The Field Project is one of the three critical field practice components of MA Development programme which aims to enhance the research and analytical skills of students and their ability to engage with a social issue in-depth.
Students can design a development project of their interest in a rigorous and systematic way over a period of three months, between September and November. This is followed by eight weeks of fieldwork from November to January. They are guided throughout the process by faculty mentors.
One of the learning objectives of the Field project is to disseminate students’ work to a larger audience. To enable this, the Field Project fair is organised, where students display their work through academic poster presentations.
Based on the project topic, the work of more than 160 students was categorised under 20 different panels like agriculture, education and development, water and commons, land rights and identities, etc.
This year, for the first time, there was a dedicated panel featuring the lives and rights of people with disabilities. Though the Act upholding the Rights of people with disabilities is established in India, the projects by students bring to light how inadequate and often ill-thought the execution of the Act is.
Given below is a peek into some of the panels at the Field Project Fair 2023:
For a country like India that produces medical graduates in huge numbers, healthcare ironically seems to be a great matter of concern. A series of research displays brought into light the plight that lack of quality healthcare brings about in rural and urban areas.
Inaccessibility to healthcare, especially in villages, the socio-religious bias that healthcare practitioners follow, undermining the psychological impact that negligence might have, are some issues that the panel covered.
The victims of these issues are present across castes and genders, regardless of the rural-urban context. Family dynamics and education, needless to say, play an important role in determining medical healthcare status.
The majority of studies focused on how women in particular are victims of poor healthcare systems and lack of sensitisation in society. Ranging from denial of treatment on bigoted grounds to Muslim Women to unattended hypertension, women in India are going through severe wellness issues.
Although a lot of institutions and NGOs, along with Government initiatives, are working towards healthcare issues, the on-field eye-opening moments shared by the researchers give reason to believe that implementation and the just practice of these policies are yet to be achieved.
Gender and sexuality are very broad and abstruse terms that encompass some major conflicts in Indian society and reflect on the socio-political backwardness of some regions.
On humanitarian, egalitarian and cultural norms, the students, in this panel, disclosed the sense of injustice that gulfs around biological sex, gender studies, and perception of feminism in a larger Indian context. These themes also overlapped with healthcare issues as the living conditions of many of the victim participants are indigent and weak. Access to medical facilities and proper healthcare is beyond their reach.
The panel vastly covered a plethora of gender-centred issues, starting with the unheard voices of trans-men and the overall treatment of the transgender community in Kerala.
Taking the ideal menstruation environment as a theme, one of the projects looked at the attitude towards pain and sanitation from the lens of adolescent girls from underprivileged urban localities of Meerut. Caregiving is often only looked at through a woman’s perspective, but one of the projects also highlighted the role of fathers and the impact a father figure has on the socio-academic upbringing of children.
Another topic of interest was queer psychology. From learning about the ‘Dom Community’ in a comparative study format to sexual and reproductive practices in the tribal culture of the Bhils in Jhabua, Madhya Pradesh, this panel dealt with gender and sexuality in an all-around fashion.
The themes of this panel were closely associated with the Gender and Sexuality panel, however, the key highlights from all the presentations of this panel focussed on the relation of gender and livelihood — incorporating incomes, jobs, dignity, and stability.
Students studied how some occupations hamper the socio-economic lives of women. For example, one of them studied Archestra, an erotic Bhojpuri dance form, which sees several young women joining the troupe for income and livelihood in Bihar. Another one looked at one of the major occupations for women in Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district— the production of liquor out of naturally growing Mahua flowers.
The panel also provided glimpses into the situation of half-time labouring women, the bargaining power women hold in a household in Tangra Slum of Kolkata, and also the role of women entrepreneurs in the field of garbage collection in Pune city.
Observations in one project uncovered certain strategies employed by authorities to keep communities (in this case the transgender community) hidden. Questions regarding the treatment of women, not only in the sphere of work but also in their own households, was a recurring theme.
Another common observation was that of husbands migrating to different states for better employment opportunities, taking their wives along with them to perform reproductive labour while they worked during the day. These women often took up home-based jobs to occupy themselves while their husbands were away – often textile-based ones like pasting gems on kurtas, garment alterations, and in some cases, creating sequins and bindis.
An interesting observation from the study on home-based workers of Subhash Nagar was that the women would all sit on the thresholds of their houses in the evening, chatting as they worked, creating a sense of community for everyone. The study in the Zurrantee tea garden of Jalpaiguri uncovered the cycle of debt that women fell into while utilising the microfinance initiatives available by different self-help groups (SHG) set up for these purposes.
When one speaks of earning for the family or for oneself, it insinuates different implications for men and women. A general observation from this panel was that when women earn, it is not adequately appreciated and often is not associated with that sense of esteem.
In this panel, students presented their research on topics relating to issues like disaster relief in areas prone to natural disasters, the consequences of natural disasters on the daily lives of communities, possible remedies, and more.
The research sites included Chellanam (Kerala), Baghmara (Jharkhand), Nolia Nuagam (Odisha), Malana and Choj-Brahmaganga (Himachal Pradesh), and Chhattisgarh. For all the students, these field sites were either in or near their hometowns, and they were thus well acquainted with the problems faced by those communities.
A point that seemed to come up in most presentations was the lack of awareness of the citizens in the ways a disaster can be dealt with (responses), and of the schemes put in place by the government for supporting them in the aftermath of a disaster.
In a lot of cases, it was observed that the government aid, required in the critical 48 hours after a disaster struck, either arrived late or was inadequate. Cyclone shelters were poorly made, causing people to stay in their houses rather than evacuate to these shelters when the cyclone hit.
The panel on tribal communities featured studies from the states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Assam, Andhra Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh.
The presentation included a comparative analysis of women tribal Farmer Producer Companies (FPC) on the effectiveness of service delivery to its members, the role of public participation in the development of Gond tribes of Gadchiroli district, understanding Natural Resource Management (NRM) through indigenous knowledge systems, a case study of Gond Adivasi families in Madhya Pradesh, and the role of a crèche in the lives of tribal communities of Madhya Pradesh.
Indian cuisine comes with a lot of affluence and demands and has more impact on the social lives of people than one could imagine. Food is closely related to health and diet, which intertwines with a lot of social conflicts that other panels covered.
In India, apart from dietary concerns, ethical and religious issues, accessibility issues, and climate change play a crucial role in determining one’s regular diet. Since the country has a profusion of agricultural and animal-based varieties of foods, especially with a vast socio-economic regional difference, the sociology of food gets tricky and conflicting in various parts of the country.
The students who took interest in exploring the culinary patterns of the nation followed through stories such as consumption of beef in context with the Bhadralok politics, livestock grazing patterns, authentic recipes native to Uttar Pradesh and how they came into being, deteriorating crop varieties and its effects in Uttar Pradesh.
This panel was a riveting intersection of agro-environmental practices, socio-religious views on meat consumption, and a comment on how society has come to assign certain food to certain sets of people.
Students evaluated and traversed the conditions of people in urban landscapes and how governance plays a role in shaping communities.
Recent trends in local urban administration, upliftment of oppressed communities in urban areas, provision of facilities, the relation of municipal corporations with corporate stakeholders, and revenue collection were some prominent themes of this panel.
One of the students explored the urban localities of Patna, Bihar, and highlighted the severe inhumane conditions that manual scavengers have to go through – the inaccessibility of water, poor construction of sewer lines, misconduct and more.
Another student actively participated in an intervention-based project. He churned the wheels of a rusted local market system (Santhe, in Kannada) that upholds regional economic significance and ought to continue for local development.
Reviving local santhe has received a positive nod from the local panchayats and will work towards reinstating a local santhe of its own. It is an example of how on-field work and research can lead to social progress.
Disability rights is an issue that is often sidelined and considered unworthy when it comes to social change. This panel brought into the spotlight the difficulties and struggles of disabled individuals.
From how the individuals acquired the disabilities, and their day-to-day problems, to ways in which others can assist them – students had the opportunity to associate and engage with the lives of these individuals and present a close reflection on their studies.
The panel members spoke of visual impairments, the plight of individuals with an autistic disability, and locomotor disability. It aimed at highlighting the indifferent treatment that disabled individuals in the country go through.
This panel featured presentations that delved into topics like youth aspiration and higher education in economically backward regions, like the tea plantations on Kannan Devan Hills, Kerala, and Hospete, Karnataka.
A student visited the slum areas of Nagpur and Wardha, Maharashtra to research the role of a community library in a region where education for children was given less importance.
The topic of sexuality and the need for sexual education was brought up in two presentations, that highlighted the role of sexual education and its awareness in schools and universities, in preventing further crimes.
One of the observations was that often, victims of sexual harassment, physical or verbal, did not recognise their experiences as ones of sexual harassment, and the perpetrators were allowed to continue with their ways.
In this panel, themes of unity, solidarity, and protest were in play. Communities, throughout the country, stand together to secure justice against one common factor that unites them.
The projects of this panel closely studied what impact a united front can have on several issues and how it differs from fighting for our individual causes. It also looked at how ‘action’ can be taken on a mass level, through protests, strikes, non-violent agendas, legal procedures, and other means. It also shed light on the constructive effects that getting together as a community can have.
The panel displayed case studies and issues leading to union movements. Some students studied the Sadhana Forest Community, the unionisation of female domestic workers and its correlation to bargaining power, and understanding solidarity networks.
There were also case studies on the protests against Vadhvan port project, in Maharashtra; Pakri-Barwadih coal mines, in Jharkhand; and the Pombilai Orumai trade union case.
Sustainability was a recurring theme of utmost relevance in the sense that it offers solutions to a lot of modern-day techno-environmental conflicts and fallouts. At Azim Premji University, sustainable means of livelihood and practices are encouraged.
The projects from this panel reflected how a sustainable lifestyle can function in reality, the practical issues of implementing it, and how it works out financially.
This panel covered a range of issues such as waste management in Jalori Pass, Himachal Pradesh; the culture of Maldhari Community in Gujrat; the conflicts and issues around the Vishwamitri Riverfront Development Project (VRDP), Ahmedabad.
With themes like collectivisation of migrant workers, flows of remittances, childcare and health of these workers, the role of caste in their lives, chain migration, and issues faced by the families of migrant workers, the panel on migration delved into the intricacies of the lived reality of migration and labour.
The findings from one of the studies showed that migrant labourers from north India tend to settle in camps, and that it was thus easier for the labour officers to contact them.
However, workers migrating from the states in south India tend to move with their families and thus are more dispersed. The lack of awareness of the benefits available to them, along with the bureaucracy involved in availing these benefits, impacts their already difficult situations.
The MA Development students of Azim Premji University seized the opportunity to not only observe but also actively participate and engage in the broad socio-political challenges that our country faces.
Studying these issues in books and making notes is one way to go, but these students lived through each second of their experiences and held accountability for their spheres of interest. They meticulously seeped into the cores of their studies and reflected their insights cogently.
Adding to all the research and factual literature that they studied, the field experience also invokes a sense of empathy and responsibility in them.
Though most conflicting projects that the students covered require large-scale revamping and governmental revolution, these students came up with basic ways to proceed, ultimately for the creation of a better society.
This opportunity can shape their personalities with a sense of consciousness and resilience and open doorways to numerous career prospects.