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The Idea of Culture

3, 4, 5 August 2018

Venue: Tollygunge Club

120, Deshapran Sasmal Road, Tollygunge

Kolkata, West Bengal 700033

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Conference Programme

This conference is dedicated to the memory of PeaceWorks friend and patron

Kozo Yamamura (1934 – 2017)

At History for Peace we are preoccupied with how History is being taught to our future generation—because history is a way of understanding the world around us. It is also a way of understanding the world in us.

History, unfortunately, is also a way to create tension. Textbooks, Media, Social media, Films, Literature—all of these are vehicles of historical narratives that can be true to transmitting knowledge down generations and at the same time prone to manipulation and misrepresentations.

At this year’s annual History for Peace conference we will explore The idea of culture with Romila Thapar and Audrey Truschke; understand the politics of representation; deconstruct textbooks with textbook writers and participate in hands on pedagogical workshops based on the concept of archives that open up the idea of material evidence used to imagine history.


Day 1 [ 3 August 2018]:


8. 30 a.m. Registration

9 a.m. Opening Address: Naveen Kishore, Managing Trustee, The Seagull Foundation for the Arts

9.15 a.m. – 1 p.m. The Shape of Cultures through History- 2nd Millennium A.D

In conversation: Romila Thapar, Audrey Truschke, Kunal Chakrabarti and Anand V. Taneja.

Romila Thapar is an Indian historian whose principal area of study is ancient India. She is the author of several books including the popular volume, A History of India, and is currently Professor Emerita at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi. She has twice been offered the Padma Bhushan award, but has declined both times.

Audrey Truschke is Assistant Professor of South Asian History at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey. She is the author of Culture of Encounters: Sanskrit at the Mughal Court and Aurangzeb: The Man and The Myth.

Kunal Chakrabarti is Professor of Ancient Indian History in the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. He had also been Visiting Professor in Colorado College, and in Chicago University, USA. He was a Fellow of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. His research interests include social history of religion, regional histories with special reference to Bengal, history of environment with special reference to the forest, early Indian political ideas and institutions, and early Indian textual traditions. He is the author of Religious Process: The Puranas and the Making of a Regional Tradition (Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2000) and Historical Dictionary of the Bengalis, (The Scarecrow Press, Lanham, Maryland, 2013). He has written the ‘Introduction’ for Romila Thapar, The Historian and Her CraftVol. 4: Religion and Society, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2018. He was the President of the Ancient History Section in the 76th Session of the Indian History Congress, held at the University of Gour Banga, Malda, 2015.

Anand Vivek Taneja is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Vanderbilt University. He studied at Delhi University, Jamia Millia Islamia, and at Columbia University, where he received his PhD in Anthropology in 2013. His research and teaching interests include urban ecologies, enchantment and ethics, animality, historical and contemporary Islam and inter-faith relations in South Asia, post-colonial urbanism, Urdu poetry, and Bombay cinema. His peer-reviewed articles have been published in the Indian Economic and Social History Review, HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, and Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East (CSSAAME). He has also published popular essays on urban life, historical amnesia, and alternative forms of remembrance. His book, Jinnealogy: Time, Islam, and Ecological Thought in the Medieval Ruins of Delhi, won the 2016 Joseph W. Elder Prize in the Indian Social Sciences, awarded by the American Institute of Indian Studies.

1 p.m. – 2 p.m. Lunch 

2 p.m.  3.15 p.m. Curating ‘cultures’: Collections, Practices and their Histories: Sudeshna Guha

The practices of collecting, classifying, cataloguing, archiving, exhibiting, and archaeological excavations and explorations, through which ideational notions of cultural ethos are endowed with materiality and visibility, are often ignored within the scholarship of the past. Yet, such practices are historically situated and converge within histories of science. Additionally, projects of heritage making silence the loss of histories they contribute to, and professional archaeologists, curators and archivists often fail to engage with the new and transformed notions of cultural heritage which their practices lead to. By focussing upon histories of archaeology, museum making, and curatorial practices in post-colonial South Asia, I shall explore some of the ways in which historical truths about national and regional cultures are established. I shall draw into my long work experience in museums, managing archaeological and photographic collections, to highlight the importance of regarding the ways in which historical evidence is made visible. I shall also interrogate the archaeological scholarship and curation of the Indus Civilization, a subject of my historical research for long, to draw attention to shifts over time in the regard, and constitution, of valid evidence. Since neither the past nor its ‘recovery’ can be deemed as being ‘out there’ for all to see, our representations implicate issues of ethics. In engaging with the recordable nature of the representations of collections and objects that are endowed with value as antiquities, I shall highlight the pedagogical values of reflecting upon ethics in the scholarship and curation of culture.

Sudeshna Guha teaches History at Shiv Nadar University. She was trained in field archaeology at Deccan College (Pune) and has worked for over a decade in museums, in the UK and also in India. She researches on notions of evidence, social histories of ancient civilizations, and methodologies of material culture studies. At present she is developing research on aspects of cultural heritage, ethnography and social memories, and aiming to finish a long due monograph, for Hachette India, on Objects and Histories.

3.15 – 3.30 p.m. Coffee

3. 30 p.m. – 4.45 p.m. Representing the Past: The Politics of Enquiry: Sundar Sarukkai

The politics of representation has, almost always, an essential component of representation of the past, whether in the form of creating legends or temporal narratives of individuals and communities. In the context of history, this also involves various conceptualizations of ‘cultural time’ – a domain where culture and history meet. In this talk, Sarukkai will discuss some of the modes of enquiry that can help us deal with particular kinds of representation of ‘cultural time’, as well as their relation to the discipline of history in general.


Sundar Sarukkai is Professor of philosophy at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. He is the author of the following books: Translating the World: Science and Language; Philosophy of Symmetry; Indian Philosophy and Philosophy of Science; What is Science? and The Cracked Mirror: An Indian Debate on Experience and Theory (co-authored with Gopal Guru). 


4.45 p.m. – 6 p.m. What can take the place of a single, teachable, usable past? Janaki Nair

What is the future of the school history textbook as the single most important repository of the national past? More than ever before, the school history textbook has become an embattled object, the subject of many contestations from both above and below. Since the 1960s at least, many contests have been staged over the history text, which is today vulnerable not only to the political vagaries of governments, but also to the exclusive claims of myriad communities and groups to their sense of the past. Is a single, usable, teachable past any longer possible? This presentation uses the Indian predicament to discuss the possibility of building up a ‘historical temper’ in the Indian classroom.

Janaki Nair is professor of modern Indian history at the Centre for Historical Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, India.


Day 2 [4 August 2018]:


9 a.m.  12 noon Deconstructing Textbooks: Naina Dayal, Bharati Jagannathan and Meenakshi Khanna.

It is clear that our ancient pasts did not respect the current borders of India and Pakistan, and people, goods and ideas moved freely across them. It is interesting that the ancient history of Pakistan ends with the beginning of Muslim rule in the 8th century CE, and while the Arab conquest of Sindh is not highlighted in Indian NCERT books, the period covering a wide range of early societies, too, ends around the same time. Naina Dayal looks at periodization and other aspects of the ways in which NCERT books and Pakistani textbooks deal with our early histories. 

The experience of colonialism, despite the differences in the details of that experience, binds the countries of the subcontinent. Sovereignty came at much the same time too—Sri Lanka achieving independence within a year of India-Pakistan. Bharati Jagannathan will examine the sections on modern world history in the senior school history textbooks of these three countries to discover what aspects are considered critical knowledge for students, and if possible, the different perspectives and priorities towards different aspects of world history in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

In the school textbooks from India and Pakistan representations of Islam and Muslim communities in the medieval and early modern periods (eighth to eighteenth centuries) summarize two paradigms that frequently guide our thinking about Islam in South Asia. The State sponsored textbooks on Pakistan Studies justify the ‘two-nation theory’ that epitomizes the conflict between the Islamic and Indic civilizations. These books essentialize Muslim identity as Mecca-oriented to the exclusion of all ‘other’ cultural entities. The NCERT history textbooks in India, on the other hand, embody the ideal of ‘one-nation theory’ and emphasize accommodation between the expanding Islamic world and Indic societies since medieval times. In other words, the mystical and inclusive, rather than exclusive, Indo-Islamic traditions stimulated peaceful conversions in the multicultural context of India. Meenakshi Khanna examines secondary school textbooks in either case to reveal that the historical narrative is determined selectively to satisfy the political rhetoric, even at the risk of making an ahistorical suggestion.

Naina Dayal teaches history at St Stephen’s College, University of Delhi. Her research interests include the period c. 320 BCE-300 CE, during which the Sanskrit Ramayana and Mahabharata took shape. 

Bharati Jagannathan teaches the history of Modern Europe at Miranda House, University of Delhi. She writes for children, and conducts nature walks in Delhi where she identifies trees and tells stories from folktales and Indian mythology about indigenous trees.

Meenakshi Khanna is Associate Professor in the Department of History at the Indraprastha College for Women at the University of Delhi. Her field specialization is Sufism in South Asia and traditions of dreams in Indo-Islamic culture. She is also interested in looking at translations of Indic works into Persian as illustrated texts. She has edited an anthology on Cultural History of Medieval India, has contributed research articles, and chapters to school text books.  

12 noon – 1 p.m. Narratives of Conflict and Reconciliation: An interactive session with Kumkum Roy

The discussion draws on two texts from ancient India, an excerpt from the Ramayana and the Rohantamiga Jataka. Participants will be invited to reflect on the ways in which the figures of the king/prince, queen, forest dwellers and above all the deer are represented in these narratives and what are the possible messages about kingship, gender relations and wider categories of social stratification that can be recovered from these readings. Those who wish to do so may refresh memories of A. K. Ramanujan’s Three Hundred Ramayanas.

Kumkum Roy teaches ancient Indian History at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. Her publications include The Power of Gender and the Gender of Power. She is interested in issues of gender in particular and social stratification in general, as well as in issues of pedagogy ranging from school to higher education.

1 p.m. – 2 p.m. Lunch

2 p.m. – 3.30 p.m. Can History Contribute to Peace? : Krishna Kumar

The paper questions the common assumption that education promotes peace. By referring to pedagogic routines and the political culture of nationalism, the paper indicates the nature of reforms education requires for contributing to peace. The basis of discussion is the author’s own study of the role played by school education, specifically through the teaching of history, in maintaining mutual hostility between India and Pakistan. The paper is divided into four sections. The first section summarizes conceptual issues raised by philosophers and educators in the context of schooling and peace. Section II introduces the author’s Indo-Pak study in relation to the challenges that nationalism, religion and culture place before education. Section III deals with regimentation as an integral aspect of modern schooling and its implications for the role expected from education in promoting peace. The final section discusses the demands and contradictions education faces under the increasing dominance of the human capital ideology.  The paper concludes by highlighting the importance of humanist goals and processes in education for serving the cause of peace.

Krishna Kumar studied at the University of Saugar, Madhya Pradesh, and the University of Toronto where he did his Ph.D. in Educational Theory. He taught at the University of Delhi and served as Director of NCERT (National Council of Educational Research and Training). He is currently an Honorary Professor at Punjab University, Chandigarh.

He received an Hon. D. Litt. from the Institute of Education, University of London in 2011. The same year, he was awarded Padmashri. He has been a Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Modern Oriental Studies, Berlin and at the Centre for the Advanced Study of India, Philadelphia. In 2007, he was invited to deliver the Gladwyn Lecture in the House of Lords of the British parliament. .

He is a bilingual author, a columnist and a writer for children. His major books include Politics of Education in Colonial India, What is Worth Teaching, The Child’s Language and the Teacher, Prejudice and Pride, Battle for Peace, A Pedagogue’s Romance and Education, Conflict and Peace. Many of his books are in Hindi, including Raj, Samaj aur Shiksha, Vichaar ka dar, Shiksha aur gyan, and Choori Bazaar mein Larki.   The Routledge Handbook of Education in India edited by Professor Kumar has been released recently.

3.30 p.m. – 3.45 p.m. Coffee

3.45 p.m.  4.45 p.m. The Pedagogic Ideas of History Teachers and their Implications: Latika Gupta

Latika’s presentation analyses the reasons behind the impermeability she encounters in her work with teachers and draws out its implications for the teaching and learning of history at the school level and its larger discourse. The reasons fall in the realm of who usually ends up becoming a history teacher at school and how does this influence the ethos of a history classroom. Latika will use her own experience of teaching B.Ed. students a course, which demands engagement with the character of knowledge in all the disciplines including history and discuss the implications of ‘disengaged pedagogy’ in history classrooms for knowledge acquisition in other school subjects; habits of knowledge construction; and attitude development in general. At the end, her paper dwells upon certain possibilities to compensate for the mis-taught history at the school level for schoolteachers of all the subjects including history.

Latika Gupta teaches educational theory and pedagogy courses at Delhi University’s Central Institute of Education. A bilingual writer, she previously worked for the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT), contributing to the development of social and political life textbooks for the upper-primary grades. Her areas of interest are cultural identities and their implications for education. Her latest publication is Education, Poverty and Gender: Schooling Muslim Girls in India.

4.45 p.m.  6 p.m. Workshop – White Pepper Black Pepper: An interactive session on thinking like a historian: Neha Pradhan Arora, Rereeti

Rereeti works towards revitalizing museums and heritage sites and making them more relevant to students, families and local communities. Through an interactive session, Neha will be sharing the approach, methods and tools used to do the same in the White Pepper Black Pepper project.

White Pepper Black Pepper is Rereeti’s attempt to recognize, acknowledge and understand India’s and particularly Bangalore and Mysore State’s contribution to the First World War. The content is co curated with students through interactive and participatory tools. The resulting travelling exhibition will be showcased in various schools across Bangalore city.

Neha Pradhan Arora is an educator who has been working with schools and communities for the creation of meaningful and engaging learning experiences.


Day 3 [ 5 August 2018]:


9 a.m. – 10 a.m. The Idea of Archives: Abeer Gupta

Archives are remnants of the past, which we proclaim for the future. There are differences in the manner in which archives are imagined and managed in the west and in India. Over the past few decades a number of new archives have developed extensively and calls for us to reflect upon their methodologies and implications of engaging with the past.

Abeer has been involved with several such archives, beginning with Godaam, an archive on Kashmir and Bombay instituted by Madhusree Dutta at Majlis, Bombay and subsequently its collaborations with pad.ma and a range of art and media interventions around it such as Project Cinema City. He subsequently set up the photo archive at the Amar Mahal Museum and Library, Jammu and was the recipient of two archival fellowships from the India Foundation for the Arts to work at the National Museum, Delhi and the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalay, Bhopal.

The presentation will reflect upon a couple of case studies of such archives, extension into art works created for the Singapore Bienalle, 2016 and exhibitions curated in collaborations with designers and artists for IFA.


Abeer Gupta is currently director Krishnakriti Foundation, Hyderabad. An alumnus of the National Institute of Design, India, and Goldsmiths College, University of London, he has directed several documentary films and curated art, education and community media projects.  His research is based in the western Himalayas, in Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir, around oral histories, material cultures, and visual archives. He is also director of Achi Association India, an organization that works for the preservation of the cultural heritage in the Himalayan region.


10 a.m.  11.30 a.m.  Collecting History Beyond Artefacts: Reflections on the Conflictorium: Avni Sethi

The Conflictorium, housed within the Gool Lodge in Mirzapur, Ahmedabad, is a place that engages with conflict through creative expression: creating a participatory, dynamic experience that seeks to practice history in the everyday. Committed to the notion that museum spaces can be sites for culture-making where the personal—rather than historical narratives of a society, state or culture—informs a visitor’s experience, it looks to explore the possibilities of the museum as an entity existing outside of the state machinery. The talk would explore the museum as a category observed as a personal shrine rather than an institution dedicated to the retelling of collective histories, the museum becomes a site for the discovery of personal, human narratives that helps one make better sense of violence and the acceptance of it.


Avni Sethi is an interdisciplinary practitioner with her primary concern lying between culture, memory, space and the body. She studied Interdisciplinary Design from the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore and pursued a Masters in Performance Studies at Ambedkar University, Delhi. She conceptualized and designed the Conflictorium. Trained in multiple dance idioms, her performances are largely inspired by syncretic faith traditions as well as sites of contested narratives. She is interested in exploring the relationship between intimate audiences and the performing body.

11.30 a.m.  – 11.45 a.m. Coffee

11. 45 a.m.  1 p.m. The Music of Stones: 700 years of Adoption, Assimilation, Absorption and Appropriation : Sohail Hashmi

Sohail Hashmi will be speaking on the evolution, across seven centuries and more, of a syncretic tradition of Architecture, and will show through visuals that architecture has no denominational identity and in as much as this is true, the idea of Islamic architecture is a myth.

Sohail Hashmi, born in 1950 in Delhi, graduated with honours in Geography from Delhi University and Masters and M.Phil. from JNU, gave up his Ph.D. mid way to work full time for 10 years with the CPI (M) between 1981 to 89. From 1991 to 2000 he worked as Media consultant to the National Literacy Mission and in Electronic media with PTI TV, Home TV, BiTV and Kingfisher.com, before starting his own documentary making company. From 2004 to 2008 worked as director of Leap years and started his heritage walks and shortly thereafter began writing on Delhi and on Issues connected to culture, language and communalism.

1 p.m.- 2 p.m.Lunch

2 p.m.  3.15 p.m. Oral History as ArchivingAanchal Malhotra and Anam Zakaria in conversation

A marginalized field within the study of history, oral narratives add colour and bring life to sometimes otherwise dry accounts of historical dates and statistics. Enabling us to go beyond the jingoistic narratives of Partition, it’s oral accounts and personal memory contribute to the better understanding of the most cataclysmic event of the contemporary history of the subcontinent.

As we lose Partition survivors, documenting, archiving and experiencing these nuanced and varied narratives becomes an urgent need and a time-bound activity. Aanchal Malhotra and Anam Zakaria will share their experiences of working with survivors through their own very unique approaches to oral history and speak about the importance of these histories in humanizing the ‘other’, particularly for the younger generations of Indians and Pakistanis.

Aanchal Malhotra is an visual artist and oral historian working with memory and material culture. She received a BFA in Traditional Printmaking and Art History from the Ontario College of Art & Design, Toronto and a MFA in Studio Art from Concordia University, Montreal. Much of her work looks at how ordinary belongings found across the subcontinent can act as democratic spaces for cross-border conversations. She is the author of ‘Remnants of a Separation: A History of the Partition through Material Memory’ (HarperCollins 2017) and the co-founder of the Museum of Material Memory, a digital repository of material culture from the Indian subcontinent, tracing family histories and social ethnography through heirlooms, collectibles and objects of antiquity. She currently lives in New Delhi.

Anam Zakaria is an author, development professional, psychotherapist and educationist with a special interest in oral histories, identity politics and conflict narratives. Her first book, Footprints of Partition: Narratives of Four Generations of Pakistanis and Indians, explores the shifting inter-generational perceptions of the 1947 Partition and won the German Peace Prize 2017. Her second book, Between the Great Divide investigates the impact of the Kashmir conflict in Pakistan Administered Kashmir and will be released by HarperCollins in July 2018.  She has an academic background in International Development from McGill University and has previously worked as a director at The Citizens Archive of Pakistan, collecting oral histories from the Partition generation and religious minorities of Pakistan and connecting thousands of school children in India and Pakistan through a cultural exchange program. 

3. 15 p.m. – 4.15 p.m. Uncertain Landscape: Refugee Memories of Kolkata: Nazes Afroz 

Working on a ‘memory project’ Nazes Afroz has inspected and investigated how the physical and mental landscape of the erstwhile refugee colonies of South Kolkata have been transformed in the past two decades. By sourcing old photographs from albums of refugee families and juxtaposing them with his recent corresponding photos taken from the same spots and same perspectives, writer and photographer Nazes Afroz presents the metamorphosis of the shantytown areas, lived by the East Bengal refugees, into a modern urban sprawl in recent times. As memory is the central theme of this project, Nazes has delved into the reminiscences of the locals who built these colonies and collected objects that the refugees carried with them while being displaced. These stories along with the old and recent images construct a journey that the refugees were forced to undertake seven decades ago.

Nazes Afroz has been working as a print and broadcast journalist for more than 37 years. He started working for Aajkaal, a Bengali newspaper in Kolkata in 1981 before moving on to the BBC World Service in London in 1998 where he lived for fifteen years. He held various positions in the BBC including the posts of Executive Editor for South and Central Asia and Editor of International Operations. Since 2013, Nazes is based in Delhi, writing analytical and in-depth essays on Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and West Asia in English and Bangla for various publications.

4. 15 p.m. – 4.30 p.m. Coffee

4.30 p.m.  6. 15 p.m. Pedagogy through Archives: Parallel Workshops

History Detectives- Decoding and Constructing Local Histories– Workshop by Sumona Chakravarty.

How can young people learn to engage with their communities to unpack its histories, and in turn learn about how History is shaped and whose narratives are left out?

This session will explore this question through the lens of Chitpur Local a community art projects were students in the historic Chitpur Locality explored local history by creating pop museums and community archives. In this session we will co-design process for students to explore objects, spaces and stories in the school’s locality to create a community archive. In the process students can learn how to read their environment to decode the past, and collect and curate objects to shape a narrative of their communities.

Sumona Chakravarty’s work explores the role of art in society, testing its potential in transforming relationships and creating new visions for the future. She is the Founder of Hamdasti, a Kolkata-based artists collective, that has been working on Chitpur Local, a community-based art project in the historic Battola area of Chitpur Road. Her work is participatory in nature, engaging diverse communities over a long period of time and collaboratively intervening in public spaces.

Sumona Chakravarty is a graduate of the Srishti School of Art Design and Technology, Bangalore, with a Masters degree from the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University. She has been a Fellow in the ArtThink South Asia Program at Khoj, Delhi and at the Global Cultural Leaders Program, hosted by the European Union. She balances her time between Hamdasti, and Start Up! where she works with designing programs and processes for social entrepreneurs.

Reframing the Kashmir Valley in the Classroom: Critical Thinking about Photography– Workshop by Alisha Sett and Nathaniel Brunt.

The Kashmir Photo Collective has devised three lesson plans for high school teachers using their archival resources and research on the history of photography in Kashmir. In an age of new media, visual literacy becomes essential in the classroom, especially when thinking about how to challenge the dominant representation of marginalized populations in history. In this workshop, we will provide images, background material, and assignments to equip participants with the tools to push students to think critically through photography about Kashmir. By providing multiple viewpoints to experience the conflicted history of the region through a diverse range of perspectives, we hope to provide a space for students to realize the complex entanglement between the representation and politics of the valley.

Kashmir Photo Collective (KPC) is a digital archive that aims to create an alternative photographic history of the Kashmir Valley. It invites individuals and families, photo studios and photographers, as well as institutions to contribute their photographs and stories to the archive. Founded in 2014 by Alisha Sett and Nathaniel Brunt, the archive has collected over 3000 photographs and several family collections are combined with extensive oral histories.

Alisha Sett is a writer, curator, and educator. She will receive her MA in History of Art, with a specialization in documentary film, photography and video in contemporary art, from the Courtauld Institute of Art in July and join Jnanapravaha Mumbai as Deputy Course Director for Critical Theory, Aesthetics and Practice in August 2018. She was awarded an Inlaks Shivdasani Scholarship to pursue her postgraduate research. She was awarded an Edmond J. Safra Network Fellowship from Harvard University for her work in Kashmir. Sett is on the Advisory Board of Membrana, a contemporary photography magazine dedicated to promoting a theoretically grounded understanding of photography.

Nathaniel Brunt is a photographer, academic, and educator. His research and photographic practice focuses on the history and photographic representation of war. Brunt is a graduate of the University of Kent’s War, Media and Society program and is currently a doctoral student in the Communication and Culture joint-program at Ryerson University and York University. Brunt was awarded a SSHRC Doctoral Scholarship, the Contact Portfolio Reviews Award, the IVSA Jon Rieger Award, PDN Annual Award, and the Alexia Foundation Student Grant for his ongoing work on the Kashmir Valley.


To know more about the project, visit our website. Click here.