Science, Technology and Innovation

  1. An Unhealthy Situation: Reforming Women's Healthcare in India
    71% of girls in India have no knowledge of menstruation before their firstrnperiod. Improper menstrual hygiene and a lack of awareness pose significantrnhealth risks, prevent girls from going to school, and cause immense stress due tornassociated stigmas. Women in India face numerous other healthcarerndisadvantages, including lack of access to contraception, much higher anemiarnrates than men, poor maternal health, disproportionate depression rates, higherrnincidence of heart disease, and a sheer paucity of female health practitioners,rnespecially in rural areas. What steps can the government and private sector takernto change mindsets about women’s healthcare challenges? How can we innovaternto make good-quality healthcare more affordable and accessible to women andrntheir families? Can we scalably adopt technology to enhance the capacities ofrnpublic hospitals and individual doctors to address these troubling issues?
  2. In Data We Trust: Transforming Elections and Governance Through Big Data
    The emergence of big data and the development of sophisticated analytical methods to handle this data have rapidly been transforming various kinds of spaces. Prime Minister Modi’s extensive political campaign in the 2014 General Election and the grand scale Aadhar program demonstrate that this Big Data disruption has reached political and governmental arena. In this panel, we try to unpack these trends. What kinds of analytics are used in political campaigns? What is the relationship between these new methods of campaigning with the old, tried and tested approaches? Are these changing the issues voters care about? How has Big Data been harnessed to enhance governmental programs?
  3. Copycats: The Indian Startup Story
    It’s no secret that Indian entrepreneurs have long turned to China and the West for inspiration. However, in an increasingly connected world, there is little that stops foreign companies from entering Indian markets and outperforming local copycat businesses. At a time when the economy is relying heavily on young businesses to grow and create jobs, how can Indian startups drop this model of ideas arbitrage and find organic, sustainable, and original avenues for progress? What supporting roles can the finance and education sectors play in creating an ecosystem that nurtures true innovation and catalyzes building for “Bharat”?

Culture

  1. Building Blocks For Tomorrow: Restructuring Primary Education
    Over the last two decades, India’s economic rise has become associated with the Silicon Valley engineers and professionals produced by its vast education system. Yet, the statistics on Indian education tell a more sombre tale than the stereotypes. By Class V, less than 50% of students can read Class II textbooks. By Class XIII, only 43% of students can perform simple division. Further, given that only 8.15% of Indians are graduates of a tertiary institute, the fruits of learning, and the economic gifts associated with them, have been unevenly distributed. In the backdrop of teacher absenteeism and lack of funding, how can schools be improved to respond to the needs of students? Is there a way to transmit ideas and technological advances to communities where few people have higher education degrees?
  2. Fair and Objective? The Judiciary’s Claim to Public Confidence
    Out of the three organs of government, the judiciary has been the most proactive in fulfilling its constitutionally prescribed obligations. From declaring the right to privacy a fundamental right to proscribing the practice of triple talaq – judgments delivered by the Supreme Court in 2017 impact Indians everyday. However, several recent controversies have undermined public confidence in the judiciary. These include the medical bribery case which brought to light internal infighting in the Supreme Court and news reports about the suspicious circumstances that resulted in Judge BH Loya’s death. How can the judiciary regain lost public confidence and reassert itself as the ‘sentinel on the qui vive’?
  3. Whose Azaadi?: Voices from the Margins
    Television studios and living rooms in New Delhi and Islamabad often see loud and acrimonious debates around Kashmir with politicians, defense personnel, and self-styled political analysts dominating the discourse. They leave out the voices of those affected by three decades of violence in the region while producing a stale conversation that focuses either on tourism or terrorism. How do we break this binary and bring forth the invisible presences that deserve to be heard? How do we make mental health, gender and sexuality, and feminism the key pillars upon which a discussion on Kashmir can take place? The Dara Shikoh Fellowship and HUII seek to center the voices of those who are often left at the margins – ranging from women to survivors of sexual assault to members of the LGBT community – to showcase the diverse and empowering social movements that are seeking to make a difference in the valley. *Panel organized by the Dara Shikoh Fellowship: http://darashikohfellowship.org/

Society

  1. The New Indian Workforce: Challenges of Automation and Globalization
    While India is rapidly becoming the world’s most populous country, millions of working-age Indians lack the skills needed to be productive in today’s economy. As we now stand at the cusp of a ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ – with technology outpacing and even replacing human capabilities by the day - there is a dire need to ensure that our workforce is adequately prepared. Since the new jobs created by technological progress are increasingly specialized, how can the government and private sector prepare our unskilled workforce to thrive and constantly adapt to changing economic requirements? With global economic activity being integrated by technology like never before, how can we leverage these changes to grow and prosper rather than suffer worsening inequality?
  2. Picking Up The Threads: Reviving India’s Textile Industry
    The textile industry is one of the largest sources of employment in the country, and yet its workers are largely subject to low wages, low rates of literacy and difficult working conditions. Moreover, power looms are increasingly replacing weavers, traditional textiles are in danger of dying out, and modern karigars are unlikely to encourage their children towards to join the trade. What are the ways in which designers, craftsmen, the government, and other stakeholders can come together to improve the livelihoods of those at the grassroots level in the industry? Further, how can contemporary designers disrupt the current hegemony of Bollywood and the bridal market by promoting handloom textiles? At the same time, how can the textile industry scale up to meet the global challenge? In sum, how do we leverage the diversity of the Indian textile industry for greater economic success?
  3. Data and Privacy: The Concerns of Policymaking in the Age of Digitization*
    While no one is in any doubt that India’s Aadhar has been a game changer in the field of effective technology at scale, it has raised and left unanswered several questions on privacy rights and data collection, with the Government of India being challenged in the Supreme Court on its efforts of establishing a citizen’s relationship vis-a-vis the state. The enormous importance of these debates is underscored by the fact that such policy making issues can be so nuanced that most people in our democracy skip or are unable to digest the bulk of the debate. Coupled with this is the asynchronous speeds with which technological changes are adopted and policies formulated. What are these concerns that lie at the intersection of data collection and privacy rights? How, and with what speed, should India address them in the age of digitisation? What politics colour India’s policymaking in this regard? *Panel organized by our knowledge partner, Ashoka University.

Economics

  1. Battling for India’s Climate: Responses and Effects
    India’s response to climate change has had to balance two objectives that present an inherent strategic tension: one, being able to reasonably distinguish its emission requirements as a developing country from those of already developed ones; and two, fostering incentives at home that may provide sufficient respite from acutely rising air pollution. What are the policy initiatives that India must lay down to pursue these objectives? Crucially, in the face of climate change that is already palpable, what approaches are necessary to guard India’s poorest against its effects?
  2. Scrutinizing Modinomics: A Discussion on the Goods & Services Tax
    Since the 2014 national election, the Modi government has faced high expectations from the country for bold economic reforms. In 2017, following multiple quarters of slowing growth, the Goods and Services Tax was finally rolled out. While it has been hailed by several economists for promising longterm growth, it has also alienated much of India’s business class and many foreign investors who are struggling to adapt to its new provisions, exemptions, and loopholes. Further, much like demonetization, its implementation rather than its principle has been the subject of wide critique. Has the Modinomics of relying on large-scale reforms finally gone too far, or is it too soon to evaluate the benefits that GST may afford to the economy? Moreover, how does the GST fit within Modi’s broader agenda for development?
  3. The Persistence of India’s Informal Economy (Ashoka)
    Despite seven decades of economic growth, why does India still have arnstaggeringly large informal economy? It is clear that pervasive and persistentrninformality hurts an economy and is bad for its people. The formal-informalrnproductivity gap is steadily increasing and income differentials show no sign ofrnshrinking. Yet, globally conducted interviews with informal workers reveal thatrnthey aren’t particularly interested in joining the formal economy. Is formalisingrnthe “rogue, black economy” even really the solution? Are formal firms morernproductive, or do only the more productive firms decide to formalise? In thernIndian context, what are some strategies to improve the productivity of therninformal workforce? It’s time to go back to the drawing board if one is trulyrninterested in bringing about a structural transformation of the Indian economy.rn*Panel organized by our knowledge partner, Ashoka University.

Politics

  1. Our Future, Our Politics: Student Perspectives
    In light of recent events such as the JNU controversy, student politics hasrnfeatured heavily in political discourse. We ask panelists, in their experience asrnactivists at Indian universities, through what processes do students come tornarticulate political visions in tandem with, and pitched against, each other? Whatrnare some of these visions? How do activists allocate their time, their energy, theirrncommitments? What forms of political organization emerge—how local to thernuniversity are they in their commitments, how accessible, gendered, classed,rnstraight? What are some strategies of protest, and debates over these? How dornthe bureaucratic mechanisms of the university work as a politically repressivernforce? How and where does the legalized violence of the police make itself mostrnpowerfully felt?
  2. Multilateralism: India’s Reality and Refuge
    In an era where Indian foreign policy has tilted further towards the United States and away from erstwhile friend, Russia, an unpredictable and uncommitted US risks hurting India’s influence in South Asia. Continually strained political relations with large neighbors, China and Pakistan, and recent humanitarian fallouts with smaller ones such as Nepal and Myanmar has raised questions about what India’s future foreign policy commitments and priorities must be. Is the accelerated dissemination of global power going to come as a blessing? What larger strategic and geo-economic intents must India pursue to shield itself from global volatility while benefiting from its growing interconnectedness?
  3. Fearing a One Party State: The Future of the Opposition
    With the Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat elections concluded, the BJP now controls 19 of the 29 Indian states, and its NDA alliance boasts 334/545 members of Parliament. As the party increasingly centralizes power in its hands and unifies the right-wing, who is left to stand for the majority of the Indian population that voted for opposition parties? The fact that the Lok Sabha does not have an official Leader of Opposition - a first since the Indira Gandhi days - symbolizes the discord plaguing the opposition. Can the Congress rally the opposition around the UPA once more, or do we need to look at regional parties that are increasingly playing a role in checking the government in New Delhi?