Last week we had a meeting with PUKAR. Prior to leaving New York we had been in conversation with PUKAR’s director to see if we could become their sort of interns for our three weeks here in Mumbai. In the end our trip has turned out to be just as our proposal calendar (posted early on in our blog): first week with SPARC and then a day or two with other organizations. This was our first meeting with another organization and one that wasn’t directly related to the Mumbai transformation efforts.
We had originally thought that we would be meeting with the director but she was caught in meetings all afternoon so we met with the program officer who was a bit rushed as well. There were big programs happening next week so the office a bit more fasted paced than normal. We were given a bit of an overview of the programs and we had some difficulty in getting questions answered because of this rush. We learned about their work with various organizations such as the biometric health survey that is being conducted with representatives from the Harvard School of Public Health, another project looking at the impact of the redevelopment in the former mill areas on residents, and a survey program that is taking place in Dharavi. After some time one meeting let out and another program officer of PUKAR met with us but there as some translation problems this time. Vinisha wanted to translate for her from Hindi to English but this didn’t work out. Then the officer working on PUKAR’s projects in Dharavi. Reshma was a bit less rushed even though she had programs next week as well. Reshma works with a community scholar team in Dharavi doing some research, although it wasn’t completely clear exactly with what sort of focus. The project was just getting started and she talked about having us meet with the community scholars and join them in the field.
The community scholars are an interesting concept that PUKAR has implemented as a program for empowering the youth of Mumbai. Youth come to PUKAR on their own and form groups, typically groups of 10 friends or colleagues, with a particular interest or question. We were told that one focus in a past project was from a group of women asking “What does the burkha mean to me?” or the participation of women in politics. We were actually shocked by the controversial questions that these groups were asking from within their own communities. The groups learn the various methodologies of research, are given funding to conduct the research that interests them most and then they begin. Each individual creates a biography prior to starting the project and a secondary one afterwards. This helps to provide context and information to the changes that happen with each person taking part in the program. The final products of this research are not papers because there are enough youth who participate who are not literate, and more importantly, writing is too formal – a final product which is more creative is more traditional and in the end more empowering. Individuals who participated tend to come back each year and take on more research projects and learn new advanced research methods and more complex topics as well. Those who take part do not necessarily change their line of work or bring themselves into a higher level socio-economically or academically, but rather the research informs them better of the world in which they live and the opportunity that they have to take a more participatory role in it.
The Dharavi research (as we understood it) that is being undertaken is a mapping project, and one that will look at case studies and gather data for longitudinal understanding. It's a project which will be looking at the impact of globalization and gentrification on the livelihoods of the residents. In projects like this the community is informed of the research and why the data is being collected. There is no formal presentation made to the community of the final results, but rather the community is informed of the projects and in this way they help to disseminate the vision of PUKAR and create interest in the collection of the data.
The main goals of PUKAR are very interesting and ones that would be nice to explore some more. They are most interested and work towards projects that are research based and use the research to promote action and transformation of youth into empowered citizens. PUKAR focuses mostly on youth because they form 40% of the population; India is a very young country. The research is a way to include the youth and individuals in global debates and bring their voices to the table. The programs are intended to build citizenship, democracy, and participation.
We unfortunately have not been able to set up the meeting with the community scholars this week. It seems that Reshma will not be going into the field until next week, once we have already left. Although the meeting was not directly helpful with our current research topic, it was interesting to know of the work that is being done by another of Mumbai’s important NGOs.