regions or topics, for that is where scholarship is most required.




Anushka Ghosh, Harvard Graduate School of Education, International Education Policy ’18


What was your favorite class or activity while at Harvard?
My favorite part of being at Harvard were the conversations that I had with people outside of class. It expanded my world in a way that I would have never imagined. One of my most enriching experiences was being a part of Yoni Ki Baat, the South Asian vagina monologues. It pushed me way out of my comfort zone and enabled me to confront rarely discussed aspects of being a woman from South Asia.

What was a highlight or favorite moment related to your Mittal Institute work?
I really enjoyed interacting with the visiting artists and getting to know more about their work. It was fascinating to know more about the way people innovate through the medium of art and communicate with a broader audience about issues that are so central to the South Asian experience, especially when presented through art forms that speak volumes about this experience.

What are you most looking forward to doing post-graduation?
I am excited to be in the field and apply what I have learned in the classroom, especially regarding sustaining educational programs in areas of conflict. After this year, I feel more prepared to tackle the challenges in the field.

Do you have any advice for current students or students thinking about applying to Harvard?
Harvard is a unique place with more opportunities than there is time to take advantage of them! My advice is to identify the key experiences that you want to leave with and not stress about everything else. Harvard offers both quality and quantity, but remember that depth over breadth is key.

Student Voices: Studying Mughal Manuscripts

By: Bronwen Gulkis, PH.D. Candidate, Department of History of Art and Architecture, Harvard University; The Mittal Institute Winter Grant Recipient

Was that a flash of gold I just saw? I moved around to the other side of the table, hoping to catch the light just right again. I was in a storage room of the Archäologisches Zentrum of the Museum fur Islamische Kunst in Berlin, viewing a folio of calligraphy signed by the Mughal prince Dara Shikoh (1615-59). I tilted my head as I followed the flowing lines of nast’aliq script around the page. The calligraphy was richly illuminated, surrounded by a pattern of colorful floral tracery on a gold ground. But underneath the strokes of black ink, a hint of gold in the marbled paper had caught my eye. With the assistance of a helpful museum director, I lowered a lamp along the side of the page, focusing a beam of raking light — the preferred method for illuminating texture and detail — across the surface of the paper. Suddenly, the dull tones of the marbled paper glittered with a delicate pattern of gold pen-drawing. 

I was traveling between London and Berlin on my winter break, completing research for a dissertation chapter on Mughal princes as patrons and collectors of illuminated albums. Over the course of the seventeenth century, the album format (known as a muraqqa’ in Persian, the language of the Mughal court), became the dominant method for storing and displaying works on paper in Mughal India. Roughly analogous to a contemporary museum exhibit, an album might combine paintings, calligraphy, and textual selections to suggest an artistic theme or a historical narrative. In doing so, albums also reveal the larger story of art making and consumption in Mughal India.

Mughal albums often preserved lines of script by famous calligraphers, whose work was considered superior to painting in much of the Islamic world. However, some album folios from the Shahjahani era contain calligraphy by members of the Mughal royal family themselves. Works by Dara Shikoh, the favorite of emperor Shahjahan’s four sons, were often mounted on albums folios after being heightened with gold and painted ornament. Conversely, Dara Shikoh’s name was removed from most of these after he was captured and executed by his brother Aurangzeb, who overthrew Shahjahan to reign as emperor from 1658-1707.

In 2017, I received a winter travel grant from the Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute to travel to Europe and conduct research in the main repositories where these calligraphies are now stored: the British Library, the British Museum, and the Museum fur Islamische Kunst, Berlin. As a complement to my dissertation chapter on Mughal princes as album patrons, I viewed calligraphies from Dara Shikoh and Aurangzeb to gather data on how these works were made, viewed and used.

Over the course of their rule, the Mughal brothers collected a variety of illuminated manuscripts. © Trustees of the British Museum.

Though all three institutions have digitized many of their most famous works, online images can only tell part of the story. In my travels, I was able to view acquisition documents, ownership records, and other documentation that is only made available to researchers. As an art historian, I also observed how the materials and physical characteristics of these objects conveyed information about their use and circulation. Album folios are small by the standards of Western painting, often under 18” high, but can be packed with details. They are often pieced together from multiple sheets of paper — the word muraqqa’ refers to a patchwork —and display a variety of painted and decorated surfaces including paintings, calligraphy, gilding, or marbled or dyed paper. These material details are often lost in photographic reproductions, which present the whole folio as a flat, even surface. 

Observing these details was a constant source of pleasure and surprise during my fieldwork. At the Museum fur Islamische Kunst, two folios still show traces of the Dara Shikoh’s signature. A third one has a full signature, which I had theorized was a fake. But on seeing the gold pattern on the marbled paper, I realized it shared these many characteristics with the contemporary specimens of his calligraphy. The contours of the calligraphy, the tones of the marbling, and the gold drawings were all features I had seen on signed and dated calligraphies. The quality of the materials and level of workmanship suggested that the calligraphy was ornamented in an imperial workshop at some point in its history — a far cry from the dull beige paper I had seen in color reproductions. Thanks to my time in museum storage with these objects, I was able to incorporate fresh ideas about authorship and authenticity into my chapter.

Manuscript in detail. Image courtesy of Bronwen Gulkis.

Picture 1 of 3

The delicate gold background that I observed in the Berlin folio was just one example of what can be accomplished through this sort of research. A partial folio of Dara Shikoh’s calligraphy from the British Museum (1921) is surrounded by gold and ornamented with five species of paired birds and red, purple, and yellow flowers. I spent an afternoon at the British Museum documenting the minute painted birds and flowers that surround the calligraphic verses by the Sufi saint Miran Muhiddin. A horizontal smear in the lower register of the composition shows where Dara Shikoh’s signature was erased, presumably after his defeat and execution. While it is tempting to see these alterations as flaws, they often provide the most clues to how these works were made and used.

As I pored over the folio with my magnifying glass and zoom lens, I began to notice discrepancies that could not be explained by the narrative of “sibling rivalry” between Dara Shikoh and Aurangzeb. A thin gold line around the inner border of the calligraphy did not line up with the outer, pink-and-gold decorated border. The calligraphy in the upper right corner was just barely cut off, and though the cloudlike tahrir (outline) continued onto the outer border, the sharp white line did not align with the swooping contours used to outline the rest of the verses.

These points suggested that the entire sheet had been set in a different mounting at some point after its creation. If Aurangzeb wished to destroy the memory of his brother, why had this work been preserved in this way? Why, for example, was the signature covered in such an obvious manner?  The passage at the bottom — where the artist is commonly identified — could have easily been removed entirely, instead of painted over. Maybe it was important to preserve the memory of Dara Shikoh’s defeat, or perhaps the calligraphy entered the collection of a sympathetic nobleman or librarian, who was not willing to erase the prince’s contribution in its entirety. These questions of personal motivations hang on memory, authorship, and identity run through my study, and I hope to present a comprehensive answer to them in my completed dissertation.



South Asian Sisters Bring Yoni Ki Baat to Harvard

Theater and performance art can bring many things to both its audience and actors. It can educate, empower, and start difficult conversations. As part of Asian Heritage Month, the South Asian Sisters @ Harvard are producing Yoni Ki Baat, a South Asian version of The Vagina Monologues, to place a spotlight on gender, sexuality, and femininity in this cultural context. The Mittal Institute chatted with co-directors Amberine Huda and Sheliza Jamal, SAI communications intern, about their involvement and passion for this production.

Tell us a little about Yoni Ki Baat and how you got involved?

Amberine: In a society deluged by post-colonialism, patriarchy, caste systems, sati, and Shar’ia Law, the notion of gender equity, and sexual empowerment has in large part been forbidden and taboo. In the early 2000’s, South Asian Sisters’ Sapna Shahani took the idea of the Vagina Monologues in India, brought it to the United States, and called it Yoni Ki Baat, a direct Desi, or South-Asian version of Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues.

Sapna functioned as the bridge between the network of American feminist theater and the blossoming network of South Asian feminist theater. At my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin, Madison, I met the director during an audition for the inaugural production of Yoni Ki Baat. After that, I was hooked; I had the privilege of co-directing this production for three years, with South Asian women and women of color from across the campus and Wisconsin community.


Students rehearse for the upcoming performance of Yoni Ki Baat.


What led you to establish a chapter of South Asian Sisters at the Harvard Graduate School of Education?

Sheliza: I felt that the distinct experiences of South Asian women were missing from many conversations. The Asian American narrative is conceptualized in terms of Asian Pacific Islanders or in the student group PACE (Pan Asian Coalition for Education at HGSE), which do not capture the unique identities of people from the South Asian diaspora. At HGSE, there are a number of International students from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. The South Asian Sisters @ Harvard provides women a place to express themselves and meet for chai to chat with like-minded women. As a SAS @ Harvard initiative, we decided to produce Yoni Ki Baat, as a part of Asian Heritage Month.

Tell me about the HGSE Performance?

Sheliza: There are approximately 10 women involved from the School of Education, Design, and Engineering. All the women are performing monologues about experiences specific to their life on topics such as sexuality, colorism, puberty, and consent. Some monologues have been written specifically for this performance, and others have been borrowed from the original Yoni Ki Baat Script. We really want to celebrate women and their many talents. From our first rehearsal, the performers showed such strength and vulnerability in their touching stories. It is truly an honor to work with such powerful, fearless, comedic, and loving women.  

Where is the show? How do people get tickets?

Amberine: The performance will be held on Thursday, April 19th at Askwith Hall at the Graduate School of Education, 13 Appian Way. Doors open at 6:00 pm and the show will commence at 6:30 pm.

There will be an art showcase featuring artwork from South Asian Female Artists with a reception to follow. We wanted to make this event accessible to both the Harvard and external community, so tickets are free thanks to support from the HGSE Dean’s Diversity and Innovation Fund from the Office of Student Affairs, and the Arts in Education Program.

Neel Ghose: A Robin Hood for the Modern Age


Neel Ghose (HBS’ 19) is one of the co-founders of the Robin Hood Army (RHA), a “disruptive startup that uses food as a medium to bring out the best of humanity at a community level.” RHA is a volunteer-based organization, which collects excess food from restaurants and distributes it to the less fortunate. In a little over two years, the RHA has served over 5 million people through over 12,000+ Robins across 12 countries. 

Prior to starting RHA, Ghose worked in New York-based hedge fund (D.E. Shaw) and Zomato, an Indian unicorn startup. He has been a bit of a nomad and has lived in 5 countries setting up Zomato’s global operations. 

In an interview with The Mittal Institute, Ghose shares how he is helping to reduce hunger through social media outreach and zero cash transactions.  

How did the idea for Robin Hood Army first emerge?
I was living and working in Portugal where I came across a volunteer organization called Refood with a unique model — the team would collect excess food from restaurants and redistribute it to the less fortunate. I loved the idea and spent some time with the founder trying to understand the workings. It makes obvious sense in a place like India, where there is more of a need. A few months later I returned to Delhi, I spoke to my co-founder and we decided to try out the idea at home. 
Could you describe your team and some of the collaborations involved with RHA?
The team for the RHA is formed by largely young professionals and students who do this in their free time. Our Robins come from extremely diverse backgrounds — there are students, lawyers, doctors, businesspeople, teachers, government employees, and folks taking sabbaticals. The common threads between everyone on the team are passion, a deep commitment to make their community a better place, and a strong bias for action.
We have a strict no-funds approach, so growth in the Robin Hood Army is largely funneled through social media and partnerships. We have routinely collaborated with companies and media houses to channelize their resources to helping and generally spreading smiles to the underprivileged community. Some examples are (helps us take children who live on the street for movies and entertainment shows), Uber (provides transport to help mobilize food across the city), and Viacom (created a music video featuring Bollywood artists to promote the cause).
Besides corporate collaborations, the local partnerships tend to be as, if not more, impactful. Our Robins in Pune partnered with a local hospital to provide free cataract operations to 50 senior citizens who live on the streets of Pune; food is a medium by which we interact with forgotten sections of society, and the idea is to figure out and execute on how we can bring happiness and relief to these people.
Could you please describe a meaningful encounter that you have had as part of the Robin Hood Army?
One of the most special parts of our RHA journey has been the project #Mission1Million —  we teamed up with our Robin Hood family in Pakistan to mobilize citizens on both sides of the border through the private sector and media house to serve 1 million hungry citizens on Independence Day (August 14-15, 2017). Given the political situation in our countries, this was not the easiest thing to pull off — but the idea was to make our countrymen aware of the acute hunger problem in both countries. 
We ended up serving 1.32 million citizens across both days, but #Mission1Million was honestly not about the numbers — but the fact that any kind of societal change is possible if we bring together citizens, media houses, and the private sector as one team. Some of the moments across cities in the project can be followed here.
How do you plan to grow your presence in the next few years?
The immediate focus is growing into smaller towns across India, expanding into Africa and Latin America, and growing the Robin Hood Academy, an initiative to get children who live on the streets enrolled into public schools.
We currently serve 200,000 people a month across 59 cities — and have chalked out plans to grow to serve half a million people a month across 100 cities by the end of 2018. We have a simple philosophy of “1% Done,” which basically implies that disruptive growth is the only way we can create a tangible solution to the hunger problem. 
How are your studies at HBS supporting the Robin Hood Army? 
I have always looked at the RHA less as an NGO and more as a disruptive startup that uses food as a medium to bring out the best of humanity at a community level. Given the focus on growth — we plan and prepare in the RHA with an acute focus on strategy, metrics, decentralization, mission, and leadership development. Almost the entire curriculum at HBS is geared towards developing clarity of thought in these fields. 
Besides this, we have been actively diving deep into the Harvard networks to spread into Africa and Latin America. Kenya, Chile, and now Mexico are three countries where we have identified our leaders and teams through fellow students in Harvard. My professors are extremely supportive — and it is very easy to bounce off ideas and decisions and get perspective from a different lens.
How is RHA working across borders between India and Pakistan and what has been the impact?
My friend from London, Sarah set up RHA Pakistan in 2015 after following its progress on social media. Our countries have very similar patterns — massive inequalities and young educated populations who are passionate about giving back to the community. In three years of operation, our Robins in Pakistan have served more than 200,000 people across Karachi, Islamabad, and Lahore.
It has been a surreal experience working with a team across the border who think and are like us. The only time we have intense arguments is when India plays Pakistan in cricket, and the banter on our WhatsApp groups is very memorable.
How do you use social media to accomplish your objectives?
Since we have no funds involved, the metric to grow our impact is constantly bringing on new volunteers. We share our experiences and stories on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, where our viewers can see Robins wearing green going out and serving the local community. Through social media, we have been noticed by the media and platforms like TEDx talks, and now it is a strategic part of the RHA engine which gets us 1,400 + new volunteers requests a month across the world.
Could you describe some challenges that you have faced and how you have approached problem-solving them?
Since everyone does this in their free time, the constant challenge has always been time. To counter this — as a culture we are constantly decentralizing and looking for the next generation of leaders to replace the work we do, this is a long-term strategy to ensure sustainability of the mission.
Even though we have served 5 million people till date through a network of 12,000+ Robins — this is still barely scratching the surface of the global hunger problem, hence growing fast enough is always a problem. We try to work on that by creating flat, decentralized structures and making knowledge sharing of best practices real-time via metrics, documentation, and expansion teams. We have a WhatsApp group called the Boiler Room, where city heads of all 60 cities are constantly sharing best practices.
As we continue growing in an environment where all views are valued — confrontations within the team are an inevitable part of our journey. Through defining our culture and what we stand for as a team, it is possible in most cases to proactively keep these confrontations healthy and help us constantly reinvent ways to maximize impact.
What advice do you have for other young people who are interested in starting a non-profit?
Hit the field running as soon as possible — all strategy, plans, and processes will take shape once you know what is happening with the people you are trying to serve. Also always, always be empathetic. That is more likely to open more doors and create a difference than any corporate strategy on an excel sheet.

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.


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
Tel: 080-285 289 00, 080-285 289 01, 080-285 289 02






  • 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.


  • 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


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 (
1. Request an XID:  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:
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