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Tag: social science

Nutrition’s future leaders

Emerging demographic, economic and dietary factors suggest that a large burden of preventable illness is poised to develop in India requiring training for a new cadre of Indian nutrition scientists. There is a great need for nutrition researchers in the country, but few training programs exist.

In response to this critical gap in training, the Bangalore Boston Nutrition Collaborative (BBNC), a collaboration between St. John’s Research Institute in Bangalore (SJRI), Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), and Tufts University, was initiated in 2009 to build capacity and to provide research training for young professionals in the fields of nutrition and global health from India and other countries in the region.

SAI supports the project, as its goals align with SAI’s own vision of interdisciplinary collaboration to seek innovative solutions to critical issues in South Asia.

The Collaborative recently wrapped up its sixth annual course in January2015 in Bangalore. The intensive 2 week course provided up and coming Indian faculty and graduate students with skills needed for research careers in public health and nutrition.

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Creating a better India

Harvard US India Initiative“We want a better India,” reads the slogan for the Harvard US-India Initiative’s (HUII) Annual Conference in New Delhi on January 9 and 10, 2015.

HUII is an undergraduate student-run organization at Harvard that aims to create dialogue between Indian and American youth to address some of India’s most pressing social, economic, and environmental issues today.

The conference, which is cosponsored by SAI, is set to take place at the Shangri La Hotel, and is the largest yet for the organization. It boasts an impressive lineup of speakers and panel topics, including ‘Liberal Arts and Conservative Societies,’ ‘Politicians and the People,’ ‘More Artists or More Dentists,’ ‘Human Rights in India,’ ‘The Economics of Rural India,’ and ‘Science and Society.’

Keynote speakers include Piyush Goyal, Hon’ble Minister of State with Independent Charge for Power, Coal and New & Renewable Energy in the Government of India, Mirai Chatterjee, Director of Social Security, SEWA, and Shri Jairam Ramesh, MP Rajya Sabha, former Cabinet Minister.

SAI recently talked to Namrata Narain, Harvard College ’15, one of the organizers of the event, to learn more about how HUII is working to increase discussions on important issues by connecting young academic communities in India and the US.

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The politics of conservation

In a Q+A, SAI’s 2014-15 South Asian Studies Fellow Anand Vaidya explains his interdisciplinary research on the politics conservation in India, and why India is the best place in the world to study the social sciences.


SAI: Could you talk a little about your background, and what led you to the Raghunathan Family Fellowship?

Anand Vaidya: Well when I began my undergraduate, I was originally a biologist. I went to high school in Bangalore, in South India, and I slowly became interested in anthropology via the anthropological study of science and its political uses, particularly in conservation in India. I ended up double majoring in anthropology and biology. It was something that was interesting enough to me that I decided to go on and do my PhD in Anthropology, studying the politics of conservation in India.

Soon before I started my PhD in 2007, a law had been passed in India, called the Forest Rights Act, which was passed in 2006. The law recognizes for the first time, the rights of forest-dwelling people to the land that they live on. Over the last century or more, millions of forest-dwelling people have had their land claimed, they have been evicted from their land, and they have been harassed on an ongoing basis. So this law was passed, and it was very controversial.

A number of my friends who were involved in environmentalist NGOs in India were talking about the new Forest Rights Act, and I decided to focus on it for my dissertation. And it’s that work on this law, and the movements that helped pass it, and the groups now involved in organizing people to claim land rights through it, that I wrote my dissertation on, and it’s that work that I am continuing right now at the South Asia Institute. I’m writing articles based on the research I did for my PhD, and I’m beginning my book manuscript.

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Aman Fellow Muhammad Zahir shares research on protohistoric cemeteries in Pakistan

Zahir, right, with Richard Meadow

On Thursday, May 1, Muhammad Zahir, SAI’s Aman Fellow for the spring semester, shared his ongoing archaeology research at a seminar titled ‘Modern Ethnicities and Ancient Graves: The Deconstruction and Re-Analysis of the Protohistoric Cemeteries and Ethnic Origin Stories in Pakistan.’

The seminar was chaired by Richard Meadow, Director of the Zooarchaeology Laboratory at the Harvard Peabody Museum, Senior-Lecturer in Anthropology at Harvard, and Project Director of the Harappa Archaeological Research Project, who has served as Zahir’s mentor at Harvard, and has been excavating sites in Pakistan since 1974.

Since 2001, Zahir has been extensively involved in different archaeological excavations and surveys, publications, and museums’ documentation and management projects both in Pakistan and abroad.  He has also worked in the development and implementation of the UNESCO project for the preservation of the endangered movable cultural assets of Gandhara art in Pakistan.

Zahir has used the resources at Harvard to deconstruct and conduct a genealogical analysis of the concepts of Aryans in Pakistan archaeology; its use in the interpretation of archaeological remains, ethnic identities, and the personal and professional interests of archaeologists/academics involved, and the state patronage, and acceptance in Pakistan.

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Work and Religion in Modern South Asia with SAI’s Fellow

At the South Asia Without Borders Seminar in December

Shankar Ramaswami is halfway through his year as SAI’s South Asian Studies Fellow. In addition to his involvement with SAI seminars and working on a book about his fieldwork in India, he is teaching a class this spring semester titled ‘South Asian Studies 196: Work and Religion in Modern South Asia.’

SAI caught up with Ramaswami to talk about his upcoming class, as well his experience as an SAI Fellow.

He explained that the class seeks to address two fundamental questions: What is the nature of the experiences, struggles, and visions of poor and working people in modern South Asia? What are the appropriate categories, imageries, and vocabularies for understanding these lives and visions? The answer that the class will present is that we need a different vocabulary than the current dominant ideologies of neoliberalism, liberalism, and Marxism.

Although a theme of recent writing is that of India suffering, Ramaswami explained that the picture he will present in his class is more complex: “Yes, there is material deprivation, difficult and dangerous work, mental tension, spiritual emptiness,” he explained. “But there are also other things: humor, collectivity, integrative filaments in neighborhoods, and struggles for justice.”

Ramaswami (center) with workers in Delhi [Photo: Sudharak Olwe]

Drawing on this complexity, his work hopes to “develop a grounded immanent critique of neoliberal capitalism in South Asia.” Although much of the material for the course is focused on India, he said that many of the themes in the course – factories, labor, workers, religion – resonate broadly across South Asia. The lessons from the class can be applied to working people in many cities, for example, the struggle of garment workers in Bangladesh.

He is currently working on a book on his fieldwork about his experience living and studying factory workers in India. Several chapters from his manuscript will serve to anchor the course. Students will also have the chance to participate in Skype conversations with scholars, filmmakers, and activists. Parimal Patil, Professor of Religion and Indian Philosophy and Chair of the Department of South Asian Studies, will be actively involved in the sections of the course on religion and philosophy.

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