Countries: India

Sudheesh Ramapurath

Sudheesh Ramapurath
D.Ph. Candidate, Dep. of Int. Development

Sudheesh Ramapurath C. is a D.Phil. candidate at the Oxford Department of International Development, University of Oxford. His research explores the impact of agrarian changes and land policies on landless indigenous peoples in the southern Indian state of Kerala.
His publications have appeared on The Wire, in the Indian Journal of Human Development and in Citizenship Studies.

Land rights, poverty, and hope in Indian indigenous community.

How do the needs of indigenous communities transform over time, and how can these same communities integrate themselves into a rapidly changing society?

We sat down with Sudheesh Ramapurath, an ethnographer and a DPhil candidate at the University of Oxford, to talk about his research on Land and Livelihood struggles in India, his homeland. More specifically, Sudheesh’s research focuses on the struggles of the Paniyas, a community that is part of India’s indigenous peoples, the Adivasis. Sudheesh analyzes how, over time, starting from pre and post-independence periods right up to the modern day and age, the Paniyas are still living under the poverty line.
Why? What do they want? What do they need? What is the role of research?
What changes are needed?

We met Sudheesh Ramapurath, during the conference: Overcoming Inequalities in a Fractured World: Between Elite Power and Social Mobilisation, organized by The United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD).

The title of his presentation was :

Persistence of Poverty in an Indigenous Community
in Southern India: Bringing Agrarian Environment to
the Centre of Poverty Analysis.

Find out more about UNRISD here:

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Sudheesh Ramapurath C. is a D.Phil. candidate at the Oxford Department of International Development, University of Oxford. His research explores the impact of agrarian changes and land policies on landless indigenous peoples in the southern Indian state of Kerala.
His publications have appeared on The Wire, in the Indian Journal of Human Development and in Citizenship Studies.

Mahesh Kumar

Mahesh Kumar
Assistant Professor, Electrical Engineering

Dr. Kumar has received M.Tech degree in Solid State Materials from IIT Delhi and Ph.D degree in Engineering from IISc Bangalore. He worked at Central Research Laboratory of Bharat Electronics Ltd. (CRL-BEL) Bangalore as Scientist from 2005 to 2013.

During his stint at CRL-BEL, he has worked on industry-academia collaboration that involved CRL-BEL and Materials Research Centre, IISc Bangalore. He was involved in the development of GaN based blue LEDs, Quantum-well infrared photodetectors, Solar cells and III-V quantum dots based detectors. He also worked at University of Paderborn, Germany as visiting scientist under Bilateral Exchange Programme of INSA. He has received INSA Medal for Young Scientists-2014,the MRSI Medal-2016 by Materials Research Society of India, Young Achiever Award-2016 by Department of Atomic Energy and ISSS Young Scientist Award 2017 by the Institute for Smart Structures and Systems.

He has been awarded among top-10 outstanding reviewers for CrystEngComm (RSC) in 2016. He is founding Member and Chair of Indian National Young Academy of Sciences (2015-2019), Member of Global Young Academy (2017-2022) and IEEE Senior Member from 2016. He has been selected for the prestigious Bhaskara Advanced Solar Energy Fellowship supported by the Department of Science and Technology, Govt. of India, and the Indo-U.S. Science and Technology Forum. He has published more than 80 research articles.

Sustainable Energy, Science, Education: working for a better future in India.

What separates developing and developed countries? What does it take to close that gap and eliminate all progress borders? Doctor Mahesh Kumar explains the scientific and research steps to take to bring developing countries into the future.

As Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Jodhpur, Doctor Kumar is developing new ways to bring sustainable energy to the farthest communities, working on building awareness as much as on the applications of better and friendlier consumption methods for India and the world.

Doctor Kumar is also Chair of the Indian National Young Academy of Sciences, which works on building a network that interconnects fellow scientists with each other and with government authorities in order to bring attention to the scientific and educational potential growing in the country.

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Read the transcript of Mahesh Kumar's Video here

Nerina: Thank you so much for joining me. Could you please introduce yourself?

Mahesh Kumar: I am Doctor Mahesh Kumar, Assistant Professor at Electrical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Jodhpur. I am also Chair of the Indian National Young Academy of Sciences.

Nerina: What is your research focused on?

Mahesh: I am working on electronic material for energy-efficient devices, such as light-emitting diodes and sensors for environment monitoring.

Nerina: Why this topic? What is its relevance?

Mahesh: If we see in the future, energy will be the biggest problem, and we have a limited stock of our hydrocarbon fuels. So now we have to start to think on renewable energy sources, such as solar cell, hydro, and wind energy. Also, at the same time, we have to think on energy-efficient devices; we have to make some devices. By using this one, we can save the power.

Not only the power production is important, but at the same time, power consumption also has the same importance. If we see the last 20 years’ data, worldwide we have increased the electricity production almost double. And if we see in the developing countries, for example in India, we have increased our electricity production by five times.

But what about the consumption? At the same time, our requirements also increase. So today’s demand is that we have to make the devices that can save the power and can give the same output at a low power consumption.

Nerina: What are you working on right now?

Mahesh: Right now, I am working on light-emitting diodes by using the gallium nitride, and in 2014, Professor Nakamura and two more professors got the Nobel Prize on this. So, if we see the worldwide power consumption, around at 10 to 20% power consumption is only on the lightening, and by using these LEDs, we can save around 80 to 85% of the power. If we compared it with our ordinary bulb, the power consumption is very less, and the same light we will get by using the 8 or 10 watt LED, when an ordinary bulb will have to use the 100 watt. This one is because of the conversion; in light emitting diodes, conversion efficiency is very high compared to the ordinary bulb.

Nerina: What are the challenges here?

Mahesh: The biggest challenge is the awareness. If you compared with the conventional bulb, light-emitting diodes are a little bit expensive, because to make these devices, initially we have to spend a lot of money. We have to grow by molecular beam epitaxy, or MOCVD, and this equipment is costly; we have to set up a publication lab for gallium nitride technology. So, in this early cost of these devices, it’s hard, but if we see it in two years, we will get the same, this benefit by saving energy.

So we have to aware the society to use light-emitting diodes in comparison to conventional bulbs.

Nerina: How is the situation in India and how can your research contribute to improve it?

Mahesh: One project I’m currently working on is the Perovskite solar cells. The basic idea is that we can make flexible solar cells, and with these solar cells the efficiency is higher than with the silicon cells. But again, the issue is how to make the long life, because this efficiency degraded very fast. Here, we have to make these solar cells sustainable, so we can use them for a longer time. We have increased our resources in this one. We have increased our production, but still, the power production is not sufficient for the country.

If you see the solar light, we are getting the maximum. For example, in Pushkar, Rajasthan, Gujarat, we are getting the maximum solar light. And the rain or cloudy duration is very less. So here, we can use these solar cells, and we can convert maximum photo energy into electricity.

Another thing is that in Rajasthan, we have minimum water resources, so we cannot generate the power by using the water, by using the hydropower. So, we can use these solar cells and we can convert the photoenergy into electricity, and basically we can make the system sustainable.

Nerina: What does it mean for you to be a scientist in India?

Mahesh: We have big responsibilities. As a scientist, not only I have to see the wide, wide problems, but I also have to see our local issues. For example, in the Rajasthan, the power transportation from one city, from one place to another place, is difficult here. So we have to see if you can use, if you can generate in local village or town energy by using the solar cells, and if you can make the village sustainable, and at least in energy, if we can provide the same energy watt hey will consume there, that will be good.

Nerina: What kind of society do you dream of?

Mahesh: Basically, I want a society in which everyone should get the same right. We should not differentiate based on the economy, based on any religion, so everyone, all kids should get the same facility here.

If you see the worldwide view, we are all working for the human. We are the same. Our cultures are different, but sometimes we are facing multiple issues. I cannot go to that country, or I cannot invite from the neighboring country, or some other country. I would remove the borders, because all people are the same. I will not discriminate based on religion, based on geography, or based on any other practice. All humans are the same for me.

Nerina: What types of research are more needed in India?

Mahesh: In India we have much talent. We need some type of networking, some very good rue policy, and we need some interconnection between the scientists, and also between the government and the scientists.

Nerina: And you are contributing to improve this through your work with the young academy, right?

Mahesh: Yes. Indian National Young Academy of Scientists started in 2014, so you can say this is a very young academy. The main object of this academy is that we have to make more networking among Indian scientists. We have to discuss our local issues, and then we have to come up with solutions, because if we are pressing the problem, we should think, discuss, and try to give the solution to society.

Another goal is to promote our science to society. We have to into the rural villages in remote areas, and we have to explain to the government people what we are doing. We have to conduct our next game, and we have to basically attract more students to our science.

Nerina: What are the main points you are trying to contribute to?

Mahesh: On the main issue, we are working on health, how to improve our health facilities. The second one is the energy; how to make a sustainable energy system. The third issue is education; how to provide high quality education to everyone. And fourth one is the food here. In few parts of our country we don’t have sufficient food; our government is working on this one and our academy as well.

We have to aware our society to these issues. We have to implement these policies in all areas of our countries.

Nerina: If you could change one thing, what would it be?

Mahesh: If we focus on these issues, then we can work from a developing to a developed country.

Basically, all these things will come from education, so one thing I want to change is our education system; every kid should get education. Second, I want to aware society of what is good and what is bad. For example, our government has stared so many campaigns; if we see, we have a big campaign in India, and all these kids are throwing whatever waste that they have in dust bins.

Nerina: Do you have a dream?

Mahesh: I’m working on applied research. Basically my dream is that I want to make a few products, so that by using them, society can benefit, and I want to take my country from developing to developed country. In the coming ten, fifteen years, I want to see my country as a developed country.

Nerina: What is life about?

Mahesh: What is life about? I can say life is only relation. We have to make more friendships. We have to treat people equally, and listen to people, and try to solve their problems. This is life, and we have to learn from the mistakes. We should not think, always, I will get the success; sometimes failure is also important. We should learn from mistakes and failures and, again, we have to try. We should give our best to achieve something, and we should not worry so much about the result.

Nerina: What inspires you?

Mahesh: Generally, I read the biography of scientists. And if you see, many great scientists came from very poor families, and then they contributed to society.

Nerina: And what is your background? What is your story?

Mahesh: I was born in a very small village, and I have struggled a lot for higher education, but thanks to our government there are many fellowships, and by getting those fellowships I came to this level. My father only passed until sixth grade, and my mother never went to school. And I did my double Master, and I did my PhD. My parents believed in me, and because of their grace, today I’m in this position.

Nerina: What would you tell your parents, or what would you tell your children? Like a message for your parents or a message for your children, or for both.

Mahesh: For my kids, I want to make them good human beings. And my parents, I want to thank them, they have believed in me. They don’t know what research I’m doing; they know I’m a professor, but they don’t know about my research. So, I would just like to thank them. They are not higher educated, but they believed in me, and they believe on my education. They gave me the highest education.

Nerina: Thank you so much for this conversation.

Mahesh: Thank you so much.

Nerina: And thank you for watching, thank you for listening, and thank you for sharing. Keep wondering, and see you soon again. Bye and ciao.


Dr. Kumar has received M.Tech degree in Solid State Materials from IIT Delhi and Ph.D degree in Engineering from IISc Bangalore. He worked at Central Research Laboratory of Bharat Electronics Ltd. (CRL-BEL) Bangalore as Scientist from 2005 to 2013.

During his stint at CRL-BEL, he has worked on industry-academia collaboration that involved CRL-BEL and Materials Research Centre, IISc Bangalore. He was involved in the development of GaN based blue LEDs, Quantum-well infrared photodetectors, Solar cells and III-V quantum dots based detectors. He also worked at University of Paderborn, Germany as visiting scientist under Bilateral Exchange Programme of INSA. He has received INSA Medal for Young Scientists-2014,the MRSI Medal-2016 by Materials Research Society of India, Young Achiever Award-2016 by Department of Atomic Energy and ISSS Young Scientist Award 2017 by the Institute for Smart Structures and Systems.

He has been awarded among top-10 outstanding reviewers for CrystEngComm (RSC) in 2016. He is founding Member and Chair of Indian National Young Academy of Sciences (2015-2019), Member of Global Young Academy (2017-2022) and IEEE Senior Member from 2016. He has been selected for the prestigious Bhaskara Advanced Solar Energy Fellowship supported by the Department of Science and Technology, Govt. of India, and the Indo-U.S. Science and Technology Forum. He has published more than 80 research articles.

Paul Shrivastava

Paul Shrivastava
Chief Sustainability Officer

The Pennsylvania State University. Director at the Sustainability Institute. Professor in Management and Organization, Smeal College of Business.

Sustainable management – sustainable life

How do we create a more sustainable world? Why should we care? And what parts do management practices have to play, in helping us to create a more stable equilibrium between the human and the natural worlds?

These are some of the questions that Dr Paul Shrivastava, an academic entrepreneur and the Chief Sustainability Officer at Penn State University, is seeking to answer with his research.

Paul advocates for a transdisciplinary approach to the world’s problems, in which we don’t just take an in-depth view of one particular subject, but instead integrate and synthesise our collective understandings, and work holistically to create meaningful change.

Watch our interview to discover the ways in which a new style of management can help lead us closer to an open, creative, and imaginative new world.

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Nerina: Hi Paul, nice to have you here. Would you please introduce yourself?

Paul: Hello, I am Paul Shrivastava. I am the Chief Sustainability Officer of Penn State University, before that I was the Executive Director of Future Earth.

Nerina: Why are you so passionate about sustainability?

Paul: So I’m passionate about sustainability for both some intellectual reasons and for some very personal, practical reasons. So let me talk about the practical reasons first. I have two children they are both grown-up, I have other friends and relatives and neighbors and communities that I am going to leave behind when I’m gone and I would like to be able to say that my life contributed in some positive way to longing the sustainability of the earth. I think a lot of the things that we’re doing in our lives are wrongheaded, they are going in the wrong direction. So I see the need for people who can make some corrective action and I see my work towards that.

On the intellectual side I think you have come to a point in human history where the relationship of humans to nature is in the process of reversal. So for a million years we lived with natural cycles of working in a natural way and defining the world and we humans were sort of part of those natural cycles. Whether it was the water cycle or the carbon cycle or the nitrogen cycle or phosphate cycle nature had its own logic and we were part of that logic.

Since the 1950s there have been such a great expansion of human population and of the social impacts on earth that we are now disturbing the natural cycle, we have become the dominant force of nature and nature is getting broken in a lot of its ecosystems. So it is our intellectual responsibility, as academics it’s our professional responsibility to understand this reversal and try to create a better balance between humans and nature. So I feel my work is trying to understand nature and human relationships in a broad canvas, in a global scale, on a planetary scale and try to develop solutions that will make us more sustainable.

Nerina: You have also worked a lot on management and leadership. What in your opinion is sustainable management?

Paul: So yes, I’ve been a Professor of management in business schools and in schools of arts and science and I see management as a generic function of society. You and I do a lot of management in our own lives: we manage our children, we manage our kitchen, we manage our transportation, we manage our social life etc.

In the world today corporations are the major engine for producing wealth but they are also a major engine for destroying the natural systems. So management is the function in my view it’s not about maximizing profits, it’s not only about creating wealth, it is about managing human-nature relationships in a balanced way so that we can create a system of producing well-being for all of humanity and be able to do it in the long time frame not just for our lifetime. Certainly, not only for this quarter or this year that many corporations focus on but for the next generation and multiple generations afterwards.

So this kind of a planetary management of all the resources of the planet to serve the interests of 10 billion people that will be on earth by 2050 that’s the management that I want to advocate, I want to study and I want to teach.

Nerina: What do we need to implement this?

Paul: So there are a number of things that managers need: they need certain competencies, they need a certain kind of awareness and they need a certain set of values. So in terms of competencies we in the last 50 years have found out a lot of things about how corporations and their activities impact everything around them from the physical landscape and nature to communities and social landscapes. So that’s one set of competencies that managers need to develop. They could be in the form of developing mechanical technological efficiencies, energy conservation and resource conservation, etc. or they could be in the form of ecological efficiencies so that they can do more things with natural products and conserve natural resources or they can be in the form of social efficiencies so that we create communities and society that are more ecologically sensible and economically viable. So that’s at the level of competencies.

Those competencies are based on awareness. So managers need to be aware of the basic principles of how ecosystems operate. They cannot just be economists, they cannot just be technologists, and they need to understand how economy and technology are embedded in the larger natural systems and what technology and economic systems do to the natural system. That relationship and the awareness of it require them to read more broadly, to be multidisciplinary not just economists. So that’s the level of awareness.

Then at the level of values managers need to understand that money is not the only measure of performance, that finances and dollars is not what their own organization performance will be measured by, that we need to value other things in life. We have a world in which that a lot of people living without adequate food. There are 2 billion people who are living under two dollars a day and we need a kind of system in which the whole world can live a meaningful life, and that requires us to valorize and put more value on society, on culture, on arts, on equality and things like that. So they need some kind of reframing of their own values and this is not something that they have to come to it by themselves voluntarily, they have to understand the need for this kind of a broad prosperity and well-being for all and by all I don’t mean just people who might be poor in poor countries. I also mean the natural ecosystems and animals and plants and creating a world in which there is a kind of balance between humans and nature.

Nerina: You often use the word passion when talking about management. How are they related?

Paul: Part about this field of management with relatively a young field of study it originated in the 1920s or so with the idea of technological efficiency and rationality at the heart of it. The factories were being built and they wanted to make it very productive. So the whole field of management studies has focused mostly on sort of scientific rationality, bringing scientific rationality to the industrial workplace to me.

To me life is much broader than just rationality. Being a full human also means being an artist, being a family person, being a father, being a citizen and that’s not all captured within this narrow view of technological rationality. So I wanted to see what was the other side and the other side is emotion and science and rational thinking sort of separates itself from emotional side of things.

So to me, bringing the emotional and the passion into management is a way of expanding the function of management and I think it creates a more holistic way of managing and to the extent that sustainability is about managing holistically across the planet, across all human beings and all other species. I think this kind of an expanded view of management which includes passion and emotion into it is a very helpful thing. So I see this as the next generation of management studies which will allow a deeper emotional engagement and understanding of the phenomenon that we are interested in and helping shape that.

Nerina: What does your job as a Chief Sustainability Officer entail?

Paul: So in my current position my mandate is to incorporate sustainability into all the research programs and educational teaching programs and student life programs and employee programs off the 23 campuses of the University. So it’s like using sustainability as a spice to sprinkle it all around everything that the University does because my University as part of its strategic plan has stewarding of our natural resources as one of the three key pillars. So they have created this new position and my job is to add sustainability across the board.

Nerina: You advocate a lot for a more interdisciplinary approach to reach a more sustainable world: science, humanities and art working together. Could you tell me more about this?

Paul: Yes. So interdisciplinarity is a view that has been around for the last 50 years in an emerging science domain that has broken itself into literally more than 8000 different disciplines. So we have created these bubbles, these isolated conversations that go deep but they’re very small and very narrow. In the world that we are living in we have to think broadly and at a planetary scale, we have to look at the big picture. It’s also important to look at the individual silos and look deep but if everybody just looks deep and nobody is integrating and synthesizing and taking the big picture view then that doesn’t help us. It gets us to optimize at a sub or even sub subcomponent level while ignoring what is going on at the systemic level.

So the idea of interdisciplinarity and I don’t like the term interdisciplinarity I will talk about more about trans disciplinary in a second because that captures more my feelings of how this integration should take place. So it’s not just that biochemistry has to talk to neurochemistry, has to talk to physical chemistry, that is sort of within disciplines but we need to step out of the disciplines altogether because the real problems of the world are cannot be discovered at the bottom of the silo of disciplines.

The real problems with the world are happening in the world. So, we have to take the problem from outside of the disciplines and then bring the disciplines whichever ones are needed to address to solve the problem; that to me the meaning of transdisciplinarity. Where you pick the problem not from a disciplinary gap in knowledge but from the real world, you bring the right disciplines to interact with that problem, you engage stakeholders, communities, people who are affected by the problem to co-design and co-create knowledge that will solve the problem.

The real measure of how good your research is is how well you solve the problem. It’s not about how many papers you write. All the papers are important and you can write papers and books you can stop over there that is not the need of the hour. The need of the hour is solving real problems in real time because we have 20 to 30 years after which there are going to be some really catastrophic changes that are going to kill a lot of people. So, on the one hand we predict that there might be 10 billion people on earth but there are also scenarios that claim that if we don’t change now we might end up with 2 billion people. There will actually be a drastic reduction in population and if we want to avoid that we have this 20 or 30 year period in which we have to act and we have to create solutions.

So I say that yes you can write and think about it in academic silos but you also need to be able to make changes to the real problems. So bring your research to policy makers, bring your research to activists and the public, to the society at large. We want to create these interfaces between science and society, between science and policymaking.

Nerina: What is to biggest problem or challenge we are facing?

Paul: So there are many big challenges. I think the biggest challenge is sort of a self-imposed constraint on imagination. We are because in some ways creatures of habit, we are accustomed to doing things a certain way and we feel that the artificial barriers that are imposed by institutions or by society or by culture that we have to live within them. We need to find internal personal courage to break out of those barriers and do things that we are passionate about that I think is going to lead to solutions that are different, than are more creative, more imaginative and will actually produce solutions.

So the word is structured in a certain way, but God or no other creature told us to do it this way. We collectively decided we are going to be in the University, we are going to teach courses, we are going to do it this way but that’s not the only way to do it. So we have to be really imaginative and creative and find our own pathway into solving the problems that we perceive in our communities, on the ground, in society broadly rather than limit ourselves to the definitions that are handed down to us either by bosses or rules or disciplines.

So I’m not advocating anarchy here. I’m advocating an open, creative, imaginative engagement with the world to solve problems that are very real now and these problems are going to affect… they are already affecting our lives, but they’re definitely going to completely change the lives of our children and our grandchildren.

Nerina: If you change one thing tomorrow and money would not play a role and time wouldn’t matter what would you like to change?

Paul: So I wouldn’t say money plays no role, of course money plays a role and time plays a role, but I have great faith in human ingenuity, I have great faith in the human spirit. I think people need to look at themselves and their mode of living and engaging life and they need to find ways of enlivening. Everything they do, every ordinary thing they do has to be enlivened and made more than it is and it is possible to do this, it is possible to do it in your dining room, it is possible for us to do it in this interview. We can animate ourselves, we can jump up and down, we can create more life right now and we can do it everywhere that we exist. So we need to rethink of how we are going to live so that life is expanded in relationship to others, in relationship to nature, in relationship to our family, to our neighbors, and to our community.

Nerina: Who are the people who influenced you the most?

Paul: Yeah. So we are all sort of an accumulation of our many, many years and I am on the wrong side of 60s now so I’ve had a long time to form myself, and sometimes I even forget what part of me was formed as a child. But I did grow up in household led by a woman, a very strong woman my mother and I think I grasped a lot of things out of the way she ran the family. She was a working person, she was a gynecologist, a doctor in a small town in India which didn’t have any other female doctors, so by the time she retired she was almost like an icon and a big influence on the values that I took away, on the practical need to care. Because she was a doctor and caring for patients this idea of care, the value of care was deeply ingrained. It also gave me the value for education and knowledge because she was trained in the sciences and for her it was very important that her children and anybody that she could influence in the family go to school and college and do all the things that science has to provide.

So I think that the fundamental shaping as a child had happened but I think I also learned equally after reaching my own age of reason and becoming a person on my own and again I have to say a big influence on this has been my wife of 37 years. We have kind of grown together with the mutual understanding and she has shaped a lot of things and I always rely on her. She’s like my “strategic advisor” on times when there are challenges and especially around question of values and meaning. What is that is meaningful to do in life you know.

So I take a lot of guidance from her and then the third big influence is actually my children. So I hear from them. They sometimes ridicule me, they sometimes flatter me, they sometimes make fun of me and sometimes they’re loving to me and I kind of see in them a life that I haven’t passed over, but I’m seeing them and it becomes a form of renewal for me. So I always look forward to meeting them and learning what’s going on in their life, what is important to them, what is not important to them and I’m always surprised that they are thinking so differently from when I was 25 or 28 years old what I was aspiring to. So they have kind of opened up the windows to the next generations for me. So those are the main influencers on my life and they all come from very close and within my family.

And of course then I learned from the books and I like to read a lot and try to gain information from conversations with people and the community around me.

Nerina: What keeps you going?

Paul: I think I’m an optimist at heart. I think that the place that we are now is a place of turmoil and change both at the global society and also in terms of local issues. I feel that there are better answers that can be found and I am eager to be part of that imaginative, creative space and with that we can find better answers.

I’m dissatisfied with the way things are in the world and the way things are in my own community and in my country, which currently is the United States. They are deep sources of dissatisfaction and I think that is a better place and I think that there are solutions. So I’m very eager to contribute those solutions and improve those things that keep me going.

Nerina: What kind of society do you dream of?

Paul: So what do I dream of? This is a really good question. I think we all live our dreams and we all knowingly or unknowingly interpret dreams on a day-to-day basis. The life that I dream off is one of balance; balance between competing forces. I have experienced life in the form of competition and conflicts and I have always strived for finding the common ground and finding the place where we can bring some equilibrium to the competing forces that evolve us into the next phase.

So my dream for life is that we as a whole global planetary society will be able to achieve balance. A balance amongst us as human beings so we don’t fight with each other, bring peace. A balance with nature with whom we are on a war and we are destroying nature and nature can come and destroy us. It does so regularly in the form of floods and storms and so on. So finding a way of balancing with nature and finding a way of balancing within our communities in our local spaces so that we can create well-being and prosperity in the long run.

Nerina: What makes you happy?

Paul: My wife and I have been dancing Argentine tango for last 15 years and we see that as an embodiment of the passion we have for each other, but the passion we have for the community in which we dance because Argentine tango is a social community dance. You dance with everybody in the community, you become part of the community and you learn together and you become friends and so it embodies many parts of this connectivity. Everything from the body – dancing in between two bodies, the human body and the floor and the environment, the music, the people and the whole sense of community. So to me it’s a very good physical manifestation of the passion that I have for life in general.

Nerina: Difficult question but what is life about?

Paul: What is life about? Yeah, that is sort of a deep question. So to me life is about… It’s a kind of relational thing. It is about everything and it is about the quality of the relationship to everything. So to me life is manifested in ordinary, everyday events and activities and we can make that life bigger by being mindful, by being meaningful, by adding ourselves our enthusiasm, our spirit and connecting it to others, connecting it to nature. So expanding that connectivity expands life.

So instead of thinking about what his life I think about what will enliven. So I try to make it into an activity that will actually expand life rather than thinking about it as a static thing. I like to think about it as a dynamic moving thing that I can engage with and increase so that I can have this conversation with you and if this can be an enlivened conversation it will leave us both at a higher level of understanding and also well-being and joy. So creating the joy and well-being and expansion of life I’m calling that enlivenment is what life is all about.

Nerina: Thank you Paul for this conversation.

Paul: Thank you very much.

Nerina: And thank you for watching, thank you for listening and feel free to reach out to me if you have any comments. Keep wondering and see you next time again. Bye and ciao.


The Pennsylvania State University. Director at the Sustainability Institute. Professor in Management and Organization, Smeal College of Business.

Anindita Bhadra

Anindita Bhadra
Behavioral biologist

Assistant Professor, Animal Behaviour and Ecology, Indian Institute of Science, Education and Research, Kolkata, India.

Researching street dogs, doing theater, and dreaming of changing the world

A dog is a man’s best friend. But 80% of all of the dogs in the world are not actually domesticated. What do we know about this large population of stray animals? In our interview, Anindita Bhadra tells us what she found in her 5-years study of stray dogs in India.

How dogs change people, how people change dogs, and how dogs can understand and socialize with humans.

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Read the transcript of Anindita Bhadra's Video here

Anindita: I’m Anindita Bhadra, from India. I’m a behavioural biologist, working on street dogs.

Nerina: How did this topic get your attention?

Anindita: Well, I had already done my Ph.D. on animal behaviour, and at the end of my Ph.D. I was thinking of what to now start working on and wanted a very Indian model system. So, the dogs seemed to be the perfect model system because you have dogs everywhere, in every street in India, they are easy to work with. You don’t have to haggle for permissions with the forest officials and nobody has really extensively studied dogs in a natural habitat until now. There’s a lot of work on pet dogs and people work with wolves to try and understand dog evolution, but I felt that dogs which have been surviving in natural populations for centuries on our streets, are a very good model system for understanding dog evolution, and also for doing many other things which address basic questions in animal behaviour, ecology, and evolution.

Nerina: What are the biggest challenges?

Anindita: One of the main problems is that they’re all there and are completely mingled with people, so we have to do all of our work on the streets. Firstly, not every student is comfortable working in that way, and, while we are doing this, we have a lot of trouble keeping people away and stopping them from disturbing our experiments. There are too many inquisitive people asking questions, some actually saying “we will not let you work with the dogs in our neighbourhood” and “what are you doing?” and “we’ll call the police”. So, that is one problem that we have all of the time.

Another problem which is a very peculiar problem in my case is; because it’s dogs, there are some people who love dogs and some people who hate dogs. It’s very difficult to be neutral about dogs. I often get students who come to me because they are already interested in dogs; they have pets in the house and they really are in love with dogs. I’m very scared of taking up such students for a Ph.D. because they can actually bias the data through their love for dogs. They start interacting with the dogs they are working with so it is very difficult to tease out what is real data and what is biased data. So, this is a peculiar problem that I face; dog lovers are not really good people for me. Also, I cannot use people that are scared of dogs, or hate dogs. It’s very difficult to find that neutral population who are still interested in doing my kind of work.

Nerina: What did you find out, that surprised you? 

Anindita: One of the surprising results that we found was that- in the literature there was this notion that dogs don’t have stable family groups, unlike wolves. So even when they are in groups, these are random groups. But, we are seeing more and more that that’s not true. There are family groups, and we actually saw that there is a lot of cooperation between members of the groups, even in raising the pups. So, two females would have puppies at the same time, and often they’ll help each other in raising each other’s pups. There are also males which hang around with the females and take care of the pups; they play with the pups, they give them food, and protect them. These are probably the fathers- but we don’t know as we have not done any genetic analysis- as not every male does, only some do. I like saying this is like the typically Indian giant family system. It’s not like the wolf system, where only one dominant male mates and everybody else just has to help. Here, everybody is mating and all of them are having puppies, but then they are helping each other out just like in a large family; cousins, nieces, nephews and grandparents- they are all hanging around together in the vicinity. That’s a very interesting and surprising result.

Another result- which, of course, we were not very happy about- is from when we did a 5-year long study to understand growth rates and death rates in the population. We saw that nearly 81% of the pups born in the year don’t reach adulthood. By 7 months 81% of the pups are dead, and nearly 60% of the mortalities are actually caused by humans. Of course, there are some cases where there are accidents which are not in our control, but then there are also active killings. So, that was a result which we didn’t expect, and it was also not a very happy result.

Nerina: How is the situation of stray dogs worldwide?

Anindita: It’s very interesting because there have been studies to estimate the populations of street dogs across the world, and it seems that nearly 80% of all the dogs present in the world are strays. Street dogs are still the majority, but, of course, they are more common in the developing worlds, than in the developing nation, because of the way the laws are.

Here, in our country, on the one hand, there are the municipalities trying to cull dog populations but then they don’t have very extensive dog control programs, so there’s still a problem. You get reports of some dogs chasing or biting somebody, and this creates a lot of uproar. But then there is also a lot of dog loving people in the population; they put out food for the dogs regularly, and they care for the pups when they are around. So, there is a very mixed kind of feeling.

In the Indian culture, in particular, it’s very interesting because dogs are considered to be lowly animals. Look at Indian literature from 2,00 years or 3,000 years back, then you have literature which talks about dogs on streets, and these dogs are very similar to the dogs of today. They’re just like outcasts. But then, a good householder is expected to feed these creatures at the end of the day, after the meal- the leftovers are not supposed to be thrown away, they are supposed to be fed to the dogs. So, that makes a very interesting kind of ecosystem where the dogs are not part of our households but they are part of the community.

Nerina: You are also working on dog’s cognition, could you tell me more about this? 

Anindita: So, we are doing these experiments on dog cognition. People working with pet dogs have shown that the pets are very good at following human gestures, but wolves are not. Of course, there’s a problem, as pet dogs are brought up with humans, and there is intensive training. So, we are doing these experiments with stray dogs to find out what really innate dog ability is, and what comes by interactions with humans.

What we saw is that really small puppies that are still dependant on and suckling from their mothers, are not really interacting so much with humans in the streets, but those which are 4-6 weeks old are excellent at following human gestures. If you put a bowl down and point towards it, the pup will go towards the bowl. Then we tested the juvenile’s cognition, which is at around 4-5 months, when the maximum mortality due to humans occurs. They are weaned from their mothers and more-or-less independent; they have started forging, and are also a bit of a nuisance for humans because they are very active. At this stage, the dogs are very reluctant to follow human gestures- they do not follow pointing, they do not even respond to the task. However, when you don’t give the gesture and just put down the bowl, they respond. So, they are still eager for the food, but they are very reluctant to rely on humans.

What is surprising is that with puppies, we found an innate ability to understand humans and a tendency to socialise with humans. However, with negative experiences with humans, they probably learned quickly not to rely on them. What we are thinking could have happened in the past is that with this innate ability to socialise with humans, puppies who come to humans and get a positive response gradually become more and more friendly, and turn into pets. But, if they get a negative response from people they move away, and probably just remain as strays. This could have been the early stage when domestication was happening; some dogs became domesticated and some didn’t. So, this is a very interesting scenario that we have just found.

Nerina: Did dogs change humans, or did humans change dogs?

Anindita: That is a completely open question that everybody working with dogs is trying to answer, and frankly I don’t think we have an answer to it. I think the most optimum answer would be that it’s a bit of both. They changed us a bit, and we changed them a bit. From the current understanding, dog domestication probably happened around 20,000 years ago. At that time, humans were still hunting animals, and all other domestication events happened after that. Since we don’t really understand exactly what happened during the domestication of dogs, this is still an open question. We don’t really know.

Nerina: Is there something you would like people who have pets to know about dogs? 

Anindita: One thing is that pet dogs have been bred artificially for so many generations that I think they are inherently very different from dogs on the streets. But, a feeling that I have always had, and with my studies is becoming more and more relevant, is that dogs aren’t very social creatures. When we have pets we like to think that they are part of the family and that we are their group, but it’s not really so right. The interaction you have with another human is not really the same as the interaction you have with your dog. Of course, the dog can interact with you, but it cannot speak its own language with you. So, I think if you want to have a pet, the minimum you can do is give it another dog partner because they need to socialise. They have a lot of interesting interactions and communications with dogs, and are such social creatures that it’s probably not fair to have just one dog as a pet.

Nerina: What does it mean to be a woman, a scientist, and a mother in India? 

Anindita: It means that my days are pretty tough, to begin with. There are, of course, problems, because we have a lot of people with prejudices who think women should be taking care of children and the family. Even in Indian science, there are people who think like that, but I have been brought up in a very liberal-minded family. My grandparents always wanted me to study and become a teacher, and my parents let me do what I wanted to do, so I have never been used to this kind of social system where being a woman is different from being a man.

I haven’t faced too many hurdles, until I came to the professional world of actually competing for a job. There I realised that yes, there are problems; men and woman are not always treated at par when appearing for a job interview, and as my husband and I are in the same field and at the same institute, it often feels like we are treated as a unit and not always as individuals. But, in general, I think the majority of people in India respect woman scientists. There is a lot of understanding from the Indian government, which insists on having day-cares in the institutes. So, now there is a lot of understanding of the woman scientists needs; you need to have a school on the campus, and you need to have day-care so that you can be a mother and have a career at the same time. So, personally, I haven’t really faced too many issues being a woman. However, there is discrimination, there is sexual harassment, and often there is bias. No one will say it to our face but, when somebody says “oh you have done this, being a woman” I feel very bad. Why can’t you just say “you have done this, this is good”. That’s good enough, you don’t have to say it’s even better because I am a woman. I don’t think in those terms when I do my science, I just do my science. Whether it’s good or bad, it should be judged on an objective scale, not based on my gender.

Nerina: What do you like doing, when you are not working or researching?

Anindita:  Cooking, reading books, listening to music, and I do a bit of painting. My weekends are mostly taken up as my husband and I have a theater group so we often have rehearsals. If I’m not doing research, I’m doing theater. My free time is mostly for my kids now.

Nerina: You are a scientist and an artist. What has science to do with art?

Anindita: I firmly believe that if you are a good scientist, you need to be creative. You cannot say that science is science, and the arts are the arts. Whenever you have crossed between disciplines, you have more creative thinking. I have always had a creative kind of mind, I used to dance when I was 4 years old, and I haven’t stopped. But, when I trained to be a scientist I never felt the need to stop indulging in the arts. I actually think every student who is doing science should have some other interest outside science because you cannot just live within the small sphere of your science. Science is becoming more specialised day by day, if you are only doing your bit then you do not know anything about the world; you cannot have lateral thinking, you cannot have different ways of applying your knowledge. You need to have an understanding of literature, social science, and history, to be more creative in your science.

Nerina: Is there a project, or an idea, which you are really passionate about at the moment? 

Anindita: A lot of things, actually. Other than my research, I’m currently extremely actively involved in the Indian National Youth Academy of Science and this is in a way my baby as I helped in founding it. This is not just an Academy, it is almost like a new movement in which we are trying to start getting young people actively involved outside of their research, in taking science to young children, getting involved in science promotions, science diplomacy- something that Indian scientists rarely do now. Everybody thinks that the older scientists should do this, and the younger scientists should just do their research- including the young people themselves. But I am trying to tell them no, this is your social responsibility. You are doing your science, fantastic, but what are you doing for society? This is my way of telling people to come and join us, this is a platform to do something for the society which is giving you the funding for your research, to begin with, right?

Nerina: What is the role of science in your opinion?

Anindita: Science helps you to think, reason, and analyse. Especially in the Indian context; we keep telling Indians that one of the things we would like to do is help people believe in science and practise it as a way of life, not just as a profession. When students are reading science they are normally reading it because they either want to become an engineer or a doctor, or a scientist, but beyond that I think the responsibility of the scientist is to come out of his or her own sphere, step out into the real world, and make science easy to understand for the common people, and for children, so that people get interested in science. So they don’t say that “I’m doing my science, and only I understand my science.  You are dumb, you do not understand” that is not the way we should do our science. We should do science, good science, and then break it down to the language of a child. I should be able to explain my science to a 5-year-old, to a 10-year-old, to a 50-year-old, who have not done science. I think that is a very big responsibility that scientists have because science is so important and you need to bring in the methods of science to solve the world’s problems. You need to bring in the methods of science to address basic questions. In India, we have so many superstitions, and this is very ingrained. People have fear, religious beliefs, and superstitions. There are these stupid class divisions, there are still people who practise very rigorous rituals which are completely based in superstitions, and completely baseless. But, you cannot tell them “you are doing this, this is dumb”, you need them to realise “this is dumb and so I should not do this”, and the only way they can realise this is if they start understanding logical reasoning, and start asking questions. This is, I think, the most important job for scientists; to help people ask questions and find an answer. You don’t just give them an answer; you help people to find the answer.

Nerina: What makes life meaningful?

Anindita: For me, it’s very important to put human beings first. I like to do things for people whenever I can. I really cannot say I will go and solve all the problems in the world, but in my capacity, I like to do my bit and since I like working with children and I’m interested in education, I like teaching. The way I want to solve some of the world’s problems is by engaging young children in discourses, in getting them fascinated about nature and science and helping them to ask why. Especially in our culture, you are always told to obey your elders, respect your elders, do what you’re told, and don’t ask questions. So, if I can motivate even a small part of the population to say “no, I will ask questions; at every step, I need to know why” then I think I have made a good contribution to the society of the future. For me, life is good if I think at the end of the day I have done something positive, that could be a very small thing or it could be a big thing. For me, my life is meaningful if I’m able to do something which is outside the small sphere of my family, or my set of students. So, if I have been able to contribute to society at large, even in a small portion- maybe I have made a student get interested in science and do science, or persuaded a family not to get their daughter married off when she is 15 and instead allow her to have an education and a life of her own, I think that is a contribution I have made to society.

Nerina: Thank you so much Anindita.

Anindita: My pleasure.

Probing into dog-human interactions on streets | #follow-up with Anindita Bhadra

Watch this follow-up conversation with Anindita about some new research results. She is working on dog-human interactions on streets.

Watch the video:

Assistant Professor, Animal Behaviour and Ecology, Indian Institute of Science, Education and Research, Kolkata, India.

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