The Indian Association for Big History (IABH) emerged out of the interaction of a group of scholars who worked together to produce the landmark collection, From the Big Bang to Galactic Civilizations: A Big History Anthology (2015–2017). During the process of editing the three volumes, it was proposed to form an Indian association for big history. Anita Patanka, director of the Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts (SSLA) in Pune, Maharashtra offered it a home at her institution in 2016.
IABH meeting, SSLA, 29 November 2016.
Our founding members were archaeologist Shweta Sinha Deshpande and historian Afshan Majid (Symbiosis International University, Pune); geographer Rana Singh (Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi); ecologist Robert Athickal (Tarumitra, Patna); educator Orla O’Reilly Hazra and theologian Prashant Olelaker (St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai); physicist Priyadarshini Karve (Samuchit Enviro Tech, Pune); anthropologist Siddhartha (Fireflies Intercultural Centre, Bangalore); philosopher Ananta Giri (Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai); science philosopher Mathew Chandrankunnel (Indian School of Ecumenical Theology, Bangalore); and management director Subhash Sharma (Indus Business Academy, Bangalore). Professor Shweta Sinha Deshpande, deputy director of SSLA, served as the founding President of the IABH. Barry Rodrigue, an anthropologist from North America, served as the group’s coordinator and secretary, joining the faculty at SSLA in 2017.
In 2018, the first university course in Big History in South Asia began at SSLA. It grew out of SSLA’s Anthropology Department and is co-taught as ‘Humanity and Big History: Our Challenge for Survival’ by an historian and a physicist. It is a required course for all third-year undergraduates. In March 2018, SSLA sponsored the First Annual Conference on Interdisciplinarity and Big History with the Asian Big History Association and J.F. Oberlin University (Tokyo). The connection between interdisciplinarity and big history was no accident. SSLA is the first undergraduate programme in liberal arts in India (2011), as well as an Honours curriculum, with interdisciplinarity being central to its mission. In this way, big history is a form of 'super-interdisciplinarity', one that reflects the progressive and innovative nature of its work.
The Coordinator of the IABH is SSLA faculty member and historian, Afshan Majid, with Priyadarshini Karve and Barry Rodrigue assisting.
The IABH works cooperatively with the International Big History Association and the Asian Big History Association. In August 2021, the three organizations and SSLA hosted the 2021 Global Big History Conference.
SSLA works in partnership with J.F. Oberlin University in Tokyo to co-sponsor Big History events. Our two universities inaugurated courses on Big History – at Oberlin in 2016 and at SSLA in 2018. Since 2018 we have held annual Big History gatherings, which link Big History to contemporary issues.
The SSLA Collaborative for Asian Anthropology (CAA) works to establish meaningful work relationships with community-based groups throughout India, Asia, and beyond. These partnerships have a commitment to strengthening people, their communities and their heritage, as well as their links in the wider world.
These partnerships include internships, research projects, infrastructure development, enterprises, and other forms of engagement. They involve not just students, but faculty and staff as well. As a result, not only is a needful educational project accomplished, but it empowers local folks and SSLA’s connection to its community base. Furthermore, it provides linkages for the wider Symbiosis community, across our many campuses.
In respect to interns, these projects are more intensive experiences than a regular student project. They require an advanced skill-level and a larger time-commitment, as well as work out-of-station. Therefore, only high-achieving and self-motivated candidates will be selected for these internships. For more information, please contact the Faculty-in-Charge – Barry Rodrigue, Richa Minocha, and Afshan Majid at the CAA. What follows is a description of some of our community partnerships. Do not contact these organizations directly – students must first be accepted into the programme by the CAA and initial contact must first be made by SSLA.
Kachchh Heritage Arts Music Information Resources (KHAMIR) is a joint initiative of Kachchh Nav Nirman Abhiyan, the Nehru Foundation for Development, and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). It was set up in 2005 as an education, training, demonstration and interpretation facility for craft, environment and heritage conservation under a programme of the State Government of Gujarat in the west of India.
KHAMIR has a campus in Kukma, a half-hour south-east of Bhuj. It includes offices, workshops, a craft shop, dormitories, a kitchen, and a dining area. Kachchh lies in the realm of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization, so many of the crafts promoted by KHAMIR descend from this vibrant tradition and its successors. The intermingling of cultural styles is dazzling.
KHAMIR has developed a strong relationship with local artisans and facilitates a full range of handcraft activities, ranging from provision of raw materials to promotion of crafts in the market, through a variety of outreach methods. KHAMIR considers it essential to use approaches that address issues of all Kachchh-based crafts with appropriate strategies to help the handcraft sector. Presently, KHAMIR works with hundreds of regional artisans, including wool spinners and weavers; potters; leather-workers; bell-founders; silver jewellery-makers; rogan, block, bandhni, and batik textile-printers; lacquer-workers, and reha knife-makers. The numbers of cooperating crafts are growing.
We envision a wide range of activities in which KHAMIR and SSLA and Symbiosis International University could cooperate. In particular, the SSLA Collaborative for Asian Anthropology and the Symbiosis Institute of Design could be particularly appropriate associates. Some of the areas of interest might for:
It is thought to be most advantageous for interns to work with KHAMIR for at least 60 days, as there is a learning curve that is needful before new workers can become proficient with the regional needs.
Ganv Bhavancho Ekvott (GBE) works with the people of Chandor and the surrounding area of Goa in a variety of community activities. It was established in 2008 by a group of residents seeking to preserve and share their heritage, including artefacts rescued from construction sites, historical documents and photographs, and domestic furnishings. They seek to create personal, social and ecological collaborations that raise awareness of the area’s history and preservation through workshops, tourism and publications.
Chandor was earlier known as Chandrapur and had a port on the Kushavati River, which emptied into Mormugao Bay on the Arabian Sea. It has been a settlement for at least 2000 years, as part of the Satavahana, Bhoja and Kadamba kingdoms (serving as capital of the two latter), as well as a Konkani-Portuguese centre of trade and settlement. The remains of temples, fortifications and dwellings are in Chandor. The area was surveyed by archaeologist Henry Heras c1929. Three historic Portuguese mansions are inhabited, and the resident of one, John Fernandes, was an archaeologist who worked with Heras. GBE is certified by the Registrar of Cooperative Societies, Government of Goa, under the Cooperative Societies Act, Registration No. 85/Goa/2008.
Student interns work on special projects with GBE and in close collaboration with SSLA’s Symbiosis Collaborative for Asian Ethnography. Their primary job will be the development of an inventory of heritage resources in the Chandor area. This will include documentation in a variety of categories, including archaeological, historic and architectural sites; archival materials, such as letters and diaries; photographs and artwork; artefacts; oral history; and other materials.
SSLA student Sakshi Saldanha spent a month-long internship in June 2018 with GBE, making an inventory of their materials, as well as doing photo-documentation and oral history interviews. This is an on-going project.
This is an on-going project. Interns may work on special projects with GBE. Their primary job will be the development of an inventory of heritage resources in the Chandor area.
Tarumitra is an NGO based in Patna (Bihar) that focuses on promoting ecological awareness. It started in 1988, when students set in motion the Forum for Environment, which evolved into Tarumitra. Located in a 12-acre forest planted by the students, this biodiversity hotspot is home to over 450 varieties of trees and plants native to the Ganges Plain. A genetic nursery, students have taken nearly 40,000 heritage saplings and rare plants to propagate in their home areas.
Tarumitra has joined hands with similar organizations to set up bio-reserves like the one in Patna in other parts of the country, and similar initiatives have begun in Gujarat, Meghalaya, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala. They also takes part in international summits on environment. In 2005, Tarumitra received Special Consultative Status (ECOSOC) from the United Nations.
Tarumitra welcomes interns from many universities in India and abroad to work with the school children who participate in the ecological programs. Interns come from 23 of the 29 states of India, as well as from the United States, Belgium, Zambia, Germany, Switzerland, Honduras, Mexico, Ecuador, Panama, El Salvador, Columbia, Guatemala, and Bolivia. They take short or long assignments in environmental education, organic farming, advocacy, environmental campaigns, and social-media networking. The University of Zamorano in Honduras, for example, sends interns for up to 6 months.
Tarumitra interns can work on a variety of special projects, such as:
The Tarumitra campus has accommodation for 50 students at a time, including private rooms for interns working with the visiting students. A dining facility provides fresh food to residents. A 400-bed hospital is close by with which Tarumitra has a healthcare agreement. The railway station is 8-kilometers away and the airport 5-kilometers. In this way, Tarumitra is very accessible and centrally located.
The Karuna Trust (KT) is an NGO that manages healthcare clinics in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, and Manipur. Established in 1986, it is headquartered in the Biligiri Rangana Hills (BR Hills) in the Chamarajanagar district of Karnataka. Its prime objective is ‘reaching the unreached’. KT serves the communities of India to provide health care to the under-served and the poor people in remote areas.
Initially established to respond to the widespread prevalence of leprosy in the Yelandur Taluk region of Karnataka, they were very successful. In the course of 26 years, the prevalence of leprosy dropped from 21.4 per 1000 people to 0.28, a testimony to the success of their intervention.
Apart from primary healthcare, KT also focuses on dealing with the related issues of education, sustainable livelihood, and advocacy. It is affiliated in its work with Vivekananda Girijana Kalyana Kendra (VGKK).
KT not only manages its own care facilities, it has taken on management contracts for government agencies in Karnataka, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, and Manipur. This work includes support for resident health aides in villages, visiting nurses and social workers, clinics, primary health centres, and hospitals.
This outreach is often challenging. Villages are scattered and remote. Providers and patients often must travel over dirt roads and along trails that are subject to washouts and landslides during the monsoons. But the ability to serve the most needful and help them in self-empowerment is of high achievement.
Karuna Trust seeks to engage student interns with special projects. This could involve internships in medical services or health education. It could take place in Primary Health Centres in Karnataka, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Manipur. In addition, we have shared this opportunity for internships with the Symbiosis Institute for Health Sciences.
Pipal Tree / Fireflies Intercultural Centre engages people in community activities such as empowerment of tribal peoples, dryland farmers and Adivasi children through programs like Children’s College, Food Sovereignty, and Livelihood Sustainability. It seeks to create personal, social and ecological symbiosis that leads to sustainable development practices. Previous development was concerned with inclusive approaches that underscored social justice, but, today, we have the added the challenge of climate change. We realise the survival of the human species demands that we immediately adopt a nurturing and respectful attitude to our planet. This calls for a new vision of sustainable development.
Pipal Tree was established in 1984 by a group of alternative development practitioners and socially engaged thinkers. Our office is located in an ecologically inspired setting, 30-kilometers south of Bangalore. We have residential apartments, a dining hall and an auditorium where up to 100 people can conduct workshops and interactive sessions, along with other facilities. Our campus of 10-acres is filled with plants, trees, birds and sculptures on the theme of eco-spirituality, which narrate a story of a diverse yet holistic ecosystem. This organizational setup and infrastructure is maintained by 40 staff members, including our field office in Kabini, Karnataka.
Student interns would be welcome to work on special projects with Fireflies. This could involve the following activities:
Vivekananda Girijana Kalyana Kendra (VGKK) is an NGO committed to holistic and sustainable development for tribal people. Founded in 1981, VGKK was begun by Dr. H. Sudarshan and is based on the holistic and integrated teachings of internationally renowned educator Swami Vivekananda. It works in cooperation with the medical NGO, the Karuna Trust. At the centre of VGKK’s mission is the socio-cultural background and rights of tribal peoples.
Tribal people constitute 8 per cent of the population of India. VGKK’s work focuses on developmental projects with the Soliga and other tribes in the Chamarajanagar and Mysore districts of Karnataka, as well as with other tribal groups in Tamil Nadu, Arunachal Pradesh, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. VGKK employs an integrated approach of health, education, good livelihood, biodiversity and conservation to achieve sustainable development and empowerment.
Among their activities, VGKK provides education through an India-wide school system. In their BR Hills campus, they recently worked with the government to install a playground that teaches physics, which provides a continuity between the classroom and a child’s ‘real world’. This innovative playground is built around a 4000 year-old megalith, further emphasizing our continuity and engagement with the wider world.
VGKK also encourages craft production and training. Among their initiatives, they manage horticultural projects and produce items crafted of materials from tribal areas by the tribal people, such as honey, wooden furniture, clothing, and incense.
A central part of their philosophy is on sustainable practices and on tribal empowerment. This is evident in their program to bring together forest agencies and tribal people to cooperate in sustainable management of ecosystems by tribal residents of the forest.
In its cooperation with SSLA, VGKK would involve students to work on special projects. This could involve internships with schools, community development and outreach, and craft production.
The Ecumenical Christian Centre (ECC) engages people in community activities, irrespective of caste, creed, geography or race so that peaceful, harmonious and sustainable communities can evolve. It seeks to empower the next generation of leaders with ideas, strategies and styles so that socialization and planetization can be achievable, eliminating the drawbacks of market forces, technological developments and steam-rolling globalization. It seeks to encourage participative, give-and-take, dialogical communities where younger generations have more roles to play in evolving malleable, harmonious communities that share resources and know-how, and grow together as a world community through the networking of consciousnesses.
The ECC has an auditorium where more than 300 people can be accommodated as well as 30 houses for 200 people in a salubrious ecological paradise of 30 acres, filled with plants, trees, birds, domesticated animals and other brethren of the Earth. This haven is maintained by 70 staff members from all over India. The IT hub of Bangalore is at a distance of a stone’s throw, along with many educational institutions and social-networking groups in the neighbourhood.
The ECC seeks to involve student interns to work on special projects with the ECC. This could involve the following activities:
SSLA and the International Journal for the Transformation of Consciousness cooperated in the special edition of Big History and Universal Consciousness, vol. 3, no. 1, June 2017. ECC Director, Mathew Chandrankunnel, CMI, PhD, is editor of the IJTC and an active member of the Indian Association for Big History, which is based at SSLA.
Jan Abhiyan Sanstha (JAS) is a grassroots organization working in rural parts of Himachal Pradesh and neighbouring areas. They promote village and urban livelihoods, and conduct cultural research about traditional ecological knowledge (TEK). The JAS researchers and volunteers focus on soil and water conservation projects, as well as on issues relating to crop patterns and rotation, in a bid to sustain agricultural lifestyles and diversity of crops. One of their field offices has been based in Shakrori village.
JAS seeks to promote communal harmony and peace through its ecological and cultural studies, converting their research to community consciousness and community engagement. Research in the village of Shakrori, played a significant role in mobilizing the community against the Lafarge cement factory in its vicinity, by highlighting the impact it would have on its agriculture and water resources. The later Koldam Dam project has reduced Shakrori’s Satluj River to a much smaller flow.
JAS seeks better implementation of existing rights as well as better community participation in research and the debate regarding policy related to food security, early childhood care and development, female foeticide, domestic violence against women, and other issues with gendered and social contexts. On behalf of JAS, anthropologist Dr. Richa Minocha is convening the Himachal Pradesh chapter of Forum for Crèche and Child Care Services (FORCES).
Integrated Child Development Centre, Shakrori.
JAS also has been involved in community-based ecotourism, initiated by the Himachal Pradesh Department of Tourism. The organization seeks to emphasise cultural livelihood linkages to sustain and revive practices that conserve biodiversity, in addition to the region’s rich ecological and heritage.
Students who engage with JAS as interns may participate in the following activities:
Maher means ‘Mother's Home’ in the Marathi language, and Mather Ashram works to help destitute women, children and men from all over India achieve a higher quality of life, regardless of gender, caste, or religion.
Founded in Maharashtra in 1997 by Sr Lucy Kurien, its headquarters is located in Pune. The ashram runs homes, centres and schools in almost 100 communities all around India, from Maharashtra, Kerala and Karnataka to West Bengal, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh. Maher is a registered, consultative NGO with the United Nations. Thousands of women, children and men have passed through Maher’s doors and come out with self-confidence and dignity. Those who cannot be reunited with their families are looked after by Maher, and many stay as house parents or assistants. All residents receive a quality diet, medical attention, and counselling.
Maher is active in public awareness projects throughout rural India. These campaigns include information on health and well-being, education, legal aid and human rights, as well as the need to transform society away from old, abusive practices like the dowry system, child labour, female feticide, non-educating of girls, and domestic violence. Maher also provides public assistance to families at times of public emergency, from natural disasters to human-generated crises, in addition they assist in the formation of self-help groups in villages. Maher believes that joy and happiness is a basic right, so they provide for education, food, clothing and shelter. Some of their programs include:
Mamatadham – A Home for Battered and Destitute Women
‘Mamata’ refers to the affection showered by a mother on a child. Maher has reached out to more than 4000 women and helps them with professional training to make them self-reliant, while the sale of their craft production, such as candles, greeting cards, spices and bags that helps to sustain them.
Kishoredham – Embracing Orphans and Children from Broken Homes Maher currently supports a thousand children in 34 group homes, as well as in smaller homes, all having house mothers and a family atmosphere, as well as trained social workers.
As part of this programme, SSLA seeks to involve student interns to work on special projects with Maher. This could involve the following activities or others:
Special Project – SSLA / Maher Preparatory School
A specific need is a preparatory school program, which was developed by Sister Lucy and SSLA Director Anita Patankar, as a result of interactions at the 2021 Global Big History Conference on ‘Changing the World: Community, Science and Engagement.’ Carried forth by SSLA Profs. Barry Rodrigue and Richa Minocha, it built on the success of students that Drs. Patankar and Rodrigue had helped to enroll at Symbiosis. In October 2021, Drs. Rodrigue and Minocha, with SSLA student Kartik Anilkumar, held meetings with the first group of Maher students to develop a draft work program. In March 2022, a summit meeting was convened at SSLA.
Our plan is to have bi-weekly sessions with 12th standard Maher students to help them prepare to attend SSLA, other Symbiosis institutes, or separate advanced education, including vocational training. This preparatory school will include spoken and written English, academic life-skills, reading literature, composition of CVs / resumés, completing applications and examinations, etc. These sessions are meant to be conducted in a systematic but informal and fun style – especially answering Maher students’ questions and addressing their concerns.
Pune craftsman, Sandipan Das, provided instruction about woodworking to Maher students in winter 2021-2022. In spring 2022, SSLA’s community outreach program raised monies to assist the preparatory school program. We are also seeking student scholarships for the Maher scholars to attend Symbiosis, along with other in-kind help.
So, we now seek SSLA students to regularly work with us in this innovative preparatory school. Only mature students who can commit to regular sessions with us should apply. Volunteer interns need to arrange through the Faculty-in-Charge of the SSLA Collaborative for Asian Anthropology (Barry Rodrigue) or the Director of SSLA, Dr. Anita Patankar.
SSLA is committed to sustainable and innovative practices to help restore the ecosystem to a healthy and sustainable relationship with nature, and motivate the people around us – including future generations. Our first NGO partners in this effort are the Sisters of the Society of Christ Jesus (SCJ), an activist Catholic order that works with five basti communities in Pune. They run after-school classes for disadvantaged children, provide food supplements for families, facilitate medical care for those in need, and manage a health-care training programme in collaboration with Rotary International.
Our first project was the construction of a public garden area, which began when SSLA student Misinam Mize and Prof. Sudhakar Warade from the College of Horticulture in Pasighat (Arunachal) catalogued Pune indigenous plants. Sr. Willu Ferreira, groundskeeper Bapu Devte, the other Sisters and SSLA volunteers helped clear an old stone depot by the entrance, sorted and recycled waste, levelled the space, and covered it with murum. The area was then enclosed with a rock and soil embankment, recycled from the depot, and planted local trees, bushes and grass around it to prevent erosion and provide habitat for wildlife.
The plan is for this public garden to serve as a special activity area for the community as well as a demonstration area and public market.
The Sisters, along with volunteers, then installed a rotary composter and built several soil-compost mixing pits, while in the process of learning about soil ecology. The banana plantation was moved to the north end of the grounds and a medicinal herb garden was started beside the public garden. Sisters. Vijaya Culas, Cecilia D’Sa and Melba Lopes, along with the Novices Bidaline, Annameri, and Joyfulmery maintain the vegetable gardens and fruit trees.
Future planning efforts for the ecology project consist of the following:
Several of SCJ’s existing initiatives demonstrate the significance of ecological awareness and best-practices. The after-school education program, run by Srs. Yvonne D’Mello and Willu, has added ecology as a key part of the curriculum. And the caregiver training, is teaching ecology as a concern for everyday health, using the axiom: Healthy food is medicine.
The caregiver program is managed by Srs. Prima Bosco and Cathy Gonsalves, who not only instructs basti residents with visiting specialists but coordinates post-training employment and quality evaluation. SSLA Prof. Richa Minocha provided lectures in the program about the interlinkages between ecological well-being and a physically, mentally and emotionally healthy body and community.
Besides a catalogue of Pune plants, SSLA students developed a brochure for this initiative and a film, both of which were premiered at the 2021 Global Big History Conference at SSLA. Profs. Barry Rodrigue and Richa Minocha have coordinated SSLA efforts to work, which is managed through the SSLA Collaborative for Asian Anthropology (Prof. Barry Rodrigue) and the Social Ecology Project (Prof. Richa Minocha and Barry Rodrigue).
We encourage students from SSLA to consider this opportunity to work as interns, for service learning, and a chance to do helpful outdoor work in the community of Pune. We seek mature students who have good critical-thinking skills and are able to self-manage their commitments. It is a marvellous opportunity in the fields of applied ecology, community engagement, personal well-being, and public education.
The SSLA Collaborative for Asian Anthropology (CAA) grew from the Anthropology and History Departments at SSLA. Faculty and students work together with public and private agencies and individuals to document social and cultural heritage throughout the region. Begun in 2017 as a faculty-student endeavour, projects were started in the Sahyadri Mountains and adjoining areas of the Konkan Coast and Deccan Plateau.
In addition, members have their own on-going research projects. SSLA Professor Barry Rodrigue, for example, is working with Professor Sumahan Bandyopadhyay, Director, Centre for Adivasi Studies and Museum, Vidyasagar University, in West Bengal, to network colleagues around the world in the All-Asia Anthropology Association, while Dr Rodrigue and SSLA students Sudev Madhav and Ruthu G have worked with the Soliga tribal people of South India to establish a heritage centre.
Our Collaborative initiates, manages and coordinates heritage efforts. Activities underway in India include projects in Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kachchh, and the North East. We also help coordinate NGO partnerships and internships, as described in the section, ‘Community Partners.’ For more information please contact us:
Dr. Barry H. Rodrigue, Faculty-in-charge
Geographer / Anthropologist
Dr. Afshan Majid, Deputy
Dr. Richa Minocha, Deputy
Dr. Suchetana Bannerjee
Dr. Radhika Seshan, Historian
Dr. Shweta Sinha Deshpande, Archaeologist
Dr. Manjari Jonnalagadda, Biological Anthropologist