ICI Scholars on the India China Border Issue


We have already shared some of the recent articles by ICI Fellows and affiliated scholars on the developing story of the most recent border tensions between India and China. Today we offer several more recent articles from our ICI network, including Professors Nimmi Kurian and Mahendra Lama.

Kurian was recently part of the ChinaFile discussions hosted by the Asia Society titled “Why are India and China in a Border Standoff?” A handful of prominent scholars were invited to share their thoughts on the border dispute and what their take was on some of the underlying issues and concerns. In her piece Kurian argues:

Part of the reason it has ended up with a bad bargain with China is that India’s crisis diplomacy has often worked without a credible notion of what the endgame is. This could well be a problem of not knowing what the problem is. For instance, the confidence-building measures India has negotiated with China have by and large aimed at conflict prevention, content with only “managing” differences. This explains why the 1993 and 1996 agreements and confidence-building measures have not segued into a higher order goal of conflict transformation. By setting the bar of peace low by design, is it any wonder that India has ended up hitting lower?

You can read the entire piece from Kurian, as well as read the other contributions to the discussion, at the Asia Society website here.

The other piece comes from Professor Mahendra Lama. His Op-Ed on the topic appeared in the Nepali newspaper Kathmandu Post, “No One Wants War.” Lama argues there is already a history of cooperation that should be built on to restore the temporary rifts between the two countries, and that neighboring states need to also play a more constructive role as mediators. Here is an excerpt from the piece by Professor Lama:

It is critical for these two Asian giants to move towards cooperation and integration instead of a competitive-rivalry framework. This would result in a win-win paradigm of an Asian Century. The bilateral parleys that have been occurring over the last 30 years have been reinforced by exchanges between President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. However, there are a number of forces—rumour mongers, war jingoists and intolerant institutions—that are trying to drive a wedge between the two countries. These negative forces thrive in a situation of instability and conflict. A majority of the countries in South Asia share a common border with both China and India; as such they will have to calculate the costs of conflicts on societies, economies and geographies. Regional civil societies therefore, must come together to prevent conflict.

You can read the full Op-Ed on the Kathmandu Post website here.

What are your thoughts on the border issue? Let us know in our latest online poll.  Take Poll


CFP – Envisioning the Future and Understanding the Realities of India’s Urban Ecologies


Envisioning the Future and Understanding the Realities of India’s Urban Ecologies

An Interdisciplinary Conference hosted by Kennesaw State University and Georgia State University
In partnership with the Consulate of India, Atlanta

March 15-17, 2018


About the Conference:

India, a land of ancient wisdom and cultural world heritage, is home to the world’s first cities. In the last twenty years it has experienced unprecedented growth, development, and change, altering its physical, cultural, and social landscape with dramatic effect. Today, its cities embody a paradoxical mix of globalization, modernity, and advanced technology with regionalism, tradition, and religion, juxtaposed with extreme poverty and inequality. Sustainability, in all its facets has emerged as a key problem in India’s development story. Urbanization is not an
independent variable of development, but an integral part and product of the development process itself. Therefore, there is a need to understand urban issues as part of a larger development process affecting both rural and urban communities and livelihoods, employing historical and contemporary perspectives (with regional and global implications). Building off research in the fields of Sociology, Biology, and Architecture, the conference will examine contemporary urban growth in India and its effects on the everyday ecologies of its people. Our goal is a more holistic understanding of India’s urban ecologies, their interdependence, and the need for more sustainable strategies for urbanization. India’s cities can provide applicable lessons to the more global concerns of urbanization around the world.

More information available here on the conference.

Potential topics include:

  • Is there a distinctly ‘Indian’ Urbanism?
  • Rural Urbanization and Urban Planning
  • Balancing Growth and Development
  • Colonial and Postcolonial Cities
  • Dispersed Cities
  • Infrastructure and Innovation in Historic Cities
  • Global/Smart City Development in India and its Implications
  • E-governance and Technology
  • Green Cities and Sustainability
  • Current Trends, Future Projections, and Key Challenges for Sustainability
  • Inclusive Growth: Slums, Urban Villages, and the Challenge of Urbanism
  • Value Struggles: Waste, Work and Ecology
  • Agrarian Crisis and Land Acquisition
  • Corporate Social Responsibility and Social Entrepreneurship
  • Impacts of Urbanization on the Environment
  • Urban Health and Quality of Life
  • Global Warming, Climate Change, Environmental Degradation and Re-emerging Diseases
  • Infrastructure & Industrialization: Impact on Air, Water, Sanitation & Pollution


Guidelines for Submission of Papers: 

To participate, please submit papers of no more than 5000 words. The entire paper submission (title page, abstract, main text, figures, graphs, tables, references, etc.) must be in ONE document created in either Microsoft Word (.doc, .docx), or Rich Text Format (.rtf). Please include your name, institutional affiliation, position or title, contact phone number, and e-mail. If you wish to propose a panel, please submit the names and institutional affiliation of all panelists.

Attach the document to an email message. Type “Year of India Conference” in the subject line and send it to Dan Paracka.

Deadline for Submission of Proposed Papers is September 8, 2017.

Select Papers will be eligible for publication in a Special Issue of KSU’s peer reviewed Journal of Global Initiatives focused on India.


The Importance of National Legislation for Refugee Protection in India – Shreya Sen

Image credit John Flannery: Flickr. https://flic.kr/p/kkjCkhWe are pleased to share a recent article written by one of our former ICKCBI Student Fellows Shreya Sen. She is currently a Doctoral Fellow at the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Calcutta. Sen’s latest piece is titled Understanding the importance of a national legislation for refugee protection in India. Sen argues that “the establishment of a domestic protection regime for refugees is of utmost necessity” in India, noting that only some kind of a formal mechanism can truly respond to the “interests, concerns and requirements of refugee and asylum seeking groups residing in India.” Sen agues one way to do this is by incorporating the UN Convention on Refugees into India’s legal framework, a move which she argues would require establishing a national law for refugees that would be able to respond to and help asylum seekers.

Here is an excerpt from her piece.

India is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees or it’s Protocol of 1967. There is also no uniform national legislation that caters to the well-being of refugees in India. Policies adopted for refugee welfare in India are usually ad-hoc in nature, their implementation depending entirely on the whims and fancies of the political parties in power. Yet India has been home to refugees for nearly seven decades, with asylum seekers arriving in large numbers from as far and wide as the African nations of Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia as well as from neighboring South and Southeast Asian countries like Myanmar, Nepal, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and from East Asian countries such as China.

This paper looks to assess the importance of domestic legislation for refugee protection in India through: 1) a discussion of India’s international humanitarian obligations, with particular reference to its reluctance to accede to the 1951 Refugee Convention; 2) an examination of the prevailing legal conditions for refugees in India; and 3) a scholarly analysis of the various ways in which national legislation can benefit the refugee population in India. In conclusion, this paper argues that the establishment of a domestic protection regime for refugees is of utmost necessity, as it is only such a regime that can successfully respond to the interests, concerns and requirements of refugee and asylum seeking groups residing in India.

You can read the full post online at Rights in Exile.



On the last leg of our train ride to Varanasi (hour 12) I got my first glimpse of the Ganga. It was a reassuring feeling that my remote fascination had been realized into something truly great.  I intended to come to Varanasi to spend time with the Sankat Mochan Foundation after seeing all the work they had presented on their website.  I had gotten a government perspective on the Ganga from the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi, and now I wanted to see what grassroots organizations were doing on the ground.  So once we arrived, my travel companion, Zoya, and I started a journey from Pandey Ghat, where our hostel is, to Tulsi Ghat, where the foundation’s headquarters lie; dodging shouts from boat drivers and making risky climbs to avoid flooded areas.  We even balanced on a two inch wide ledge, about eight feet above the toxic Ganga.  When we finally arrived, we found the place deserted and dusty.  Only a chalkboard meant to chart water quality, but left unfilled in, and a life size paper tree in a dusty old room.

We even asked a local man what had happened and he told us to return in four hours.  When we returned we again were told by a random man to return in two hours.  After that time, there was no one around to even ask.  It was frustrating and disturbing and I felt that my trip had been for nothing.  But as I sulked back to my hostel, I realized I had learned something from this failure.  Along the way to this non-existent water project we had picked up a friend we ran into on one of the ghats along the river, a man sang two Hindu songs to us (free of charge) as his son played with our straw hat, we witnessed people ceremoniously bathing, children fishing, young swim teams diving and doing cannonballs into the river, devotees praying, teachers teaching, skilled old men fixing ancient boats, and women washing which transforms the landscape into a maze of flowing colorful blankets, scarves and sarees along with the rhythm of banging the wet fabric against rocks to dry.  We slid down walls when there were no stairs, we looked at murals painted along the ghats, and I learned how to play the ukulele.  I didn’t need to interview someone from an Australian sponsored institution to hear the story of the Ganga because the Ganga could speak for herself.

The river is truly a mother.  She produces life and is the center of all activity in the city.  Everything comes back to the Ganga and one lives in full awareness of it.  This is really how my interest began in this river.  I began by taking a class with Dr. Pasang Sherpa, a post doc fellow here at the New School, about Kailas mountain.  It made me start to think about how one’s landscape affects one’s life.  For example, in New York, one lives looking up, but also feeling small.  Here, the Ganga is omnipresent and bursting with life despite its dramatically low oxygen levels and high fecal content.

These daily interactions are a quotidian choreography.  I see dance as a chain of relationships and exchanges between bodies and space, therefore Varanasi is a city that dances.  Especially when I witness poojas, or ceremonies, I can’t help my excitement at the exchanges of energy among all the bodies in such a sacred space.  In addition to this, I trained in Martha Graham technique who is known for her ritualistic repertoire.  Ceremony and ritual is comforting to me because of the way that pieces come together like cogs in a machine to produce something reverent and beautiful.  A specific piece of Martha Graham’s like this is Rite of Spring, choreographed to Aaron Copland’s famous score.  One night, myself along with some friends went to a ceremony in the Golden Temple.

We stood in two lines facing each other with a walkway in the middle in front of a room in the center of the temple.  A young boy in the room lit a plate of candles while the Holy Man kneeled.  While this was happening young boys fiercely played damaru drums, which are two headed drums designed for shaking really fast, and others rang loud bells.  It was chaotic and disorienting and at first I was afraid but at some point I found my headspace in all the intensity and was then overwhelmed with admiration for what I was so privileged to be witnessing.  The fire was then taken out of the room and people placed their hands over it and directed the energy to their face before we walked processionally around the temple.  I felt that for a tiny moment, I was a part of an ancient dance older than Christianity, older than my nation, older than I could even imagine.  I was allowed into this world for a brief respite; everyone was caught up in each other’s shared energy.  In addition to this ceremony we attended nightly poojas and even had the good fortune to be able to witness the traditional burning of bodies along the Ganga.  We always watched from a distance, but it was still humbling to be in the presence of such a deeply rooted tradition as well as those passed.  Both events are powerful and an intense experience.  I didn’t want to be overly intrusive but this is a picture from the boat view of one of these ceremonies.  The smoke, fire, loud chanting, and young children hopping from boat to boat selling offerings with a fierce business mind can be overwhelming but I was in complete admiration of the rhythmic chaos as well as the deep connection that was being oiled and strengthened by these actions as it does every hour of every day.  This lasted until I questioned the fact that women were not allowed at the funeral because they are too emotional and may throw themselves onto the fire out of desperation, when I was kindly chased away.

In regards to the pollution of Ganga, I found mostly bad news.  I found remnants of a movement to clean Ganga but no real action or progress.  I saw murals, signs, and adverts acknowledging the crisis, such as the picture above but not visible actions.  The most devastating and awe inspiring moment was when I happened upon Nagwa Nalla, which is upstream of the main city.  Nagwa Nalla used to be called Assi River but it was renamed because, as Sunita Narain writes, rivers without water are drains; and this drain flows directly into the Ganga.  The Nagwa drain has a BOD load of 4,000 kg per day, placing right above the Varuna drain at 3,888 kg per day.  Essentially, BOD load is used to express the quantity of wastewater passing into a waste treatment center or body of water and the greater this number is, the greater the levels of pollution.  Wastewater contains contaminants such as carbohydrates, proteins, oils, and fats which are degradable by oxygen.  BOD is an acronym for  bio degradable oxygen demand therefore this measurement tells the amount of sewage in relation to the demand of oxygen required to break down and treat that water.  I looked at Nagwa Nalla from the main road, which is a bit raised from the river so there is a railing that separates the two.  I couldn’t help but gaze in awe of the massive heaps of garbage and waterfalls of toxic sewage as if it were the Taj Mahal.  As of January 30th of this year, the fecal coliform count at Nagwa is 4,100,000/100 ml.  Every day, Varanasi produces 233 million litres of sewage per day but only 25% of that is able to be treated by the city’s three sewage treatment plants (STP) and the remaining 75% is discharged without treatment into the Ganga river.  This is assuming all three centers are functioning which they rarely are.  The main STP is Dinapur, following that is Diesel Locomotive Works, and Bhagwanpur.

Varanasi sources 38% of its water from the Ganga and the rest comes from 220 tube wells that pump groundwater which is managed by the organization called Jal Nigam.  Jal Nigam is led by a chairman appointed by the state government and is a product of the 1975 Water Supply and Sewage Act.  However this supply only covers 69% of Varanasi’s properties, leaving out Varanasi’s poorer areas, of which 42% is covered.  The remaining 58% of poor areas rely on hand pumps as opposed to taps, such as the one in the picture to the left.  Regardless of the method of extraction, groundwater is hardly better than that of the Ganga.  Household as well as industrial waste is disposed of in low lying areas of the city and easily contaminates groundwater which travels through cracked and penetrable pipes.  It seems that here there is a similar distrust of distribution networks, just as Dr. Mahreen Matto of New Delhi’s CSE Water Team had.  This is another case in which decentralized water systems would prove resourceful.

Nevertheless, of course I was always carrying a giant water bottle in my hand and went through multiple a day.  It occurred to me that packaged water companies are soaring in these hard times when a local that I befriended made a comment about the packaged water company.  The bottles are not the typical Poland Spring, Aquafina, and Fiji that we know so well, but actually smaller names like Drop, King Kool, and other odd off brand types.  Basically it seems like bottled water is the temporary fix to fill the void created by government failure to address basic services but it is this mass consumption of bottled water that adds to the problem.  Probably more on that later…

I’d like to close in a crude vignette of me crashing around in a rickshaw on a bumpy road drinking one of these off brand water bottles and deciding to take a closer look at the wrapping, only to see “Save Ganga!” scrawled along the heading.  I know, ironic right?

Healing the India-China Border Trauma – L.H.M. Ling


We’re pleased to share another engaging and insightful post from former India China Fellow (2008-2010) and New School Professor L.H.M. Ling. In her latest piece for the Asia & The Pacific Policy Society, Professor Ling engages the renewed border tensions between India and China, and calls for a different approach to the traditional Western power politics and border securitization discourses as a solution to strengthen historic India-China relations. Here is an excerpt from her piece.

On 20 October 1962, Chinese and Indian forces exchanged fire in Ladakh and across the MacMahon Line in the Himalayas. A month later, the war ended as mysteriously as it had begun, yet has shadowed Sino-Indian relations ever since. A ‘trust deficit’ keeps tabs on a series of mutual grievances: the disputed borderlands of Arunachal Pradesh and Tawang; China’s support of Pakistan and presence in Kashmir; India’s ‘Look East’ policy (that is, closer relations with the United States) combined with its unswerving support of the Dalai Lama and his exiled Tibetan community in Dharamsala.

These tensions have flared again recently. Both India and China have been upgrading and expanding their military presence in the Indian Ocean. As two of the world’s fastest-growing economies, they compete fiercely for crucial energy resources in Asia, Africa and Latin America. With one-third of humanity living in these two nuclear powers, a mere skirmish between them could destabilise the region and affect the security of the entire globe.

Still, conventional analysts of international relations would shrug: what’s new? After all, isn’t the international arena just like Hobbes’ state of human nature: “nasty, poor, brutish, lonely, and short”? And doesn’t this kind of power politics apply to everybody and everywhere, regardless of history, culture, language, religion or worldview?

In this view, non-Hobbesian, not to mention non-Western, ways of thinking and doing, relating and being, do not matter. At best, India and China can expect a third, more powerful actor – that is, the US – to intervene and enforce a temporary salve. At worst, war breaks out.

Read the full article by Professor Ling on the APPS Policy Forum website.


“Smog Rules the City”

Today I had a great experience at CSE (the Centre for Science and Environment).  A wonderful woman named Mahreen, the program director of the water team there, took time out of her day on short notice to sit down and extensively talk about what the water team does as well as explained key information about water systems in India.  I captured audio and video of the whole experience for my amateur documentary but basically she explained their work in decentralizing water treatment facilities and using natural processes.  I learned about bioremediation as well as the process that CSE uses in their very own treatment facility on their beautiful campus.  The process is extensive but the most interesting part was one of the final stages in which local, hearty wetland plants filter out remaining sulfur and phosphorus necessary for their survival while the remaining water is left behind, with dramatically lower levels of phosphorus and sulfur.  The water is used for on campus horticulture.
I want to talk about the interesting signage I have seen as well as the gender dynamics I have experienced so far.  Many counters for ticket purchases will be separated by gender, there are separate metal detectors in subways and malls for male and female, and even seats designated for”ladies” on subways.  On the other hand I admire Indian women in delhi’s “badass-ness” in their ability to ride motorcycles in flowing traditional indian attire as well as balance perfectly on the end of one that a man drives as they carry two babies and a flat screen T.V., their bargaining ferocity, the way they cross streets with no fear of being run over by crazed rikshaw drivers, and the way they balance huge bags on their heads and walk with confident, nonchalant looks like they haven’t just done the most incredible thing.  I thought I was tough but I’ll be lucky to pick up 2% of the strength of these women.

Lastly take a look at this no nonsense sign

outside of our airbnb to the right–>

It makes me look every time because it is so shocking to me to see official signage that addresses the implications of an everyday act such as littering (that I personally despise and anyone who spends time with me will have been scolded more than once for throwing trash on the ground).  It reads, “What is the point of your education if you still throw garbage on streets to be ultimately picked by an uneducated person.”

Have yet to even see water but already have learned so much.  Will check in again soon…

Four Days Until Departure

A personal reminder of my inspirations

I leave my home in New York for Delhi in four days and I’ve never been so scared.

I looked back on a statement of purpose that I wrote a month or so back, this morning to remind me of why I am doing this and inspire myself once again.  These are my plans and ideas surrounding this adventure thus far:

Goal: Comparative Research Process analyzing the actors and interconnective aspects of ecosystems centralized on the Rivers Ganges and Yamuna.

While studying Ecology, I learned about systems thinking and the worldview of identifying relationships and interconnectivity.  In this project I ask, “How can I identify the relationships between a geographical feature (Body of water-Ganges/ Yamuna River) and the life that surrounds it.  I will be experimenting with the idea that ecology can be not just limited to nonhuman lifeforms (rivers, vegetation, animals, weather, climate), but include art/expression, ritual, sacrality, tradition, cultural norms (gender roles, customs, hierarchy, daily routines).  I intend to explore each of these actors and how they come together to manifest a living breathing ecosystem as well as what these roles mean to inhabitants of the ecosystem.

One important relationship to the Ganges River is the Save Ganga movement.  I will speak to activists involved as well as explore what it means now that the Ganga and Yamuna have been granted human rights by the government of Uttarakhan.  To accomplish these goals I will use the tools of digital media such as audio, video, and photograph, inclusive survey design, ethnography/ participant observation, and textual research in 5 different locations along the Ganges or Yamuna in Northern India.  These tools will help me develop an understanding of how individuals perceive and respond to environmental conditions, as well as how individual responses are linked across space and time through social, economic, cultural/artistic and political institutions.  I will first arrive in Delhi, where I will take advantage of the Save Ganga Headquarters and research/ activist centers as well as other cultural institutions.  Then, I will carry out the remainder of my study in Rishikesh, Haridwar, Dehradun, and Varanasi, which are all along the Ganges.  

No matter what the central construct to a city is, one lives in full awareness of it and it is not just there when you want or need it to be.  Whether it be a skyscraper or a river, its presence is intriguing to the functions of an ecosystem, in a broad sense of the word.

Preparations #1

My research proposal is based on the theory that the perceptions and definitions of gender in society have repercussions in health care policy and development. That is why, I want to comprehend how different groups of people understand gender in New Delhi, India, with the help of students and activists of organizations that work with gender equality related issues. Through field studies I will collect women’s experiences, journeys, and stories around this topic.

Using qualitative research I will be able to collect this information in a flexible and empathetic way. To strengthen my knowledge and practice in data collection I took a Participatory Research course this spring semester. In this class, we are learning different research methods, how to analyse outcomes and handle ethical issues such as informed consent and confidentiality.

One of the objectives of the course is to design and conduct a pilot research project. I am taking advantage of the classes’ space to test out some methods and approaches that I want to apply in my research in New Delhi. During the project’s initial design phase these tools have proven to be very helpful to understand how to start tackling an issue as sensitive as gender inequality and its impact in women’s health care.

I have realized that how you conduct the specific methods as well as how you interact and engage with participants is just as important as choosing the right research methods to conduct a study. It’s about knowing where to define boundaries, but as a researcher, being flexible enough to embrace the unexpected.

The topic I chose is filled with strong and conflicting emotions; nevertheless courageous and optimistic organizations all around the world are trying to bring down the walls of gender inequality. Every day women’s rights and gender issues get more attention; my wish is to expose them as a problem that is imperative to address not only because of the social discrimination, but for the sake of women’s health care. Gender discrimination should be visible to everyone and the information to stop it available to all.

I am confident that conducting my research in New Delhi will bring a new, fresh and hands on perspective to gender studies and its relation to health care.

Student Fellows Making Headlines in India


Kate from BeyondAMC Games with students in India

Kate from BeyondAMC Games working with students in India.

Three of the India China Institute’s Student Fellows are currently working in Belagavi, India to bring new gaming approaches to social problems. Their company, BeyondABC Games, is working to engage young people around pressing social issues through a variety of interactive media. Recently they were in Herwadkar at a local school using their game, TOUCH, to raise awareness about issues of personal safety and improper sexual contact.

Danny, Kate, Ker, and Jack from US and Canada are currently in Belagavi promoting their BeyondABC gaming company which is on a mission to to create social change through play (Education through games).

Through games, kids can freely explore without worrying about consequences, allowing them to understand the relationship between cause and effect. In a virtual world they can be whoever they want, and figure out life in a safe environment. In games it’s ok to make mistakes, because you can just restart the level. You can push boundaries, break things and build them back up again. We believe games have the potential to create a more socially aware generation.

You can read the full article online here.

Review of ICI Fellows Publication


We’re pleased to share a recent review of a new book out by our 3rd cohort ICI Fellows titled Environmental Sustainability from the Himalayas to the Oceans: Struggles and Innovations in China and India (Springer 2017). The book is edited by Shikui Dong, Jayanta Bandyopadhyay and Sanjay Chaturvedi. Along with Nidhi Shrinivas, Victoria Marshall and Lo Sze Ping, this group of scholars from India, China and the US were part of the final cohort of India China Fellows working on the topic of Social Innovation for Sustainable Environments (2010-13).

Here is a brief excerpt from the review in PrimePost by Vithal Rajan titled India, China Collaboration Needed To Protect Ecology.

While general public anxiety over our fast degrading environment has produced a plethora of books, none is better than this one, written with so much attention to detail, and history, making complex scientific facts easily accessible as much to the lay reader as to the scientist. The book is delightfully illustrated with carefully drawn maps and charts, and beautiful photos, which all aid the reader in understanding the threats to the fragile ecology of the Himalayan region, affecting both India and China.

A phalanx of authoritative scientists have authored this book, Indian, Chinese, and international. In the present cacophonous political atmosphere, the authors refreshingly argue, repeatedly throughout the book, for joint international action and joint regional bodies between India and China to help reverse ecological degradation in the Himalayan region, which is drastically eroding the quality of life for millions north and south of the mountain range.

The two principal authors, Jayanta Bandyopadhyay and Shikui Dong, go into the early histories and theologies of the two great Asian civilizations to highlight the ecological sensitivity embedded in their cultures. Shikui Dong starts his exposition of the present state of play in China with a conventional bashing of the Mao period in the 1950s and 1960s, a period when all governments were equally ignorant and irresponsible.

You can read the full review online here.

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