Because We c.a.r.e!
Niharika Singh and Simple Rajrah talk about their initiative Collaborative Action for Research and Education (c.a.r.e), their respective majors and interests. The conversations are insightful and lead to great banter. This interview was recorded as a part of Kanyaka Foundation's ongoing series of webinars with development professionals.
Simple Rajrah says, “ It was a series of accidents that led us to concretise our choices, one reason being every time you read, it brings you closer to the truth.”
“I wouldn’t call myself a researcher”, Niharika clarifies, “I think the University is off putting, it is not meant for research, mainly it’s the kind of people you meet in University, stuff that they read that inspires you to look at it more than the surface….I had professors and people who inspired me and made detest the University less.”
c.a.r.e is an outcome of multiple conversations, between Simple and Niharika on lack of equity in education in India. Research is a closed field and is quite stagnant with its scope in India. While fields like STEM have had a steady development, research in humanities and education is facing multiple resource cuts. Also, in recent years the funding in research has plummeted. “We saw that it would become more and more unsustainable for researchers to remain in research, financially, socially and mentally.”, She goes on.
" We were discussing how people from varied castes and classes were not included in these academic spaces and even after acceptance into these spaces there is not a single playground for everyone.”, Simple explains. “.....Which is why the first thing we did was the Collaborative Assist Program where we matched people who wanted to apply from here to people in central universities in India and abroad who had the requisite skills and were willing to help.”, Simple talks about the first initiative of c.a.r.e.
In India, there is a disparity with regards to access to education. The upper class and caste people do have this access for years now, which has led to the gatekeeping of academic spaces. “We need to be critical of the University and understand that the assumption, that since there is a production of knowledge here, it is a radical space, is false. These Universities are run on fees and funding. There is no way that you can be exempted from social problems, Niharika explains.
“In India, knowledge is produced by people from different backgrounds. There is ample knowledge produced from adivasi groups on farming, weaving that is not recognised.”, Simple adds further. She elaborates, “deliberate funding of institutions that are casteist and islamophobic is where their narrative progressses, creating exclusivist spaces.” So it is imperative to be critical of who goes to the University as well. There can surely be a change in the systems but again are we looking at changes or dismantling of systems by creating an equitable paradigm?
Digital Humanities: Solving Modern Predicaments?
Niharika elucidates on Digital Humanities, a field concurrent with advancement in AI and technology. “You are very quickly moving to a lifestyle which is digital in nature. Before we talk about technology used by the individual, it is already being used by states. In Covid there was a quick shift to biometric, using mechanisms and apps for surveillance for the general welfare. So the idea is that public welfare is becoming more technocratic in nature and it no longer needs the consent of the public.” So, digital humanities emerged as a field which, “ started discussing a lot of things like is collecting data really that important ?.....or how much the idea that technology is absent of the social exclusionary systems, how true is that idea ?”
" My interest in the field aroused due to the social aspects of technology…..so my generation is that of ‘90s kids’ so we saw the takeover of the internet…..we would google everything, it became a solace.”
Niharika logically asserts that technology doesn’t solve human predicament, it eases the access. With mobile phones now not only being used for communication but as a camera, TV and apps being designed only for convenience purposes. The cost would be the exchange of the user’s personal information.
The Politics of Loneliness
“As a literature student, when I hear loneliness a more romanticised version comes to my mind. Simple, would you like to talk about your M.Phil thesis on the subject ?”, I asked with genuine curiosity.
Simple patiently elaborates on her thesis, “Part of my research was understanding - what are the dominant models of understanding loneliness within political literature as such, one is the Classical political tradition and the other one I explored is the Existential one. In one model we have canonical authors like Aristotle, Plato who talk about associative ideas of friendship and love. Then there is the Existential model which talks about loneliness being universal and that is inevitable, happens to all.” Which also gives rise to medical implications of the term in psychological issues like depression.
“What I wanted to say is that one must understand it politically, that is structurally how loneliness is formed and how one experiences it,…...it is based on your structural position, or your social standing, caste, class position. As compared to the Existential model, instead of saying loneliness is universal, it is actually situational, it is constituted in the moment, not something that happens all the time to everybody.”
Cheerful Cherishable Repartee
So done with serious questions, they talk about their current reads. Simple talks about reading ‘Gender and Caste : Issues in Contemporary Indian Feminism’ by Anupama Rao while Niharika is amusingly reminded of her endless reading list. She finally discloses herself reading fiction for relief.
We also learn that Simple, in Niharika’s words, “is a prolific writer and poet.” Her first poem written was in class 3. She happened to create a monkey who resembled her neighbour ! Niharika recollects plagiarising a small poem and that fetched her gift. We would like to clarify that she does not condone plagiarism!
Shreya Sharma is currently pursuing B. A. English Literature from Stella Maris College, Chennai. She likes to engage in subaltern studies and gender ideology. She likes reading, writing, debating and public speaking.