Thursday, 23 October 2014

Educare Research Reflection - Nikita Simpson

The experience of being a research intern was invaluable for me over this summer. I spent 6 weeks in Naddi and surrounding areas at the Educare base. As a student of Social Anthropology, my prerogative was to do intimate fieldwork in the Gaddi community to answer my research question - How have changing rape culture discourses and legislation impacted rural areas of India? 

My experience was so positive for three reasons. First, because it forced me out of the western rational model of space and time that I was used to. Second, because I learnt to understand the Gaddi community on their own terms because of the intimate nature of our interaction. Third, because the grass roots philosophy of Educare facilitated me to understand the complexity of the social links and imagined identities that make up the cultural context of the Gaddi people.

I turned up in Naddi with a serious plan. I had amassed the secondary resources that I need - reading from complex these on Neoliberalism to the daily updates on Modi’s new government. I had a list of the kinds of people I wanted to meet and was all ready to slot them into my calendar in delineated time intervals. I was in for a shock. The first rule of ethnography that I leant was the necessity of blending into the pace of life that I was faced with. This meant dropping the burning desire to write succinct dot points and come to quick conclusions, and instead simply sitting and hanging out before I came to any tentative plan. I learnt how arrogant it must have seemed to think I could simply march in and collect information. This is not to say one should be defeatist when coming to India - it drove me mad to listen to people complaining that nothing works. Instead, the process of adaptation and acceptance of flexibility was necessary in order to suck the marrow from my experience.

More than anything, I learnt that an afternoon spent more productively was one where I spent my time chatting to the members of the community. Over the course of my stay, I slowly gained their trust. It was very important not to see them as a resource of information, but instead to appreciate the growing friendship that I had with them. Though snippets of information I was able to work out the power dynamics, cultural conceptions, imagined communities, aspirations and grievances of individuals. I was able to probe their subjectivities and attempt to understand the relationships they formed. From this platform, I came to know what external resources - both textual and in terms of interviews - I needed to draw upon in order to answer my research question.

Hence, I came up with a long list of people I needed to meet. From doctors to state officials to human rights activists, I was encouraged by Educare that the sky is the limit when it comes to approaching external resources. My facilitators at Educare in the beginning facilitated my interactions with these parties, but as I gained confidence they helped me to realise that I could make these connections myself. The outcome was a 50 page interview log that sets up the infrastructure for my research project and allows me to contextualise my experience with the Gaddi community. My experiences at Educare were formative in my understanding not just of what it is to be a researcher, but in how to approach different cultures and forms of sociality in general. Their grass roots ethos combined with a highly supportive network of peers and leaders is a recipe for success - if you are willing to adapt and grow into the place where you choose to be.

I feel honoured to be part of the Educare team and hope that somehow the information I have amassed and conclusions I am yet to draw will make some mark on the projects they run and the lives of the community that welcomed me with open arms.

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