Research and Advocacy on Social and Economic Justice Issues, India
Alex Taylor (2011, History)
From June to August 2014, I travelled to New Delhi, India for an internship with the Centre for Equity Studies (CES). This internship was organised through Camvol, an organization in Cambridge which links students to a variety of humanitarian and development related projects in India. The Centre for Equity Studies is a non-governmental organization/think-tank involved in advocacy and research for the most marginalised communities in India, including survivors of communal violence, the rural and urban poor, and the homeless. I was one of four interns from Cambridge volunteering at CES, and we stayed together in a guesthouse in Haus Khas in the south of Delhi, ten minutes by bus from work.
My main project for CES involved research into communal violence in India. I was interested in this topic as a result of my studies in Indian history at Cambridge and I was keen to learn more about religious conflict as well as development in India. As part of this research, I read and analysed many interviews the organization had undertaken with survivors of the Bhagalpur riots of 1989 and the Gujarat riots of 2002. My task was to present these interviews in a narrative format to make them more approachable to a general audience. After presenting these accounts, I then analysed them to draw conclusions about the recurring issues faced by survivors, such as their difficulties gaining compensation, legal justice, re-settlement and rehabilitation, and their struggles with financial and psychological distress. This work will form a part of a wider report CES is planning to publish on social suffering in the aftermath of communal violence, which aims to raise awareness of the condition of survivors and to inform the efforts of NGO workers in affected communities.
I was fortunate to go on a field visit to sites of communal riots in Muzaffarnagar, a district in Uttar Pradesh where the most recent major outbreak of communal violence took place in August-September 2013. Here I had the opportunity to visit relief camps and meet survivors of the riots. Listening to their stories of the struggles they faced in restoring their livelihoods greatly enhanced my understanding of the research I was working on. It was also rewarding to talk to field workers and community activists on the ground to gain a greater understanding of how NGOs work with marginalized communities in practice. Aside from working on issues of communal violence, I gained an insight into many of the other areas of CES’ work. One particular area was their homeless outreach programme. The organization runs several homeless shelters in Delhi and provides an important refuge for people vulnerable to cold and hunger on the streets. It also plays a crucial role in providing street medicine and linking street children to educational NGOs. I accompanied the homeless outreach team to homeless shelters and learnt a lot from talking to them and to the homeless. I was also involved in the preparation of CES’ recent report, the Indian Exclusion Report 2014-5, which focused on marginalized communities excluded from important public goods such as housing and education. An article I wrote on exclusion in India’s education system was published in an Indian newspaper, The Citizen.
Outside of work, my fellow interns and I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to travel and see different parts of India. On weekend trips I visited Old Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Amritsar and Kashmir. After studying Indian history for quite a while, it was a great experience to finally see Mughal landmarks such as the Red Fort, the Jama Masjid and the Taj Mahal. A particular highlight was spending the Independence Day long weekend in Kashmir, seeing the incredible landscape of the Dal Lake in Srinagar and trekking in the nearby mountains.
Overall, I am very thankful for the Trinity Hall Association’s generous support in making my internship with CES possible. I benefited immensely from the experience of working and living in India. I now have a much clearer sense of my future plans and direction, and hope to work in an area where I can continue to contribute to humanitarian issues and public policy. In addition to this, it was rewarding to finally experience India after studying the country and I very much hope to travel there again in the future!