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Encounters interviewing the rural poor in India


Blog post by Rasika Soman

Rasika Soman, a Master's student from York University reflects on how the RiDNet conference, held recently at the University of Leeds, helped her to reflect on her own research project.

"Visiting the conference on Fieldwork in Development Contexts organized by the Researchers in Development Network (RidNet) at the University of Leeds was nothing less than a delight for me. This was due to  various reasons- the knowledgeable and interesting presenters and their well-researched presentations, the warmth and affection by  which we were received at the conference, and most importantly the fact that I could completely relate my study to discussions of the presenters and their experiences in doing fieldwork with the so called marginalized or for that matter, underprivileged. One of the factors which I could completely relate to was feeling like or being made to feel like an outsider in my own country when I am interviewing people from my own country which are not of the same social class.

By this I mean the socially, economically, politically, culturally marginalized people- who are not as blessed as I am. My mind always wondered at the fact that what would make this ‘underprivileged class’ be at par with the others?. At this time, Education was being declared as the instrument of development, by the International development bodies. This made me intrigued as to how education and skill development would help to ‘change’ the lives of these people. Therefore, my research focus was to trace the impact of education in the form of skill development and training on the livelihoods of the poor in rural India that made me embark on a mission to write a paper on this topic. I remember the stage of interviewing the people, well, I ‘vividly’ remember, because that was the most difficult part I had gone through and the most enlightening as well. Difficult because of the barriers to language, the trust factor between us, the distance and most importantly the ‘barriers of class’- the responses to my well-crafted and well-structured questions were ‘’ Madam, aapko kya samjhega? – Madam how will you understand our problems? (Translated from Hindi) …  “May be I won’t but you can share, maybe I can do something for you?” was my most common response.

As I continued to interview the respondents, the researcher in me turned into a more responsible and caring citizen, an empathetic individual and certainly a more emotional one. My quest for completing the paper changed to getting to know more about the lives of the respondents; their ambitions, motivations, needs, wants, desires – and the result? I was amazed, surprised, sometimes sad and above all, enlightened- Enlightened by the fact that the respondents wanted to study further, and study hard - but what can one do if every day is a struggle to just fill your stomach?.  At this point, I completely agreed with them but also was hopeful that development researchers would not give up on this and continue their struggle to influence policies, make a difference and most importantly, continue to understand this issue – after all what is ‘bottom of the pyramid’ when we all are humans? My perspective towards the ‘role’ of the researcher completely changed, from an ‘object’ who would just gather, analyse and bring out some conclusions- to a ‘human’ with a philanthropic approach to ‘contribute’ so as to bring a change in this world. I completed my paper but most importantly, it was a start of a new curiosity, my inquisitive mind wants to research a lot on this and make a difference- “social change”, that’s what we call it, isn’t it?"