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UCL film collaboration in India featured at Bloomsbury Festival 2017

JasonLewis20 October 2017

Bloomsbury Festival is is a five-day celebration of the area’s pioneering creativity. A recent collaboration between UCL’s Theo Bryer and Rebecca Wilson and partners in India was among work featured at this year’s festival, which ran from 18-22 October.

UCL Institute of Education’s Theo Bryer and Rebecca Wilson ran drama and filmmaking sessions with young people in and around Bengaluru for two weeks in July 2017, as part of a project supported by the UCL Global Engagement Funds.

Theo and Rebecca meeting with meeting Ms Kalpana Singh (L), head of Parikrma Humanity Foundation

Theo and Rebecca meeting with meeting Ms Kalpana Singh (L), head of Parikrma Humanity Foundation

They collaborated with Sangam, a local education centre, and worked with young people from Parikrma Humanity Foundation School, Delhi Public School and Baale Mane girls’ home.

Together the team ran a series of workshops, developed for groups of thirty, after which the participants were invited to produce short films in small groups.

Lecturer Theo and ICT Teaching Support Analyst Rebecca said they were particularly interested in finding out how approaches to filmmaking using iPads worked in these very different contexts.

“We were given a very warm reception in all our partner organisations” said Theo. “Sharing ideas with the incredible teachers, educationalists and young people that we met was a highlight of this trip.”

Filming a Melodrama at Parikrma Humanity Foundation School

Filming a Melodrama at Parikrma Humanity Foundation School

Students at Parikrma Humanity Foundation made melodramas based on the stimulus of the arrival of a letter.

At Delhi Public School, they made documentaries based on the model of the AJ+ news items (made by Al Jazeera) that are designed for social media.

At Baale Mane girls’ home, the older girls made melodramas and the younger girls, horror films.

Theo and Rebecca also made three films with a group of homeschooled children based in the local area.

“We were struck by the way in which the visual and cultural aspects of filmmaking facilitated this creative endeavour, so that even the youngest children were able to understand what was expected of them,” added Rebecca.

Filming a documentary about skirt length at Delhi Public School

Filming a documentary about skirt length at Delhi Public School

The outcomes of the project were largely positive. Theo noted: “The touch-screen technology proved as accessible in India as in our projects in the UK, although not all the children have ready access to this kind of technology – not all of them own phones, for example.

“All the young people seemed motivated by the opportunity to share what they had made with their peers, carers and teachers and this awareness of a final audience helped them to shape their work in specific ways.”

Filming a horror film at Baale Mane girls’ home

Filming a horror film at Baale Mane girls’ home

Theo said a total of 24 films were made.

“One of our favourites, Perceptions, is 36 seconds long.

“We suggest that you watch Valuables, Perceptions and The Mummy 2 as examples from each of the places that we worked in.”

 

UCL-IIT Delhi green tech workshop to support rural communities in India

SophieVinter7 September 2017

UCL and the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi are to deliver a three-day international workshop focused on finding environmentally friendly solutions to pressing challenges.

The Closed Loop Green Technologies for Rural Communities workshop, hosted at IIT Delhi from 11-13 September, will explore the reuse of solid and food waste for energy generation, improved water resources management, sanitation and energy provision.

Set up through a Newton Bhabha Fund Researcher Links grant, the workshop supports India’s Unnat Bharat Abhiyan programme with its vision of bringing about transformational change by leveraging the knowledge of academic institutions.

Connecting with local communities

Dr. Priti Parikh, Associate Professor at UCL’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering, and Dr. Ram Chandra, Energy Bioscience Overseas Fellow (IIT Delhi) are the lead coordinators of the workshop.

Unnat Bharat Abhiyan connects academic institutions with local communities to address development challenges through participatory processes and appropriate technologies.

The event will bring together early career researchers from India and the UK – 15 participants from each country – to identify gaps in research, foster new collaborations, facilitate knowledge exchange, develop ideas for future grant applications and make recommendations to support the implementation of Unnat Bharat Abhiyan.

The Newton Bhabha Fund Researcher Links grant is funded by the UK Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Royal Society of Chemistry and delivered by the British Council.

More information

UCLSat: a collaboration out of this world

JasonLewis26 July 2017

UCL is part of the international satellite mission QB50UCLSat, a satellite designed and built by UCL engineers and scientists, was launched in June from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in India as part of an international mission called QB50.

The satellite is now 507km up and going overhead three times a day (six times actually, but three times in working hours).

On the current status of the satellite, Dr Rob Wicks (UCL Institute for Risk & Disaster Reduction) said: “We have our ground station here and we listen to it every time it goes overhead and we get data back. It’s working well at the moment, touch wood.”

Funded by the European Union, the QB50 mission has involved the launch of a network of CubeSats built by universities all over the world to collectively study the physics and chemistry of the middle and lower thermosphere of the Earth for the first time.

The mission has fostered a lot of collaboration across universities, science institutes and industry partners. For example, two universities in Australia help UCL listen for radio contact with UCLSat, and UCL does the same for them.

“Australian National University and Adelaide University are both helping us out with radio contact with our satellite,” explained Dr Wicks. “And that’s kind of on just a friendly, reciprocal basis. We listen to theirs and they listen to ours. There’s no official paperwork to do with that, but we are just collaborating as friendly institutions.

“It’s one of the great things about QB50 – you have these 50 institutions around the world that are now sort of semi-friendly and talk to one another about radios and satellites and things like that.”

A resounding success

UCL has been involved in the mission since 2011 and, in addition to working on UCLSat, UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL) engineers also produced hardware for 13 of the other satellites.

The mission has been a resounding success. The failure rate for CubeSats is usually 40%, but the CubeSats launched during the QB50 mission is half that, at 20%.

Speaking of UCL’s achievements and pioneering vision for the project, Dr Wicks added: “UCL should be extremely happy that it has been a leader in this field of big CubeSat missions. The whole mission right from the beginning has been a struggle, because space agencies and a lot of the science community were very negative about CubeSats. They said ‘they are too small and too unrealisable – it’s a waste of time and a waste of money to try and do science with them’.

“I think we are basically proving them wrong – we can use them for education, we can use them for training and we can use them for science. We can keep them cheap. We expect that 20% will fail, but that is better than 40%, and we are going to get real useful scientific data out of it. It is only really now that the science community is waking up to this.”

Student support

UCL students have been heavily involved in the project. Masters students worked with MSSL in the early stages of the project on the design of the satellite and on simulations of the upper atmosphere, among others.

Théophile Brochant de Villiers, who worked on the CubeSat while studying for his MSc in Space Science and Engineering at UCL, is now a technician in the MSSL Department of Space & Climate Physics.

He said: “We were a small team working on UCLSat. This meant there was a lot of work and a lot of tasks that I wasn’t necessarily trained for. So I learned everything on the job; this required being proactive, and not being afraid to seek out help around the lab. I got to know a lot of amazing scientists and engineers which I still regularly interact and work with. This is what I’m most proud of.”

International conference: Mahatma Gandhi in the 21st Century

GuestBlogger5 May 2017

Written by Narinder Kapur, Visiting Professor of Neuropsychology

Gandhi Fellows, their families, UCL's Dr. Caroline Selai and Sreemoyee Chatterjee, a Times of India journalistThe year 2015 saw the unveiling of a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square and 2017 is being celebrated in Britain as the India-UK year of culture to mark 70 years of Indian Independence.

These events provided an ideal opportunity to uphold and renew Gandhi’s ideals for the promotion of his principles of nonviolence, tolerance and justice, and for a focus on the problems of the poor and needy in the world.

With these aims in mind, on 28 April 2017 we held an international conference at UCL entitled – Mahatma Gandhi in the 21st Century: Gandhian Themes and Values.

The purpose of the conference was to raise awareness of Gandhian ideals, to encourage people in India and the UK to think about Gandhian issues and values, and to encourage innovation in producing solutions to problems such as poor healthcare, education access and violence in society.

Topics that were covered included Gandhian perspectives on justice, education, nonviolence, and health, as well as a focus on village India and how innovations, such as frugal medical innovations, can be cheaply produced and help common conditions.

Pro-Vice-Provost South Asia Professor Marie Lall (UCL Institute of Education) outlined some of the key collaborations that UCL has with India, and we enlisted eminent speakers from the UK, India and the USA to speak on a range of topics related to Gandhian issues and ideals.

In parallel with the conference, we held a major exhibition of Gandhi-related items, including:

  • Frugal innovation devices in healthcare, to parallel the talk given by Professors Prabhu and Bhargava. This included devices jointly developed by the All India Medical Institute in Delhi and Stanford University, as well as the Jaipur Limb
  • A set of 100 unique photographs provided by GandhiServe in Germany
  • Interactive displays where delegates explored issues related to global citizenship, altruism and moral judgment
  • A virtual reality app built specifically around the Taj Mahal and Gandhi, where delegates could feel what it is like to be at the Taj Mahal and also ‘in the skin’ of Gandhi
  • A Gandhi in Sight and Sound powerpoint presentation that had key speeches and video clips about Gandhi, including a Gandhi ‘Rap’ song by MC Yogi.

In the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi, and in order to have maximum participation in the conference, we did not charge for attendance. Since Gandhi was keen for his values and ideals to permeate throughout India, as well as countries such as the UK, we funded five fellowships to enable young Indian citizens to attend the conference.

They were selected as part of an essay competition, with the essay including a focus on how Gandhi is relevant today, and how he can be made more relevant.

Around 100 delegates attended the event, including a journalist from the Times of India.

Beyond Medicine: Difficult Dialogues 2017

JasonLewis3 May 2017

Written by Ina Goel, research scholar at UCL and runs the hijra project

A public health system is a complex intersectional unit of people, institutions and resources determining the heath culture of a society. Prof. Debabar Banerjii explains health culture as  an ecological approach that allows us to analyse epidemiology, cultural perceptions, health technologies and health behaviour within a country. At the recently held Difficult Dialogues conference, I got a chance to be a part of the shifting debates on India’s health culture. My panel was on gender and health, which  looked at gendered determinants of health inequities in India. Key focuses were on issues related to gender-based violence, sexuality and access to reproductive and medical technologies.

Rudrani on Difficult Dialogues 2017 panel

As a social scientist who has spent the last seven years working with the hijra communities (trans communities known as third gender) in India, I was invited to draw on my experience of working in the field. I spoke about the gaps between the policy prescriptions and their implementation when it comes to accessing public health by the hijra communities. I got a chance to meet and interact with other experts in the field from journalism, academia and public policy that helped me strengthen my understanding in an interdisciplinary way. Difficult Dialogues gave me a platform to bring out the discrepancies between well-meaning policies and the living realities of hijra communities in India.

In April 2014, the Supreme Court of India declared that hijras be treated as the third gender. This landmark judgment gave affirmative action to hijras by adding them to the OBC (Other Backward Class) category, as a means of securing this quota. The Supreme Court further directed the Centre and State governments to urgently look into the problems faced by the hijra communities and made recommendations for providing proper medical care and separate public toilets for hijras. On one hand, the hijras are celebrated in Indian society because of their symbolism in representing several androgynous gods.  On the other hand, the hijras are often victims of sexual harassment, abuse and rape, with no laws in place capable of dealing with a hijra rape complaint. Given their socially marginalised status and the prejudices hijras face, the issue of underreporting of crimes against hijras is perhaps understandable. There is also a refusal to accommodate and acknowledge the sexual identities of hijras because there is an anti-sodomy law in practice in India. This contradiction in law means that whilst hijras can officially be recognised as the third gender, it does not allow hijras to openly come out and truly live their lives. We thus have a system that fails to recognise the felt needs of hijras.

In India, many hijras are castrated. Often, it is believed that after castration, the hijra achieves nirwana or rebirth that earns the hijra the power to bless or curse other people. However, according to the Indian Penal Code, the legality of the practice of castration is under question and there is a lack of formal guidelines issued by the Medical Council of India regarding sex-reassignment surgery. Though there are some places that offer surgery to hijras at huge costs, many hijras do not have access to those facilities or the resources to sustain them. Given this constrained situation, many hijras are forced to go to quacks and faith healers to get themselves castrated. Little academic insight exists to address the issue of violence involved in castration given the centrality of the castration operation in hijra communities and the lack of proper routes to access it. Recognising violence as a social determinant to health is critical to understanding the health needs of hijra communities in India.

Resisting violence against hijras should be the first and foremost step that the Indian government should look into. Yes, a promise for a better hijra life is essential but aiming to provide separate public toilets for hijras in a country still struggling to deal with open defecation and manual scavenging might be a little too far-fetched for immediate implementation. For better outreach and improved accessibilities, public health policy makers should recognise the relationship between the living experiences of hijras and theoretical understanding of them. The big question remains the same: How do we  ensure true equity for those who need it the most?

The theme for Difficult Dialogues 2018 is gender with the hope of finding better solutions to such difficult questions.

 

Photo: Rudrani (c) (hijra activist and founder of India’s first Transgender Modelling Agency)

References:

Banerji, D (1985): Health and Family Planning Services in India: An Epidemiological, Socio-cultural and Political Analysis and a Perspective, Lok Paksh, New Delhi

 

Difficult Dialogues 2017: A Summary

SujithaSelvarajah22 February 2017

Sujitha is a UCL global health graduate and final year medical student

UCL was knowledge partner for Difficult Dialogues 2017, which attracted a wide range of speakers Over 250 people from across the world participated in Difficult Dialogues last week, exploring issues like access to healthcare, the recent India budget speech, and the intrinsic link between sociocultural beliefs and health.

To say that this is a comprehensive summary of the conference would be a disservice to the complexity of the discussions that took place in Goa.  This blog will explore three points of discussion that I believe hold significance for health not only in India, but around the world.

  1. Whose responsibility is health?

“Be proactive and responsible for your own health.  What you can do for your own health, no one else can do.” – Manisha Koirala, Bollywood actress and breast cancer survivor

Manisha Koirala’s message of taking responsibility for your health being key to disease prevention is a familiar one, for most of us know who you avoid if you eat an apple a day. My question is what if not everyone has the same access this apple? What if it is an uneven playing field? Some have orchards in their back gardens, others have to travel for days across cities to even lay eyes on an apple and some don’t even know what an apple is, let alone its significance in keeping the doctor away.

The question I’m asking is what about the role of the state, in providing education, transport, access and facilities etc, in providing the context in which individuals can then take responsibility for their health. There needs to be a balance between the onus being on the individual and the responsibility of the state in providing an environment conducive to individuals making healthy choices.

UCL Professors Monica Lakhanpaul and Marie Lall were among speakers at Difficult Dialogues 2017As Dr Aarathi Prasad, of UCL’s Office of the Vice-Provost (Research), said: “Where people live and how they live, greatly impacts their health.” Being a UCL student, I was introduced to the social determinants of health very early on in my career in a lecture by the pioneer Professor Sir Michael Marmot.  It continues to have a lasting influence on how I question and understand health.  Why don’t we look at the causes of the causes? Why is it that some people smoke more than others? How can there be a 20-year difference in life expectancy between two neighbouring towns? Looking at it from this perspective, it is not easy in the sense that there are no quick solutions. It requires multi-sectoral input. Unfortunately there is no single vaccine, no magic bullet that will provide universal health coverage. The complexity of this was touched upon by Professor Venkatapuram of King’s College London, in the opening panel discussion with the poignant question: “ How do we make for example, the minister of transport, care about health?”

  1. How do we make health a priority for policy makers?

There was a lot of discussion about the recent India budget speech, with many calls for the Indian government to increase its public spending on health and the key role of civil society and citizens in making health a priority for policy makers. This was something that came up numerous times over the three days. The role of the media in bridging this gap between policy makers and the rest of society is central to this discussion. Abantika Ghosh, journalist and writer for the Indian Express put forward her views on the relationship between health and journalism in India: “There is a huge readership for stories about scientific breakthroughs. Something that may not make it to the hospitals in the next ten years generates a lot of excitement because it is something exotic. It is like reading science fiction. On the other hand public health, which is so much more important, so much emergent a need, gets much more neglected in the media space.”

This difficulty expressed by Ghosh is unlikely to be experienced by India alone, but also shared across the world. As Dame Anne Johnson (UCL’s Vice-Dean International for Population Health Sciences) said: “The problems India facing are global problems – we all have them.”

The media has the potential to play a huge role in raising awareness of health issues among the public and also in holding the government accountable. The work of Sohini Chattopadhyay, an independent journalist, is a clear example of this. Chattopadhyay carried out an undercover investigation unearthing shocking findings about the quality of care and experiences of women during childbirth in a particular labour room in Calcutta. Whilst not quite meeting the Millennium Development Goal for reduction in Maternal Mortality, India has seen a significant decrease. As Chattopadhyay stated: “That kind of improvement is incredible, but ten years down the line, we have to talk about a little more than ‘Is the woman alive after childbirth?’ We have to start talking about qualitative experiences.”

  1. Is grassroots organisation a substitute for policy?

This was in fact a question asked by David Osrin, UCL Professor of Global Health, during the arts and health workshop. The primary aim of the summit was to collate at least one policy recommendation from each panel discussion and before presenting them to the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. For me, the numerous examples of existing projects making a tangible impact on communities was at the forefront of what makes Difficult Dialogues a force for change.

UCL partners with a range of organisations in IndiaDelan Devakumar’s work crafting short films on topics like child marriage and organising screenings to raise awareness and catalyse discussion is just one of many examples.  Professor Osrin’s work in the Dharavi Slums with the Alley Galli Biennale is a beautiful demonstration of how art can intersect with community and health.  The two-year process led to an exhibition, blending art and science to share information on urban health and showcase the contribution of the Dharavi people to Mumbai’s economic and cultural life. With four themes – art, health, recycling and vitality – the Biennale invited Dharavi residents to meet, educate themselves on urban health, learn new skills, and produce locally resonant artworks that were authentic, honest and relevant.

Recently UCL partnered with Symbiosis International University to evaluate existing health, education and sanitation interventions within the Pune district. Devaki Gokhale, Assistant Professor at Symbiosis University said: “This partnership with UCL is an exhilarating experience, the sharing of ideas, thought provoking discussions, listening to the needs and concerns expressed by villagers from a different lens and, through a holistic approach, feels prolific.”

Community interventions and policy are not mutually exclusive, and nor should they be. However, there are distinct gaps where policy is far from having a real impact on people’s lives. This is the ideal space for projects like these to flourish and make a difference.

Difficult Dialogues tackled a range of health issuesAt the heart of all these grassroots projects are partnerships. Whether between institutions, or even on an individual basis. It is clear that we have a lot to learn from each other. Sneh Bhargava, India’s first female radiologist and recent director of the All India Medical Institute of Medical Sciences (AIMS), was a figure Ina Goel (UCL PhD student) learnt about and looked up to in school. When they met, Ina was in awe of her work as a trailblazer in the field of medicine and Sneh was fascinated by Ina’s essay on universal health care.

When health is something so clearly impacted by politics, economics, and sociocultural factors, maybe the bringing together of different perspectives and background to achieve common goals, should be an approach taken not only in the community and among universities, but also at state level. Perhaps the key is to figure out how to make the transport minister care about health after all?

What is Difficult Dialogues?

SujithaSelvarajah7 February 2017

Difficult Dialogues Logo 2017In just three days, the annual Difficult Dialogues forum will kick off. This year’s collaboration between UCL and Difficult Dialogues centres around the pivotal question, ‘Is India’s health a grand challenge?’

Difficult Dialogues is a platform for change.  It is a unique opportunity to bring together a varied range of stakeholders, from experts in academia, public policy, business, international relations and civil society.  These diverse perspectives will undoubtedly fuel important debates about health in India. Our conversations will focus on the four central themes of the summit: Inequality, Gender, Universal Health Care and The Changing Burden of Disease.  Founded by UCL alumna, Surina Narula, Difficult Dialogue’s vision is to build a foundation for these difficult conversations, and translate this dialogue into impact.

The variety comes not only in the panellists and speakers but also the audience.  Rarely will you find such a range of audience members — from government officials and civil society organisations to undergraduates — being engaged in the same discussions.  The forum will take a broader look at health, examining the impact of social, political and economic factors on communities and individual wellbeing.

UCL pioneered investigation into the social determinants of health, with Sir Michael Marmot’s landmark Whitehall Study leading the way in making us rethink the way we tackle health inequalities and universal health care.  Professor Marmot, Ruth Bell and their colleagues at the UCL Institute of Health Equity continue to build this evidence base.   UCL has a strong history in being a leader for change; for example it was the first university in the UK to accept men and women on equal merit. As Dame Nicole Brewer of the Vice-Provost’s office said, “UCL’s strength in forming global partnerships lies in its expertise across a wide range of disciplines.”  Dame Anne Johnson, a UCL speaker at the summit, was the principal investigator in the first ever study that looked at sexual health behaviours, the first of its kind across the world.

Former Director of the UCL Institute of Global Health and current director of Maternal and Child Health at the World Health Organisation, Anthony Costello, did substantial research looking into interventions which reduced maternal mortality rates in rural Indian communities and one of the panel discussions will look at Better Births and choices in Childbirth.  The panel features award-winning independent Indian reporter Sohini Chattopadhay, Bashi Hazard, an Australian lawyer who is Board Director of Human Rights in Childbirth, and will be chaired by UCL’s Dr Aarathi Prasad, who is part of the steering committee for the entire summit.  The panel looking at ensuring equality and opportunity for individuals with disabilities, will be chaired by the UCL Academic lead for Difficult Dialogues, Professor Monica Lakhanpaul.  Professor Lakhanpaul has recently won funding from the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) for a project which looks at optimal infant feeding practises in rural India. The project is one of the first to be funded by GCRF which recognises world-leading research partnerships improving health in low and middle income countries.

At the heart of this bidirectional partnership between Difficult Dialogues and UCL is knowledge exchange and opportunities for collaborations that work towards the overall goal of universal health coverage.

Welcoming the World: celebrating the democratisation of ideas at Jaipur Literature Festival

SophieVinter31 January 2017

UCL undergraduates Shalaka Bapat (first year Anthropology) and Tamiza Tudor (third year French and German) attended the 2017 Jaipur Literature Festival thanks to a DSC travel award, supported by the Global Engagement Office. The festival celebrated its tenth anniversary this year.

Words and images: Shalaka Bapat. Originally published here in Savage, UCL’s arts and culture journal.

UCL students Shalaka and Tamiza at Jaipur Literature FestivalThrough the dusty streets of the Pink City emerge ancient palaces and city gates. Next to these stand shops selling mobile phone chargers, cafés blasting Bollywood music and idle Uber drivers awaiting custom. While Jaipur’s architecture is characterised by a mix of Rajasthani and Mughal styles, the city itself is where old meets new. What better place to celebrate ‘ten years of the best writers and thinkers from around the globe’?

I recently attended the tenth Jaipur Literature Festival, where some of the world’s leading artists, scientists and thinkers gather for five days of talks, debates and panels. For those five days, the Hotel Diggi Palace feels like the intellectual heartbeat of the world. The debates are heated, the talks passionate, and you leave a panel feeling that your mind and soul have been nourished with new insights. Many from a certain ‘set’ in India – middle-class, well-educated, international in their outlook yet Indian in their identity – ‘get down to Diggi’ each year. But the audience is not limited to this set because, crucially, JLF is free. This, and the mixture of talks in Hindi and English make events and ideas accessible to many in the region. In a country with huge inequality, this is a powerful statement in favour of opening up intellectual circles.

Indeed, some of India’s most beloved figures attended and gave their talks in Hindi; including Bollywood actor Rishi Kapoor, screenwriter Javed Akhtar and the celebrated poet, Gulzar. These were among the most popular talks and drew large contingents from local schools.

With a population of over one billion people, competition in India in every sector and at every level is incredibly high. This puts added pressure on pupils to distinguish themselves academically; many students receive extra tuition and there are few opportunities to learn for the sake of learning. JLF is a space for young people to learn information they will not be tested on, and to hear ideas that do not come from a textbook. The festival also brings international authors to their Indian readers. Writers such as Paul Beatty, winner of the Man Booker Prize, rarely go on book tours in India. Yet as the length of the queues for book signing stood testament, they are hugely popular.

Jaipur Literature FestivalThe interest was reciprocal and international visitors took full advantage of the vast range of Indian speakers in attendance. While the discussions covered many themes there was a prevailing interest in India’s history, its present and its future. ‘Welcoming the world’ was how the festival was kicked off by its directors, and the five days were as much a celebration and examination of India as of literature and culture in general. From a discussion on the Vedas, one of the oldest scriptures in Hinduism, to an illustration of the disparity among Indian states, each talk highlighted the complexities of the subcontinent. This seems incredibly important in an increasingly polarised world. As Adichie said, ‘when we realise that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise’.

This applies to both international perceptions of India and Indians’ perceptions of their nation. India is moving further to a right-wing, Hindu nationalist version of itself, and it is important now more than ever to have a space to discuss, share and question. While there has been criticism of the Festival’s sponsorship by Zee, a media company whose news channel has been said to ‘serve as the media bludgeon of the Hindu right’, many of the discussions were in favour of a strong left. A highlight was ‘Why the Future of Free Speech depends on India’; a conversation between Timothy Garton Ash and Salil Tripathi. They spoke about India as a swing state for global free speech, and the importance of cultivating a sense of ‘robust civility’ amongst its population. They also argued for an increased awareness of the diversity of the subcontinent.

Jaipur Literature Festival 2017Historically, the desire to create an Indian monolith has affected literature in astounding ways. Books have been banned, essays removed from reading lists, and authors blackballed. The festival represents a coming together to recognise and celebrate diversity. Author Perumal Murugan, whose book One Part Woman was banned for some time, has spoken at JLF in the past. This year’s festival stayed true to its values of open discussion, debate and knowledge-sharing. Panels such as ‘Being the Other’, discussing being Muslim in a divided India, critically engaged with issues of prejudice, censorship, and its effect on literature. It is essential that JLF continues in this vein in the future, regardless of its sponsor.

India’s diversity makes it a unique location for the sharing of knowledge. With one of the largest youth populations in the world, India will be instrumental in sculpting the global landscape of free speech and access to information in the future. However, these traits have also made the country susceptible to polarisation and extremism. The Jaipur Literature Festival makes a powerful statement in favour of the democratisation of ideas. While incorporating elements from all aspects of culture, literature is promoted as the principle vehicle for ideas sharing. The festival recently created ‘Jaipur Bookmark’, a platform devoted to bringing authors, publishers and translators together. As a practice in empathy reading is becoming increasingly important in India, where growing division has left many citizens vulnerable to alienation. The country’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, said that ‘the art of a people is a true mirror to their minds’. JLP allows the multifariousness of India’s cultural consciousness to be freely shared and celebrated.

Knowledge exchange at UCL India Voices

SujithaSelvarajah27 January 2017

Words and images: Sujitha Selvarajah. Sujitha is a UCL Global Health graduate and final year medical student who will be tweeting and blogging live from the upcoming Difficult Dialogues conference in Goa, of which UCL is Knowledge Partner.

UCL India Voices academic speed dating event, January 2017As part of the UCL Grand Challenge of Cultural Understanding, UCL India Voices hosted the first ever academic speed dating event following January’s South Asia Network Meeting.

With an organisation as large as UCL, with so many departments and different research interests, the potential for collaboration is huge.  It is this potential for collaboration within UCL, particularly on global projects, that underpinned the success of the evening.  It was an ideal platform bringing together people from different backgrounds and disciplines, who share similar interests and objectives.

As Vice-Provost International Dame Nicola Brewer told attendees: “UCL’s strength in forming global partnerships lies in its expertise across a wide range of disciplines.” The evening was a huge success, with many details exchanged and prospective future collaborations being discussed.

Ina Goel, from UCL’s Department of Gender and Sexuality Studies, was an organiser of the event. She said: “Often it becomes hard to break hierarchies in the academic set-up, and an event like ‘speed-dating’ becomes a fun platform not only to have multi-sectoral collaborations but also to get an opportunity to meet people which we might not otherwise get a chance to cross paths with.”

She added that the UCL Grand Challenges programme will soon be inviting applications for two small grants of up to £2,500 each to support innovative cross-disciplinary collaborations between researchers from across the university, to help build impactful partnerships with organisations in India.

Sparking conversation

IMG_0189_editedThe collaborative discussions set the scene for the upcoming Difficult Dialogues conference from 10-12 February, the theme of which asks “Is India’s Health a Grand Challenge?”

The summit is set to take place in Goa and Dr Aarathi Prasad (UCL Office of the Vice-Provost Research) who is on the steering committee, spoke about UCL’s role as Knowledge Partner.

Aarathi emphasised the importance of it not being an academic conference, but instead a forum for discussion and debate about some of the greatest issues and challenges facing universal healthcare in India.

Founded by Surina Narula, a UCL alumni, Difficult Dialogues will engage a range of stakeholders with its primary aim being to bridge the gap between policy makers and NGOs, clinicians and those on the front line.

Having paved the way as a global leader in forming the evidence base for the social determinants of health, UCL experts across different disciplines will be attending the conference and engaging in conversation that aims to spark conversation and impact policy.

Future opportunities

UCL’s South Asia Network is a forum that brings together academics working in the region to explore the current work of UCL as well as opportunities for future engagement.  Whilst there are many focus areas within the regions for UCL collaboration, such as Myanmar and Pakistan, the primary focus of the day’s activities was UCL’s involvement in India.

2017 being the year of the 70th anniversary of India’s Independence and the UK-India Cultural Exchange, also provided the ideal context for this.

UCL's Professor Monica Lakhanpaul, Professor Marie Lall and Dr Priti Parikh present their project at the January 2017 UCL South Asia Network meetingDuring the South Asia Network meeting, Narinder Kapur gave a presentation on the upcoming International Gandhi Conference. As part of the conference,  a new Gandhi scholarship has been set up by UCL, allowing five young people from India to attend the conference in the UK.  The five scholars will be selected after submitting an essay on the relevance of Gandhi in the 21st Century, and their work will be displayed at the event.

Professor Monica Lakhanpaul (UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health), Professor Marie Lall (UCL Institute of Education and Pro-Vice-Provost South Asia) and Dr Priti Parikh (UCL Department of Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering), updated the group on the ongoing success of their project A cross disciplinary approach to optimise infant feeding through schools and Anganwadi networks in India. They have secured funding and partnered with a number of Indian NGOs, Save the Children and local community members to develop integrated health, education and environmental interventions.  Professor Lakhanpaul highlighted trust as key to the success of bidirectional exchanges such as this one.

UCL South Asian collaborations win funding to help developing countries cope with environmental hazards

SophieVinter13 January 2017

Bak Bay Slum Beach, Mumbai. Copyright Flickr/Adam CohnThree interdisciplinary UCL collaborations have secured Research Councils funding to help communities in developing countries better manage their response to environmental disasters.

Projects led by UCL’s Institute for Risk & Disaster Reduction and Department of Statistical Science are among 29 that have been backed by the Building Resilience research programme to tackle a range of life-threatening hazards, from droughts and land degradation to volcanoes, earthquakes and flooding.

The programme, run by the NERC, ESRC and AHRC, forms part of the Global Challenge Research Fund (GCRF), a £1·5bn UK government fund to support cutting-edge research that addresses the challenges faced by developing countries.

  • Professor Serge Guillas (UCL Department of Statistical Science) will lead a team collaborating with the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS) investigating tsunami risk to coastal India, in order to increase community resilience through planning and policy changes.
  • Professor Peter Sammonds (UCL Institute for Risk & Disaster Reduction) will work with the University of Jammu on a project examining environmental hazards in a frontier conflict zone. His team will focus on Ladakh, in Jammu and Kashmir, which experiences frequent major floods and landslides.
  • Professor Maureen Fordham (UCL Institute for Risk & Disaster Reduction) will lead a team exploring use of mobile technology in mountainous rural Nepal – blighted by frequent earthquakes and landslides – to improve access to information and communications to support the health of pregnant or newly delivered women and their children before, during and after an environmental disaster. She will collaborate with Nepal-based HERD International and UK think-tank ODI.

Preventing loss of lives and livelihood

Building on an existing three-year collaboration with IISc in developing statistical and mathematical approaches to better quantify tsunami hazards, Professor Guillas will work with Dr Cassidy Johnson (UCL Development Planning Unit) and Dr Simon Day (UCL Institute for Risk & Disaster Reduction) to explore how urbanisation contributes to the impact of coastal inundation on Indian communities, using planning to prevent severe losses in lives and livelihoods alike.

He said: “In 2004, the lack of awareness and preparedness to a possible tsunami arising from the Sumatra-Andaman fault unfortunately contributed to the death of around 15,000 people on the Eastern coast of India, with a catastrophic effect on poor and fragile local communities. The prospect of similar losses in a future event on the Western coast, including cities such as Mumbai, compels us to jointly investigate this risk.

“The Mumbai metropolitan region has grown from around 5 million to 25 million people since 1945 – the date of the last tsunami hitting the region – with a large concentration of poor population on the coast and living on low-lying reclaimed land. Such density poses massive evacuation issues due to the lack of infrastructure and preparedness. Only wise planning can reduce exposure, as early warning systems only mitigate the tsunami consequences.”