The youth are a prized population, for they represent the much talked about demographic dividend and so countries are supposed to nurture and help them develop. However, most approaches are instrumentalist, and see young people as mediums for prosperity. Or as a problem that needs a solution - through jobs, skills, education and even through settling down.
But it skirts around the hard questions of young India’s identity. How do the youth see themselves in society? And what are their individual hopes and dreams? In contrast to childhood, the long coming of age years is less about protecting innocence, wonder and imagination and more about the hard knocks of figuring out a path. Stopping and starting, disillusionment, and loss are often part of that journey.
In this episode, we take a look at what it’s like to be young, and what it is to grow up. Because you never fully get over the loss of what you give up in your youth. The feeling of remorse, being haunted by what you didn’t do, couldn’t do. The choices you didn’t make and the paths you couldn’t take? What is the preventative of that disease? Being able to peacefully reconcile those choices and being able to accept yourself and those around your for the choices you made - that is what growing up is.
In development work, there are some spaces that need big ideas and radical new thinking, and there are others that require a different form of engagement - a slower, more steady, enabling presence. In these spaces, it’s about fixing something by actually just getting it to work - but that’s no small task.
Access to Justice is one of the harder spaces to fund and work in. From a development sector perspective, it seems ‘unfundable’, because it is hard to activate solutions for. The justice system might seem removed from our everyday lives, so what is our role in trying to make it better? In this episode, we take a look at two issues that mark its functioning: an apathetic system of legal aid and societal prejudice.
We have system of legal aid meant to help support the poorest and most disadvantaged in our country, but it is broken. And one of the consequences of this is a large number of undertrials but very few of them seem to be availing of legal aid to work their cases. It represents the scale of routine negligence and apathy. For every one case that is addressed properly through the legal aid system, there are probably a hundred, or even a thousand more that do not seem to get the assistance they need. In contrast, the worst cases of legal access being denied are the ones that we hear about often in the news because of the depravity of the crime, although they are a still a fraction of the crimes that should be reported. And many similar crimes may not even reach the legal system - because of societal prejudice.
The organisations we spoke to oil the gears to make the machine work better, and their work ranges from training lawyers to improve the quality of the service they provide, to working to make policy more responsive, to ensuring that there is monitoring and accountability built into the overall system.
And so, working with the justice system is about working with many structured pieces. It’s about improving legal awareness (the kind of education that makes us participate better) and educating every citizen about their fundamental rights. At ‘In the Field’, we think a lot about our privilege, and what it really means. How well, for example, do we know about our local government arms and agencies, and that we probably know even less about the police and the courts. In school, we learn about fundamental rights, and directive principles of state policy, in 10th standard civics we learn about writs and then memorize a bunch of latin words. But how well do we know what they mean and how they translate down to the daily workings of our institutions? This is something we within our power to change.
Here are two interesting reports that you may like to read: Tipping the Scales by Dasra and A Study of Pretrial detention in India by Amnesty International.
Do we know where our food comes from? Does it come from down the road, or from a continent away? And do we really care? It’s all the same to us. Agriculture, especially food production is a topic deeply rooted in development. It’s too important to not pay attention to but it’s hard to know where to begin understanding it.
And we know this because conversations about food can get uncomfortable sometimes, especially while there are farmer protests taking place, when we realise our cities are inundated with garbage and detritus, much of which comes from packaged food. And we're still fighting problems like malnutrition.
That said, India's food production story has been an accomplishment. India moved from battling famine and high import prices to achieving food self sufficiency in a matter of a few decades. Yet, we now recognise what the long terms effects of rampant water use and intensive cultivation has done to our land and we also know who it left behind or didn't reach. While we are disconnected from those who grow our food, their lives and the rural economy, today, we're at a cusp of change and the question is how quickly are we going to get on board? We have the ability to shape our food future, to pay attention to the systems that bring us our food and close the gap between farmers, producers and consumers.
And so to make sense of the questions like why do we grow what we grow and how we grow, and to understand what sustainable food production could look like in the future we decided to go local. In this episode we meet our local resident water expert, our local ag-policy wonk, our local journalist who writes about Karnataka’s countrysides, and our local organic shop owner.
A recent preoccupation within the development sector is the falling female workforce participation in India. More pronounced in rural India than in urban India, nevertheless a concern given that our country has made significant strides in education and economic growth as a whole.
The story of women and work in India is complex. It's connected to all of the big things: structural issues, patriarchy, and cultural values. In development, we're constantly trying to find ways to bring women into the economic sphere, as it is the most effective way to help empower. Yet, our approaches are often reined in by what we can design with limited evidence, by what we can measure, and by what we can sustain.
In Episode 7, we speak to an anthropologist, a lawyer, a development and human rights activist and campaigner, an economist and an archivist, and finally we meet an inspiring, independent, working woman and her son. We speak to all of them to understand what happens to aspirations, how women navigate life and opportunity, and how very few get to choose. And so this episode is about what we’re missing out in our attempts to make all women triumph
The Indian environmental movement has had a long and fascinating history. While young India’s charismatic leaders were instrumental in instituting laws to protect nature and wildlife, powerful social movements fought to bring to light the important connection between development, the environment, and vulnerable people. Environmental justice in the Indian context has arisen from these movements and we now have laws and regulation that are intended to protect people and compensate them for what they stand to lose.
Today we see environmental awareness growing in urban India. The middle classes have agency like never before - suddenly conscious of fragile urban landscapes, they are demanding and coming together for better solid waste management, to clean up roads anonymously and beautifying urban landscapes, launch huge beach cleaning initiatives, and taking to the streets to reject large flyovers. Society is starting to move in, fight for and take matters into its own hands.
On the flip side, the poor, vulnerable, and marginalised are also being impacted directly by the poor state of the environment. Justice, in the context of environmental issues is meant to be a leveller. And the extent to which Indian law has expanded these past 70 years, to address environmental justice is admirable. The purview of the law is vast and empowering, when harnessed and leveraged correctly.
In this episode of In the Field, we examine how urban environmentalism can dominate ideas of what kind of planet we want for ourselves, what kind of nature we want to protect, conserve, and how we are going about doing it? While we believe we're fighting a fight for the greater common good, how are we ignoring or forgetting the fight for environmental justice that is about the specific issues faced by the vulnerable? And how do we make a connection between the fight for the greater common good and the fight for justice?
In a thriving, vibrant, and diverse democracy like India, what does it mean to participate? We tend to see participation in a democracy as an act that happens every five years, but there are many spaces for a more continuous and enduring engagement. So, how do people participate, and what hinders effective participation? How do we level the playing field, so that everyone can participate in, engage with, and contribute to India’s democracy? In this episode, we take a look this essential aspect of development, that’s integral to almost every kind of intervention designed to affect social change.
We meet with people who are working hard to join the dots that make participation happen: by building political movements that enable citizens to have meaningful interactions with their elected officials; bringing the state one step closer to the people; empowering people to access what is rightfully theirs, like welfare benefits and subsidies; and creating data that empowers people to take control of decision-making in their own communities.
The challenges faced by the poor in India stem from inequalities that are social, economic, political, geographic and gendered in nature. True development is freedom - it creates equality, equity, and control over one’s life and choices. And being able to participate in the polity is an important form of freedom.
We also explore the other side of the coin - the relationship between the citizen and the state is almost like a dance, and in order for the state to function people need to be at the centre, building it, making it better, and engaging with it. But we also need an empathetic state, that moves, changes and reaches out. What we learned is that when the state does reach out, more often than not, people are ready to come forward.
Coincidentally, this episode releases a few days after Mahatma Gandhi’s death anniversary and so we take the opportunity to remind us of a few of his words.
In this mini-episode, we revisit some of the conversations we've had over the course of the year. Every episode gives us the chance to meet some of the most committed people in the field and we've truly learnt a lot. There are many very interesting conversations that don't make it to the final cut of the show, and here, we bring to you two of them.
We go back to our meeting with Dr Anura Kurpad, and he tells us about some of the challenges with the 'development' way of addressing complex issues like malnutrition. These are intergenerational problems that go far beyond the the time frames of typical development interventions. There are many windows of opportunity to tackle these problems, and we need collaborative solutions.
In Episode 4, we spoke to Dr Gayathri Vasudevan, who runs Labournet, an organisation that works on enabling better livelihoods for the informal sector. The informal sector, the labour economy are difficult spaces to work in. Organisations like Labournet are caught between trying to ensure a long term commitment towards building the livelihoods of the people they support, and working with donors, companies and agencies. In this episode, we ask Labournet about their 'wishlist'.
In the Field is working on new episodes during the holidays and will be back with a brand new episode in late January. Happy holidays everyone!
In this episode of In the Field, we take a closer look at the informal economy in India - the workers that hold up our cities. These are the millions of street vendors, drivers, dhobis, vegetable sellers, domestic workers, electricians, construction workers and wastepickers that are very much a part of the urban landscape, but also an integral part of our lives. Informal workers are usually self-employed, work from home or make their living from contractual work. This means their livelihoods are fundamentally insecure. While many informal workers hover above the poverty line, one major illness in the family, for instance, can push them below it, into a crippling cycle of debt or poverty.
Beyond learning about their struggles, we explore what really needs to happen to truly improve their lives - improve self esteem and skills, their chances of getting decent work, and lessen their vulnerability to economic shocks.
Across India, many civil society organisations and NGOs have been set up to support the informal sector, to give these workers a leg up, or help them organise and fight for their rights.
One significant example of an informal worker group that we learn about are the wastepickers, the men and women who play an essential role in managing city waste, but are still amongst the poorest and most disadvantaged. Most wastepickers have a deep knowledge of recyclable waste and perform a critical environmental service. Indian cities are bursting at the seams, with people and their waste, but some cities are finally integrating wastepickers into municipal solid waste management services.
What more can be done to make the lives of informal workers secure? The state, the private sector, civil society and philanthropy can all play a role in moving the needle.
The word “development” implies progress - a forward, positive progression of processes, standards of living, and human behaviours. The crux of most development work is to affect change in some form, for the better, for those less fortunate. In this episode of In the Field, we attempt to look at change and what it means in the context of development work in India.
In this episode, we talk to a range of people working on change in different ways and in different fields - a communicator, a researcher, an activist, and a singer. Each brings their unique perspective to the idea of change, particularly as it applies to human behaviour, action and culture. Through our conversations with them we find out how to change behaviours in individuals, how cultural change occurs in large scale interventions, how to raise the voices of the marginalised, and how to democratise artistic and cultural spaces.
Do you remember the first time you were out in nature? Or the first time you saw a wild animal? Do you remember how it made you feel?
Among the many things we have to be proud of, India’s rich heritage of biodiversity and fascinating history of conservation stand out. During the British rule, conservation was focused on specific species and geographic areas, and for a long time was based on the idea that protecting nature meant keeping humans out or away from it. The foundations for modern day conservation were established in post-independence India, with the passing of the Wildlife Act in 1972, and subsequently the formation of a national Wildlife Board. As a country, we’ve also been witness to some of the most powerful environmental movements that have fought to assert the deep and inextricable connection between human beings and nature.
But how does nature fit into our everyday lives today? As the monsoon gets more erratic, as temperatures become more extreme, as our growing urban jungles redefine our natural environment, and as we, especially in cities, become increasingly ensconced in our individual lives, this episode reminds us that we should sometimes, just put away our phones and go out to experience nature. It’s a story about how an encounter with a wild creature, can transform us as individuals, and bring us closer to our natural environment, and even possibly inspire a career.
In this episode, we take a look at a unique, citizen focused, conservation movement that's brought people and turtles together for over thirty years. The Student Sea Turtle Conservation Movement (SSTCN) is a voluntary group of mostly students and we hear from Arun, one of its coordinators. We also chat with Kartik Shanker and Madhuri Ramesh from Dakshin Foundation, and learn how the SSTCN has been inspirational to many in conservation, introducing young people to mentors and nurturing early experiences with wildlife.
And we speak to the indefatigable Dinesh Goswami, a construction labourer turned whaleshark conservationist, whose story is a testimony to the fact that anyone - just about anyone - can be a conservationist, with just the right amount of passion and hard work. Below is a transcript of Dineshji’s interview, which is in Hindi:
There was a small Ambuja Cement plant in Mundhwar, where I used to work as a daily wage earner for Rs. 20 at that time. I used to leave home with lunch in the morning... my work was to lay the big cables, etc. etc., and between 12 noon and 2 pm, which was lunch break, people would sleep. But I wouldn’t get sleep, so I used to walk along the sea coast.
There was a time when people called me mad... That this man is taking on the fishermen who kill one shark and earn lakhs... He will surely get beaten up. But at some point they realised that I was doing good work and my family was so happy with me.
When such a small spark resulted in such a bright flame, [as in my case] - my message to all children is that it doesn’t matter if one is educated or not. If you work hard on anything, with honesty, then one day you will get a big platform.
Thanks to Kartik Shanker, Madhuri Ramesh, Dinesh Goswami and V. Arun.
Photos: All photos by SSTCN except the turtle photos, which are by Adhith Swaminathan.
Sounds/Music: Apple Loop; Ghatam sample from "Haseen Zindagi" by Indi Graffiti.
Theme Music by Hollis Coats. Recorded at Third Eye Recording Studio, Bangalore.
In India, the high rate of stunting amongst children is alarming. With no easy policy solutions, a glut of expert views, and a collective anxiety about its high occurrence, we tried to wrap our heads around the problem to find out what we ought to be doing.
Measured as a low height for age, stunting is known to hinder the growth of human capital and one’s early life circumstances are important determinants of future economic productivity and health. There are many factors that affect stunting: the health and age of the mother and child, the ease of pregnancy, the environmental risks we’re exposed to and the nutritional levels of the family.
You may have heard of the Asian enigma - low levels of child health and nutrition that don’t match the high levels of economic growth of the country. South Asia is a hotspot for stunting. In India, around 39% of children are stunted, in Pakistan it is around 45%, 37% in Nepal and 36% in Bangladesh. One in three of the world’s stunted children under the age of five live in India.
In this episode, we visit an anganwadi and speak to Dr Nirupama Shivshankar, a paediatrician who has set up a lab to understand how diet, culture and food affect women and children. As Suneetha Sapur a leading development nutritionist explains just how hard it is to make choices about diets and food, especially if you are a woman.
But it isn’t all doom and gloom, as Dr Anura Kurpad, a doctor working at the forefront of nutritional research in India, tells us. If children miss out on the first few growth spurts, they still have every right to catch up, as long as we know how and when to deliver the best nutritional support.
The one group that knows us better than ourselves, and sits on extensive data on food and nutrition, is the private sector. Rinka Banerjee from Thinking Forks, a consultancy that works with leading FMCGs on nutrition, tells us about the private sector’s role in shaping what we eat, and what they can and should do promote good nutrition.
So where do we fit in? In the end, all our experts pointed out that by making choices that are ultimately better for ourselves we can all help to address the causes of stunting.
NOTE: This episode was written and produced in March 2017.
Thanks to Dr Anura Kurpad, Rinka Banerjee, Dr Suneetha Sapur, Dr Nirupama Shivkumar and the wonderful team at the Anganwadi we visited.
Adithya Pradyumna, Avinash Krishnamurthy, Bhavya Reddy, Co-Media Lab, Gautam John, Karnataka Health Promotion Trust, Karthik Varma, Dr Kripa Ananth Pur, Oliver Cumming, Oorvani Foundation, Siri Bulusu, Dr Vijayendra Rao.
Music by Hollis Coats. Recorded at Third Eye Studio.
Photos: All photos by In the Field India.
For more info: https://www.inthefieldindia.org/episode-1
India has a large, vibrant community of development professionals working to improve the lives of its citizens. They are bureaucrats, philanthropists, activists, companies, academia, students, religious leaders, journalists, your neighbourhood do gooder... the list goes on. Despite our many problems, there has never been as much interest or as many players invested in India’s ‘development’ project as there are today. And every day seems to bring a new idea to the table.
We, the hosts, have been ‘In the Field’ throughout our careers. While ‘the field’ is a term most commonly associated with the site of social work, it’s also the field of our work, the domain of social work. We know that some of the best ideas, projects and initiatives in the development sector are shared in closed rooms - through conversations that are not public and happen within small circles of practitioners, experts, and communities working their way through a problem. We want to bring these stories out into the light.
‘In the Field’ takes listeners through different approaches to making a difference, showing how even the most complex development problems can be taken out of expert and practitioner spaces, to become part of a wider set of actions that implicate us all.