In the course of curating opinion and experiences pieces for our edition, we sought a seasoned researcher who could shed light on what is pegged “the research mindset” , a first-person account of the journey through research, the preparation, trials and tribulations, and perseverance as one attempt to solve the unsolved. Who better than a veteran researcher, academic and practitioner to take us through this journey of inquisitiveness and enquiry, which is interesting but also tough and demanding. Prof Swarnamalya Ganesh takes us through a journey through her words, from the persistent questions as a young practitioner to the early years as an academic researcher that led her to her calling- the Early Modern South Indian Nayaka era. As Prof Ganesh poignantly narrates, the need to retain the child-like joy in the “spirit of enquiry” each time one steps into the field, understanding that “I know not fully, yet” all through the milestones, and how the true hallmark awaits not just in the great courage exhibited during research but in the patience that emerges when the courage subsides.
Often research is laid down as an obvious path forward in many academic disciplines. But having learnt an art form such as dance from the age of three under hereditary Gurus, my love and devotion was always to my traditions of practice. But slowly, my friends and even my Gurus noticed the stray but persistent questions I began asking; sometimes to them but often to myself. If we look around us, everyone is curious and is always asking questions. The “do you know-s” fill the days and hours of our lives and various media including social media, feed into such human curiosity and the need to consume social knowledge about people, our environment, society, science, and meta things as well. But when one recognizes the first signs of their questioning mindset as a characteristic that is there to stay beyond curiosity, that is when they do something more than to reach for the daily newspaper or google- research.
Academia will prepare an endless questioning mind with the apparatus needed for a permanent future it seeks with research. Firstly, reading every work ever published on one’s subject of interest, whether it be useful or turns out to be useless tinsel, may seem like an exercise in drudgery which ultimately winds up turning the feverish mind into a pitch ready to absorb. Then somewhere in the early years of research, one begins to ask less questions and starts looking at the complex intersections of circumstance, context, society and history that define each fact held by other predecessors or in dominant narratives thus far.
I personally realised that I had met my calling in the Early Modern South Indian Nayaka era when everything I read, every question I asked, every solution I sought led me back to Tanjavur, Madurai and Gingee Nayaka world. That is where I began my journey.
The most key factor in research is to find a great guide. In my case though, my guide turned out to be less instructional and more of an intrusion. This meant that I got to actively seek mentors from across disciplines, each one of them an expert in their area, be it history, archeology, epigraphy, language, musicology. What a blessing that turned out to be for me! One of the reasons I chose to join Krea was because my research strongly interweaves multiple disciplines and perspectives. This reflects strongly in my practice too. In these years, even as I write, speak and perform my research, the one dictum that I set out with, which is “I know not fully, yet” gets more and more confirmed.
Research is great, not researchers. So, one of the best lessons I learnt from some of my mentors is to allow my findings to be pliable to change brought on by perspectives and new facts that emerge from all quarters. To retain the child-like joy in the “spirit of enquiry” each time we step into the field. Research also requires tremendous patience and diligence. I recall as the year 2009 was coming to a close, I had reconstructed a dance repertoire called Mukhacali. I was pleased with the outcome and therefore moved on to other repertoires. But in 2011 when I revisited Mukhacali, in light of new facts and with a body that by then had experienced other forms such as Perani, Jakkini etc which I had reconstructed, I decided to dismantle the whole of the earlier version, only to restart. The result was not one but three more reconstructions of Mukhacali each from the 10th, 12th, 14th centuries before arriving at the 17th century version. Both as performers and researchers we unashamedly ply our trade, but the eternal scapegoats for such exercises for me, are my good-natured students who patiently watched me undo and redo my own findings over many years until I was satisfied.
The true litmus test comes though, in the form of dejected friends and family who give up any hopes of making plans for an outing with us. The total and absolute control that one gives the subject of our research to have over us, ensures that we become immersive participants of the era into which we wish to dive. So shopping, movies and outing become a thing of the past and luxuries afforded only by those who float on the surface.
Writing one’s research, speaking about it, in my case also performing my research are integral parts of the journey and I enjoy doing all of it, however I thirst to share my work with other researchers and always grab any slight opportunity, even to be in the midst of others who are in the pursuit of their feverish minds. Sharing, listening to each one’s experiences and perspectives keeps us spirited through what can otherwise be a lonely journey in research. To me the Fulbright Fellowship that I received soon after I finished my doctoral research provided this fraternity. Great courage is exhibited during academic research days by scholars, especially towards a doctoral degree. But the true hallmark waits to be seen, when the courage subsides, and when patience emerges. The patience to be with the subject, to ebb and flow with its course and to continue to love it for its yet unsolved mysteries.
Prof Swarnamalya Ganesh is an Assistant Professor of Practice, Literature and Arts, Global Arts at Krea University. A veteran performer with over 35 years of experience, Prof Ganesh is a scholar of dance history and a trained academician in art practice and sociology
5 Students at Krea share their stories as budding researchers
In a world that’s evolving faster than ever before, the most critical of questions are novel and unscripted. Knowledge driven growth that’s fuelled by innovation is the need of the hour.
Students at Krea are on a quest for knowledge, some of them having trod onto the path of research much prior to stepping into the world of Krea. They are curious investigators with research interests across the social, political, scientific, and technical spectrum. Questioning the status quo, attempting to solve the unanswered, challenging their own selves, advancing knowledge, each of them are reshaping the norm.
Hear their stories in their own words.
Prashanthi SubbiahfromSIAS Cohort of 2023
I think my interest in research began as a quest to understand certain aspects, be it an event or a fact that is widely accepted. I have always been someone who asks questions. To bring up an example related to the subjects I have taken up in university, if a major political event took place, I would always ask why was it such a big deal; sometimes I wouldn’t fully understand what news channels were making a fuss about. More often than not, I would ask my parents, and they always encouraged me to seek out answers for myself. After a while, it became a habit for me to do a quick Google search after I find out about something new.
R for Research
Most of my research experience has been at Krea. I was part of a group of researchers in summer 2021, under Prof Sumitra Ranganathan and Prof Naina Majrekar to track slave trade along the Coromandel Coast (with specific focus on Pulicat Lake) by the Dutch East India Company. We made data visualisations and compiled literature on the same. My second research internship at Krea was with the Sharma Centre for Heritage Education, under Prof Shanti Pappu, Dr Kumar Akhilesh, and Dr Prachi Joshi. All 3 of them taught us step-by-step about stone tools found at a Paleolithic site, 70 kms from Chennai. We began with the most basic concepts, such as differentiating between a stone tool and naturally-occurring stones and then delved into how these tools were excavated, preserved and different techniques used to analyse them to obtain more information such as a tool’s use. Using this knowledge, we created an educational video on these topics, which was aimed specifically for school children.
I have done in-depth research essays and papers for my coursework, and for a book I wrote on 20th Century History. This book initially started as a compilation of notes to help myself study, as I wasn’t satisfied with how I was performing in class. I did research, both virtual and physical which greatly improved my understanding of the material. Eventually I published it to help other students and teachers out there in 2020-21.
One chapter at a time
There is a unique feeling that sticks with me every time I step into a research project. At the very beginning, the task I am looking at always seems enormous. I feel like I have a lot to learn and process each time I begin a new project, and that need to understand motivates me to get organised and start putting my thoughts together little-by-little until I’m able to come up with something substantial. This process is a journey of its own, which gets me into the groove of working on a research project.
An evolving worldview
A major takeaway for me has been to always have my mind open, and be ready for new information. Especially in a time dominated by technology, where information is more accessible than ever, it can become overwhelming at times. So, the importance of being ready to assimilate as much as you can, as well as obtaining the important facts from much of the noise has become paramount to how I look at everyday aspects.
I am considering a career in research and I believe for any career path, subject knowledge is a requirement, and obtaining it would require some degree of research. These experiences have also been humbling learning experiences, as I have always stepped in with very little knowledge, which goes to show how important having an open mind is. I have also had to be very persistent and have fine eye for detail as well, which have definitely shaped me as a person.
Vishesh AgarwalfromSIAS Cohort of 2023
The Starting Point
It all started when I read a lot of history and political science during the pandemic and got to know about the illustrious and rather unknown beauties of Calcutta, the Beth-El Synagogue and the Meghan David Synagogue. I got to know how events transpired and these pieces of excellence were left to rot. Surprisingly these synagogues did not have a rabbi and both of them are rather significant for the Jews around the world, especially our subcontinent. That’s how I had my first research experience.
A gateway to experiences
All my work may not be pure research but I enjoy interviewing people and learning from their lives over the years. For example, I have always been fond of Cholas and their art and I got the opportunity to visit their museum of collected works of Chola artists over the last few decades and spent time with a couple of Chola painters and an academic there, understanding them better. At Krea, I have done more structured projects like with IC3 movement where we conducted a survey of counselors and tried to provide for an analysis and with the help of Bhakti Shah, Krea’s Director of Outreach, I led a project where other collaborating universities were solely represented by professors, while we were represented by our students. Prof Chirag Dhara and I share the same interests in the current radical changes in Chile which we researched and discussed at great length about with other students bringing in ideas from their area of interest. Even though it was my first year at Krea, I got a research opportunity with Equity in Higher Education where I helped them to create a university database for students from the Bahujan community so that they get benefited with better education alongside an inclusive peer group. Lastly, the experience with Professor Kalpita Bhar Paul was greatly inspired by the IPCC report that stated many metropolitan cities of India might not exist in near future, including Kolkata, my home town. I wanted to know more about the subject and my mentor was truly helpful in this regard.
In research, even when you are working with hard data and raw facts, the stories behind those facts make you more sensitive to the fact instead of disbanding it as a statistic. This not only helped me with being more sensitive and empathetic but also made me feel inspired by their struggles.
The lessons learnt
I am not too sure about my career options as of now but I see being a researcher as one of the top options for sure. These experiences have definitely equipped me with a lot of tools that will come in handy no matter what. What it has helped me most with is the comfort of saying ‘I don’t know’ because as a researcher you can disprove something but cannot always come up with an alternative and then accepting that you don’t know helps in life too because we are always trying to prove ourselves as someone who knows everything.
New perspectives, varied lenses
Research gives you an opportunity to evolve as a scholar but at Krea every day I see things with new perspectives from different lenses. Even though you might not be aligned to that, it’s important to know the other side and that sensitivity and patience is a gift of research.
Agnij PurushothamanfromSIAS Cohort of 2023
The Research and the researcher
Research, to me, is a symbiotic relationship between the researched and the ‘researched’. Sure, the researcher gives life to information, but I feel what makes me enjoy research so much is not the result of novelty, but the process. I tend to work with my information and data as a counterpart, not something under or above me that fosters my interest. My first experience with research was in high school, and I clearly remember trying my best to not be overwhelmed by the scale of the research processes. It was very basic research and data collection and interpretation with regard to stock markets, but I remember coming out of that project a little more stoked to search for more.
The research journey
My first proper research opportunity was over this summer break at Krea. I worked with my peers alongside Prof Soumyajit Bhar on a project that intended to understand notions of the good life and its connection to the climate crisis, consumption patterns and popular sustainability discourse. In particular, a small group including me looked at religion (or the absence of it) and its connection to the good life. It was loaded, and a deeply personal topic I am very passionate about. I can confidently say that it was more than just a means to an end sort of project, it was more of something to work with continually in the future, considering the relevancy and nature of the subject. I look forward to working deeper on the same. Outside Krea, I keep myself engaged with topics I am deeply interested in, some of them include temple history, classical music, astronomy, animal conservation and earth science, among others.
Chapters in revelations
One of the biggest emotional and existential setbacks I have had was during my summer internship at Krea itself. Intricacies of the climate crisis and its implications on the human psyche are immense, and there are already terms like climate anxiety that are floating around. During that time, I encountered overwhelming evidence of the extremely unfortunate trajectory of the global economy and mainly, its implications on the global South. That 1% of the elite that skims off of most of the wealth of the world nagged me, continuously. But I also realised that, even though it may sound cynical and pessimistic, the only way to move forward in research is to sometimes digest it as the bitter reality, and use that as motivation to find something alternate that can propel your mind out of that rut. To me, that was turning away from economic solutions and looking at political and environmental solutions for the inequitable economy. That helped me steer around the wealth inequality crisis, and look for light down that dark tunnel.
Gearing up for the research trail
I can’t affirm it yet but I am definitely considering a career in research. A professor at Krea once explained the scope of research to me in the form of a pie. What is already out there constitutes about 90% of the information that is used and interpreted. Novel research topics, however, constitute just about 10% of the pie. In that 10%, individuals trying to decode and find something novel, are mere specks. My personality has definitely changed through these experiences, and I consider making peace with the fact that novel and meaningful research comes from a deeply focused and determined headspace and methodology is the first step toward gearing up for a career path in research, and that’s something I intend to primarily work on.
Accumulating knowledge, amplifying learnings
There is no point in research if you don’t come out of it with little to lots of changes in your perceptions of the subject matter. Instead of evolving, I’d rather say that I increment what I find meaningful from my research to my personality. It’s more of a cumulative journey of the self through research than a metamorphic one that is more like evolving to me, personally. These research experience mainly add to the knowledge that I already have, reinforcing it, correcting it, and updating it constantly.
Naveen Prasad AlexfromSIAS Cohort of 2022
Turning passion into pathway
There was no ground zero for me, because ecology or wildlife butterflies have been a passion for me since my childhood and it was just about taking my passion to the next level, getting it more systematic and scientific.
It’s all about the butterflies
In Krea most of my research experiences were under the mentorship of Prof Shivani Jadeja, the studies on butterfly lifecycles and migration. The study on migration being covered under research internship and research assistance stints and two short communication papers have been published related to the migration study we did.
My capstone thesis revolved around butterfly migrations too. One of the remarkable butterfly migrations in India is The Danainae butterfly migration through southern India. Even though some studies have been based on limited data and opportunistic observations, this phenomenon remains largely understudied. My thesis utilised citizen science data on the occurrence of Tirumala limniace, Tirumala septentrionis Euploea core to find out seasonal changes in the occurrence of these butterflies, indicating potential migratory patterns. This study helps to better understand migratory patterns for Danainae butterfly migration through southern India.
Research comes with its own set of unique experiences, for me one of them was around my capstone thesis. I was planning to work on a topic which involved quite some lab work, it was on how temperature variations affect the feeding patterns of butterfly larvae during the metamorphosis. But thanks to COVID, access was limited and I had to think on my feet to work on something that I could still do within the limitations of the world shutting down. I had to change the topic to ‘Tracking butterfly migration in India using historic and citizen science data’ and even though it is challenging, the study results have been very interesting, with a potential of getting published.
Penning new chapters
I plan to pursue a career in research and academics and I am at the moment undertaking a Masters at University of Helsinki in ecology and evolution. Having professional research experience, especially at Krea, gave me more clarity on what I should do, and essentially helped identify my specific interests within ecology itself.
Meghana Mantha fromSIAS Cohort of 2024
Where it all began
I have been into active research for the past 5 years. It all started with reading and observing my surroundings and the curiosity to know more about topics that interested me. Some of the topics that interest me but are slightly odd are Colleges & Admissions, Career Services, Countries, and Cultures, and I haven’t really explored Academic Research or worked in proper research setting at a university. This interest led me to take up a Research Project under Professor Soumyajit Bhar on the topic of Consumer Behaviour, Choices, and Patterns under factors like Social, Individual, and Cultural. This project was interesting and dealt with the topic of Sustainable Fashion and it was very new to me. Hence, exploring the topic and getting involved in the process was quite fascinating and insightful.
In pursuit of a passion
I started my Journey as a Researcher and Writer at a few American Student-led organisations and then progressed towards my passion which is College Admissions and Career Services. Over time, I researched more about colleges, what makes a good profile to get into a top college? How can one find opportunities as a student? And many more questions like that, I’ve also mentored many students in the past five years in getting into their top college choices or paid internships. In this process, I fell in love with Outreach and Communications. I enjoyed networking with people, building connections, and helping Teen Entrepreneurs.
In the pursuit of improving my skills in the field of Research in the domain of Education concentrating on Admissions and Career Services, I started working with a Harvard Master’s Student. My Research focuses on Top Colleges for Undergrad in India and Abroad specifically focusing on the USA, Domestic and International Competitor Analysis, Student Profiling, and Blogging. I love my work on these and I am looking forward to pursuing my passion and research interests further.
When I started off with my journey in research at the age of 14, I was in a mindset that every research project that we take up regardless of the domain is the same but eventually, after working on Academic related research projects where I had to work with a team, go through the process from the start, conduct interviews, transcriptions, analysing the info we had, was very different compared to the work that I am involved in now, which mostly is best done alone, the research, the questions we ask and, the people we interact with are completely different. This distinction gave me an understanding of how research works in different fields.
Exploring and discovering
I am interested in pursuing a career path in research but I am still exploring and figuring out if I should pursue research as an academician or work towards my passion (Research, Outreach, and Communications) in College Counselling, Admissions and Career Services. Working with many experts in different fields has given me interesting perspectives and experiences and to an extent shaped my personality positively. At the moment, I am happy that I am exploring and working with people with similar interests and where I am at, excited to see where this goes and what the future holds for me.
Every once in a while, academics alter the course of history with research-led knowledge that holds the power to re-imagine the world we live in. The paradigms that shape our views of the world we inhabit, theories that force us to question the status quo and evidence that aid our understanding of the complexities that we are surrounded by. We reached out to the faculty members, Research Centres and students within Krea to share relevant work and insights on their work around Sustainability.
In response, we have been swept off our feet as we collated the literature, all of them speaking to the urgent and critical challenges of an interconnected society and many of which could pave the way for a bigger, brighter and healthier global future.
Herein, presenting research studies, projects and articles packed with insights which look at the world through the Sustainability lens.
Prof Soumyajit Bhar & Prof Chirag Dhara
In a joint study, Prof Chirag Dhara and Prof Soumyajit Bhar are working on a series of papers to understand ‘How can higher levels of development be achieved for the rest of the world while maintaining climate and ecological integrity?’ and ‘Which are the aspirational models of development that can be sustainably scaled to the global population?’
The study is presently under peer review and analyses various sustainability indicators of different countries across the world to identify those countries which manages to offer decent human wellbeing to its people without breaching diverses sustainability thresholds. Findings reveal that countries like Norway and Sweden, who are often lauded for achieving phenomenal wellbeing indicators such as zero poverty levels, and high quality of health, education, gender equity, and so on have in the process of development been very energy and resource intensive causing heavy environmental damage.
This has led to high carbon emissions and extreme usage of resources. This brings the point of contention that ensuring good living conditions is important but not at a level that it becomes completely unsustainable. And hence the attempt to answer the question- are there countries that have achieved equity, poverty mitigation, literacy, health, and more while also being sustainable? The study uses a mathematical framework to analyse data and the results threw up names that are rarely made into conversations about Sustainability such as Costa Rica, Panama, Tunisia, Ecuador and even Algeria. These results also bring to the fore the argument that while the danger to sustainability is often conflated with action on climate change, it is a much larger concept than one centred around climate change and carbon emissions. Sustainability clearly involves energy and resource usage and environmental impact; but it also navigates the intricacies of social and economic structures. The study also showcases that even when we adopt alternative developmental trajectories we may optimise or reduce carbon emission but we would still be as distant from a sustainable world in its all-encompassing sense.
Prof Bharath Sundaram
Prof Bharath Sundaram recently co-authored an article with Ovee Thorat and Vadivel Chinnadurai for the Economic and Political Weekly, namely ‘Life in a Special Economic Zone Navigating the Transition– Transformation–Aspiration Continuum’. The insights shared navigate the narrative of Social Economic Zones (SEZ) being considered as vehicles for social and economic development. It explores how divergent social and economic outcomes were created for respondents living in and navigating through a transition– transformation–aspiration continuum and the SEZ creation legitimising precarity by engendering casual, insecure, and unprotected labour relationships.
The article describes how resident communities of an SEZ in Sri City, Andhra Pradesh, experienced a series of livelihood transformations that were mediated strongly by capabilities and aspirations. The article suggests that SEZ performance be evaluated by metrics that incorporate an explicit focus on the enhancement of capabilities through understanding the process by which transitions, transformations and aspirations occur in communities living in this SEZ.
Conducted across three villages of Chengambakkam, Thondur, and Thondur Society, chosen for being representative of a diverse set of social structures, livelihood types, and village sizes in Sri City and through detailed interviews with 43 people belonging to 35 households, the study argues that transitions in land use, accompanied by transformations in livelihoods engender vastly differential—and constrained—aspirations. The resulting continuum is one where there is a wide variation in the way individuals perceive, experience, and participate in SEZs. It explores the congruence and incongruence of aspirations within individual households using past and current economic conditions, flux in livelihood status, gender, caste, and dignity as analytical placeholders.
Prof Sathyanarayanan Ramachandran
A case study in the context of sustainability and deeply focused on sustainable fashion took Prof Sathyanarayanan Ramachandran to Nurpu, nestled in the quaint town Chennimalai, near Erode Erode. Prof Ramachandran documented this work as a teaching case study Nurpu: A Dream towards a Sustainable Handloom Weaving Society and it is published by Routledge Taylor & Francis Group as a part of the book “Social and Sustainability Marketing.
As Mahatma Gandhi wrote in his Letter dated July 3, 1917 to V S Srinivasa Sastri, “The handloom weaving industry is on the brink of death and yet everyone admits that irrespective of the future of the mill industry, handlooms ought not be allowed to perish.” To this means, this case study is a harbinger of hope in the direction of handloom revival.
Nurpu means weaving in Tamil. The case deals with the business decision-making situation of Sivagurunathan from the town of Erode in Tamil Nadu, who got inspired by the sustainability and handloom revival dreams of Mahatma Gandhi and Gandhian Economist J C Kumarappa. Hailing from a family which was traditionally involved in handloom weaving, Sivagurunathan studied engineering in college and shifted to a job in the information technology industry, like many of his counterparts from the weaving community. At some point, he realised his mission of reviving the handloom units in his hometown, quit his regular job and took a plunge to start Nurpu Handlooms, with a dream to create a sustainable, cooperative society in the long run.
For a Global reader in the context of sustainable fashion, the case incorporates scope for analysis with frameworks like RESTART [Redesign, Experimentation, Service logic, The circular, Alliances, Results, Three-dimensionality] and Flourishing Business Canvas (FBC).
Prof Chirag is involved in various projects that circle around and raise critical queries on the subject of climate change. One of them involves the study of Indian rainfall, how the rainfall will change in the future and how if we could learn to adapt to a world with these evolved extreme patterns oscillating from droughts to floods. The study deep dives into how Indian rainfall may change in the next 20 years in response to global warming, and air pollution which plays a major role in the drastic change of patterns.
Prof Chirag has also co-authored an article with Vandana Singh, namely ‘The Delusion of Infinite Economic Growth’ on how even ‘sustainable’ technology such as electric vehicles and wind turbines faces physical limits and exact environmental costs. It discusses how electric vehicles are often seen as panacea to many sustainability problems and what’s sometimes lost in the conversation is that they come with their own environmental impact issues. While alternating a massive number of fossil fuel powered vehicles with electric vehicles run by clean solar energy will reduce emission, they will still be utilising the problematic infrastructure that pre-exists. Roads and rail lines will still run through wildlife habitats and fragile terrains and the heavy machinery used for building the infrastructure will run the risk of landslides, avalanches in regions of snow, soil loss and immediate habitat destruction-one of the major reasons for the decline of pollinators, a very important component in our food chain.
Hence, keeping existing infrastructure may mitigate certain problems but will not be a solution-based approach when it comes to the larger questions around the notion of development. Not just these, each of these vehicles weigh thousands of kilograms and use an equivalent amount of raw materials such as rare earth metal, glass, plastic and so much more, which in most cases is procured through invasive and environmentally damaging mining. And to close the loop, when these vehicles reach the end of their life cycle and are disposed , the recycling techniques themselves are some that end up harming the environment, from using chemicals and heat for varied components, detrimental to water and soil. The article further raises the urgent question- how do we transition to alternative economic paradigms founded on the reconciliation of equitable human well-being with ecological integrity?
The ‘universal collective’ as understood by environmental studies on the Anthropocene, has primarily been viewed through a western lens, its meaning rarely explored outside the Euro-American Zone. Prof Annu Jalais navigates this narrative to offer a re-imagining of the ‘universal’ by using local traditions of intellection focusing on ‘collectives’ formed in both the distant as well as the recent past in the Indian Ocean region. To this effect, she recently wrote a piece titled ‘Historicizing Indic collectives’ ‘solidarities’ in the age of the Anthropocene’. In it, she argues that focusing on the relationship humans share with nonhumans leads us to probe the relationships humans share with other humans. This, she argues, can inspire us to explore the various movements for social justice and how they challenge the hierarchies that define the Indic sphere, as well as present shared hope for the kindling of a more egalitarian ‘collective’.
In order to form this collective and in an attempt to address the societal and environmental problems of the Indian Ocean region through it, Annu Jalais, Aarthi Sridhar, Rapti Siriwardane-de Zoysa and Alin Kadfak formed and designed the Southern Collective — a ‘transregional collaboratory’ comprising of practitioners and researchers from diverse disciplines, academic hierarchies, and field experiences. Born during the Covid-19 pandemic, this collective tried to create more comprehensive, nuanced and collaborative narratives on maritime knowledge in the vastly culturally connected, but also digitally disconnected, expanse of the Indian Ocean. With an aim to be inclusive and democratic, the Southern Collective is based on and inspired by the solidarity seen in communities that reside in some of the most difficult climatic and political regions of the world.
Apart from the web-based portal that facilitates grassroot public engagement and democratises knowledge generation, the Collective has been involved in designing many more associated sites to the core projects such as building remote collaborations, creating online repositories to document stories co-authored by researchers and coastal migrant communities, conducting workshops on storytelling techniques and field work ethics, creating an online Sea Lexicon to encourage researchers and coastal communities across the regions, developing ICT to democratize knowledge, liaising with artists and students in making sense of nonhumans across Asian cultures. The Collective was funded by a planning grant from the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) awarded in the year 2020, is supported by the core team, and is based at the Dakshin Foundation. In Prof Jalais’ words, “I see that there is some hope, however small, in connecting and organising ourselves into collectives so that the stories of those who have been marginalised in and from the capitalist project and the rot it has brought to our world, can find a space where they will thrive and perhaps bring all of us to imagine more sustainable futures in harmony with nonhumans.”
The 21st century poses some serious challenges at the intersection of environment, economy, society, and human wellbeing. On the one hand, we are faced with new limits like the planetary boundary that do not seem to be managed through technocratic solutions. On the other hand, a large section of the population does not have access to the necessary material basis for living a decent full-filled life that enables them to realize their human potential. So, we need to decide on a safe operating consumption corridor that can help us move towards a sustainable and just future for all. However, it is not only a question of environmental sustainability or justice. We know that material opulence often fails to translate into similar human wellbeing levels, and socio-economically privileged sections are not fully satisfied with their lives and face a sense of deep meaninglessness.
Therefore, the need is to imagine a good life that is within that safe operating consumption corridor but at the same time manages to offer people a higher sense of meaning and purpose and thus wellbeing in their lives. It is reasonably evident that this sense of good life needs not to start from a material basis of living (like the means to the ends of human wellbeing and life satisfaction), rather we should begin from a point where the focus is on the values (the ends that correspond directly to our wellbeing and satisfaction) that we want to uphold in a life corresponding to the standard of a good life. This research project will be based on students conducting in-depth interviews with different sections of the population to understand some of these values that individuals from various socio-economic strata want to prioritise. Students will empirically explore how the notion of the good life shapes our consumption choices at the intersection of consumer culture and political economy.
Prof Kalpita Bhar Paul
Prof Kalpita Bhar Paul engages with how prevalent concepts and categories through which we broadly understand the environment falls short in a liminal landscape like the Indian Sundarbans and in turn, threaten the sustainability of the delta. Prof Kalpita’s working monograph captures the land-water dichotomy that rules the developmental and climate adaptation policies of this delta remain detached from the islanders’ phenomenological experiences and traditional knowledge that are crucial to build-up sustainability of the island.
Through her research she is also engaging with the term sustainability to unpack what it stands for. To be specific she argues the core principle of sustainability is diversity. Ecological and biodiversity correspond to social and cultural diversity. She argues that it is high time to preserve the diverse notions of goodlife and diverse ways of living so that humanity’s actions inherently preserve the quality of sustain-ability.
Prof Kalpita is also working with students for the summer research internship program to understand the new phenomenon called climate migration and how that impacts socio-environmental sustainability. And what kind of ethical approach do we need to address sustainability in the era of migration.
LEAD at Krea University, IWWAGE and Krea University
Located between Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu in South India, Pulicat is the second-largest brackish lake in India. Pulicat’s rich biodiversity and estuarine features support several thousand fishing families that depend on it for their livelihoods. As a low-lying area, the lake and the people inhabiting it are vulnerable to the multidimensional impacts of climate change, in the form of sea-level rise, coastal erosion, intensifying cyclones/storm surges, and salinization of aquifers. Moreover, local environmental changes and a gradual decline in fish availability raise important concerns about the community’s access to and control over natural resources and the fragility of the lake’s ecosystem. Against this backdrop, the lake provides a befitting setting to study the long-term implications of climate change on coastal areas, particularly on the socio-economic context and livelihoods of inhabitants; and the implication of gender and power relations on access to resources and spaces. A new collaborative project between the in-house research centre LEAD, its gender initiative IWWAGE, and faculty and experts from Krea will examine these issues, through an intersectional lens.
This complex ecosystem, which combines diverse biophysical and socio-economic characteristics, requires a unique and robust method to capture and understand the various phenomena. Multiple dimensions namely livelihoods, climate, socio-economic, finance, power and gender interplay at different levels, requiring experts from different disciplines to collaborate and improve the existing models for these individual dimensions. As a first step, a socio-economic survey is being planned in 2022, to map baseline information about the lake ecosystem and its inhabitants. The findings from the research and outreach initiative will not only inform policy and programmatic efforts within the Pulicat region, but also provide a framework for approaching similar complex and unique ecosystems.
Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE) aims to build on existing research and generate new evidence to inform and facilitate the agenda of women’s economic empowerment. IWWAGE reported that two in five urban women were impacted by job losses during the first wave of the pandemic, owing to the unnatural development of dual workload of domestic care work and paid work. IWWAGE also took stock of the situation and put forward recommendations to make the ‘future of work’ more conducive to women’s workforce participation.
Shreyasi Patil (they/she), a 3rd year SIAS student at Krea, worked with the Skill Development Office of Chikkamagaluru and Srinidhi Gurunath, MGN Fellow, to conduct a soft skills and design thinking workshop for final year degree students about tackling problems of rural Malnad area.
The one-day interactive design thinking workshop was conducted at GFGC Kalasa, with the final year BCom and BA students aiming to promote soft skills and entrepreneurial values among them.
“The Design Thinking workshop was used to identify problems specific to the Malnad region and why entrepreneurship isn’t developing in the area. Especially in Chikkamagaluru, which is well known but mostly for tourism.”
Emphasising on what contributed to a seamless building of the workshop, Shreyasi added, “ At Krea, we have a course in the 1st year on Design Thinking and in the 2nd year we have a course named Creative Economy where we build our own company and pitch in front of real life Venture Capitalists at the end of three months. Along with these I have also been part of the TiE – Young Entrepreneurs Chapter where we represented India and won the second position. All these factors together helped me plan the one day workshop.”
Kalasa is a taluk, located deep within Chikkamagaluru. “We had no clue how remote Kalasa was. A couple of government buses ply in this region and some students have to walk 6-7 kilometers each day to reach their schools. The heavy monsoons also create havoc and the students and teachers usually aren’t able to make it to the institutes in such conditions. Added to it the weak internet connectivity, the education of most students at Kalasa are hindered.”
The workshop revolved around combating these issues that the students faced in their everyday lives. They worked through the process of identifying problems, empathising, building solutions and testing the solutions – a reality check on how viable it would be if one were to implement the same.
There were around eight problems which were identified and solutions proposed. The students wrapped up the workshop with solutions like setting up a customer service team which would work as a liaison between rural places in Malnad and the telecom companies. Another suggested a bus for the safety of girl students, as many of them dropped out of school and colleges and got married early because of the lack of efficient transport systems.
Shreyasi has been training and teaching students from a very young age. Yet, teaching and training peers and young adults of their own age was led by their experience at Krea.
“I was comfortable training younger students, but at Krea, the student experience facilitated by being an extracurricular representative had an impact. I have been able to take up the challenges of teaching people my age. Now I know the vocabulary for it, having the right language and presentation is important. Two years of college at Krea have done to me what years of training by myself couldn’t. College has given me the language to present what I really believe in.”
Shreyasi also trains school students in gender studies through the medium of theatre. On completion of their under graduation, they plan to travel across India and teach gender studies to students across demographics, using theatre. Shreyasi hopes to pursue their future goals in the intersection of art, education and entrepreneurship.
While reservations and active efforts to increase diversity have improved women’s participation in politics, much of the day-to-day functioning of Indian politics, even grassroots governance, remains a man’s game. Much of the absence of women in political leadership stems from gender gaps in overall political participation. Soumya Kapoor Mehta and Steven Walker from IWWAGE look at barriers and challenges to women’s leadership. Read the coverage here.
Bangladesh has witnessed an incredible growth in its economy over the past few years, roaring ahead of India in many areas despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Kartikeya Bhatotia (Research Associate – LEAD at Krea University) takes a deep dive into this story, examining factors that have contributed to Bangladesh’s growth, and shares lessons that India can take from its neighbour. Read it here.
In this research brief, Sujatha Srinivasan (Research Fellow) and Geetanjali GK (Research Associate) from LEAD at Krea University share insights on the impact of increasing awareness about arsenic contamination in the adoption of healthier and safer water-use behaviours in Bihar. The study was conducted in collaboration with the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods. Read it here.
While it is a welcome attempt to provide worth to housework, steps to reduce and redistribute such work are, perhaps, more important than asking for women’s unpaid work to be monetised, even notionally. They are important to ensure women’s rights and a sense of social justice. Soumya Kapoor Mehta (Head – IWWAGE) and Sona Mitra (Principal Economist – IWWAGE) look at the challenges to compensating women for their unpaid work. Read the article published by The Hindustan Times here.
IWWAGE’s recent study — ‘Generating Female Employment through Public Employment: A Scoping Paper’ — aims to estimate the impact of creating and regularising jobs for women within the system of public administration. The study also evaluates whether there is gender stereotyping in certain public sector jobs, and captures women’s perceptions of the benefits and constraints of being employed in such jobs. Read the report here.