Friday, 13 June 2014

inspiring women: from Indian villages to English towns

On the 9th of June I was invited by the Director of International Office of Durham University to team up with her to deliver a talk in a workshop titled ‘Inspiring Women’. Sharne Proctor, the Director of the International Office was the inspirational woman for this session. However, she decided to ask a few international students to share their own and their PhD stories in the workshop because she thought this might be a different and possibly inspirational experience for the women present. Ultimately then, we were a team of 4 (including Sharne). Sharne started with here fantastic and highly inspirational story. This was followed by Elham Amini who shared her research about women’s sexuality in Iran. Elham herself comes from Iran. Another presentation was by Manizha Hadi on Women’s health in Afghanistan. Manizha is a doctor from Afghanistan. So, there were three women with truly inspiring professional and personal stories. Sandwiched between these was your’s truly – not a woman, no inspirational story. So, what was I doing there? Well, I was supposed to share stories of inspirational women that I had come across during my PhD research and I assure you there are many of those. Here’s a narrative of my talk from the workshop.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Behind the curtains

In this post I am going to reveal some dark secrets of the village life. Just to make it clear, I am not talking metaphorically. These quite literally will be dark secrets. These photographs were taken in areas which still struggle for access to modern energy. The only sources of light for these people are kerosene and torches. In this post the stories consist of photographs in sets of two, one taken as the the eye sees it and the other after turning the flash on the camera on to reveal what the unassisted eye can not see.

When I visited these villages, the only thing that was obvious and evident was the curtain of darkness that covered them. As far as the eye could see, the landscape was pitch black with a few orange lights here and there. These were lights from kerosene lamps. In some parts I could see streaks of white light moving around. I was told that these were people walking around with battery powered torches. I had a torch of my own. At places I would turn it on to find my way. But every time I turned my torch on, I saw things that I was not able to see otherwise. I saw the dark secrets of these villages. What did I see? Let me show you what I saw, one by one, frame by frame.

Darkness under the lamp

I am sitting with a few dalit women talking to them about the status of electricity in their colony. Suddenly I hear voices from the right. I turn my head to look. All I can see is a kerosene lamp lit in a room at some distance. The voices keep coming from the darkness under the lamp. I am baffled and scared. My guide turns his torch towards the voices. There are people. The people who were invisible to me until now as they are I think to the state. The invisible people of this village. This is when I use the flash on my camera and the whole landscape is revealed.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Indian elections 2014: Why is India voting

A supporter saving himself from the heat in a political meeting
Tomorrow is the last phase of India's marathon 2014 national elections. The last few weeks have been very exhausting for not only the political parties and journalists who have been constantly producing and whipping electoral news but also for citizens who have been consuming only electoral news through these weeks. On the 16th of this month we would know who would get an opportunity to 'rule' India for the next five years, the challenger BJP, the incumbent Congress or the dark horse (a concoction of several smaller parties).

However, as the voting ends and India moves towards the next government I thought it might be a good idea to look at the issues around which the electorate has organised itself:

Roads: Roads, bridges and other such infrastructure is a critical issue, especially for the rural and non metro voters. While several parties have been constantly organising 'road shows' (the latest being in the historical city Banaras), they forget the roads on which these shows are organised.

Water: Clean drinking water but also clean rivers like the Ganges in Banaras and Yamuna in Delhi have come to the forefront this year.

Electricity: Electricity is a critical issue every year (and still doesn't get solved). This year to electricity is a paramount issue especially in states like Bihar which perform very badly in this area. I have written earlier on this blog on the energy, electricity and politics nexus.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Where is the light?

photographs in field work exhibition
Last year one of my photographs was displayed in an exhibition organised by the Geography Department at Durham University. The exhibition focused on the use of photography in fieldwork. Photographs in my view are an important tool to narrate the various stories emerging in the field, especially if one is doing ethnographic work. Since, ethnography involves being, living, spending time and integrating with the community, photographs provide a very good means of recording data, information and experiences. Needless to say, if one is looking at dissemination of one's research, photographs could be one of the most effective means to do so. 

So, I submitted a few photographs out of which one was selected for the final exhibition. This is probably my favourite out of the thousands of photographs that I clicked during the 9 months in the field. There are several good ones (self appreciation) but I think this photograph takes the cake. I especially love the colours in this photograph, which came out naturally. No manipulation of the composition.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Ethical Dilemmas: to hope or not to hope

Writing this post has been on my mind for some time now (actually a long time). I am not sure why I haven't been able to get around to posting this considering that I wrote this text several months ago. Anyway, better late than never.

For the last two years, the postgraduates of the Researchers in Development PhD Network (RiDNet) at the Center for Global Development, Leeds University have been organizing an excellent conference on 'Conducting fieldwork in Developing contexts'. The 2012 conference was themed around 'Reflexive Approaches to Practical Issues' and the 2013 conference on 'Practical Experiences of Data Collection and Analysis'. As an output of the 2012 conference they put together this excellent 'Practical field notes' document together as a guide for researchers working in middle and low income contexts.

The 2013 conference was organised on 7th November and luckily I got an opportunity to present at it. I was a part of the session on Ethical issues in research with organisations. However, my presentation was focused more on rural communities and societies and the ethics of transparency with them. The presentation was titled 'To hope or not to hope' and this is what I discussed:

to hope or not to hope

Monday, 24 March 2014

30 years later: caste, power and electricity

A lone dibiya (kerosene lamp) and books awaits a child


The village Rangpur lies by a dam, between a national highway and the Ganges. It has a good mixture of people from all castes. Although, the ratio of forwards and backwards [1] is 50:50, the village proceedings are generally dominated by the forward castes.

This story is set in Dabangpur Chamartoli. Chamartoli is a tola (colony) inhibited by Chamars. Chamars by caste and by profession have historically been involved in skinning animals, tanning leather and making shoes and other footwear. However, now like every other caste, they have diversified and moved on. Most of them, like many other backward castes now work as daily wagers or agricultural workers. Although very few own any agricultural land, several now sustain their livelihoods on agriculture by farming the lands of landed castes on theeka (rental basis) or bataiya (share cropping). Very few actually deal with leather now. Since, chamars dealt with dead animals and leather, they were considered 'unclean' and 'untouchables'. If one visits a typical Bihari [2] village one would find separate colonies for different castes, with the dalit [3] colonies typically on the fringes or as satellite colonies outside the village boundary. Their 'unclean' status puts them on the fringes, geographically and socially. Although some mixing and acceptance has come their way, the chamartoli in various villages are still found on the fringes.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Book Review: Age of Entanglement: German and Indian Intellectuals across Empire by Kris Manjapara

In Age of Entanglement, Kris Manjapara sets out to explore patterns of connection linking German and Indian intellectuals from the nineteenth century to the years after the Second World War. The author attempts to trace the intersecting ideas and careers of a diverse collection of individuals from South Asia and Central Europe who shared ideas, formed networks, and studied one another’s worlds. This book is recommended to those studying world history, geopolitics, postcolonialism and development. Here's my review of the book on LSE Review of Books.