Barefoot Researchers

Project: Barefoot Researchers in partnership with PUKAR
Location: Mumbai, Maharashtra
Education and Training


Facilitating Change Through Youth Activism

With IDS’s support, PUKAR’s “Barefoot Researchers for Better Communities” project began in July 2015 when 40 marginalized young people gathered into working groups. They attended numerous training sessions and focus groups throughout thenthusistic-barefoot-researcherse year to learn techniques in money/people management and team dynamics and to improve their research and communication skills.

One of the groups, Swaradhar (which means “with the support of music” in Marathi), studied issues of dignity and livelihood in Mumbai’s blind and visually challenged street musicians. These musicians, though often highly skilled and professionally trained, have been forced to earn their living through a combination of begging and performing for alms on local train platforms. Another group, Swayam (“ourselves”), studied the plight of sex workers in Mumbai.

Using Community-Based Participatory Action Research (CBPAR) as a tool for community development, these young researchers conducted interviews with their subjects. They documented issues encompassing all aspects of the lives of their respondents and partners from various marginalized communities. Later, these young people analyzed the data they’d collected in order to come up with locally-based solutions.

In this rigorous year-long process, the young people learned not only the techniques of data collection, critical data analysis, and problem solving; they also learned to appreciate “soft skills” like teamwork, transparency and accountability, and respect for diversity. They practiced building consensus and implementing solutions locally to bring about change.

All did not go smoothly for the groups! The members of Swaradhar, after bringing together a group of the blind artists who sing and play instruments on various local train platforms, struggled to teach them how to overcome their feelings of shame when narrating their life stories. The Swayam group members had to conquer their own fear and shame in order to step inside the environment of sex workers and interview them. It took great self-confidence and conviction on the part of these young people to realize that even sex workers and blind artists have as much right to the city as they do themselves!

So what was the outcome? In the end, IDS helped 40 young people from marginalized communities and vernacular backgrounds to become change-makers for their communities, to learn to take community members along in the process and work in groups towards building an inclusive community. They also learned to be conscious, informed, and contributing citizens who can be the leaders of tomorrow.

–2015 IDS annual report

PUKAR is an independent research collective and urban knowledge production center based in Mumbai. With financial support from IDS, PUKAR aims to democratize research and broaden access to knowledge among disenfranchised citizens.

The Youth Fellowship, PUKAR’s flagship project, is a unique knowledge initiative that provides a space for the critical engagement of youth and focuses on transforming the quality of life in Mumbai. The program uses research as a pedagogical, interventional, and advocacy tool to empower youth from marginalized communi­ties to negotiate the city and explore the social, cultural, economic, and political aspects of their neighborhoods. Slide 10_Pukar

In 2013, India Development Service (IDS) and PUKAR came together for an event that showcased the journeys undertaken by Barefoot Researchers. In 2014–15, PUKAR partnered with IDS to launch its tenth edition of Barefoot Researchers for Better Communities.

The program began with outreach activities that connected community-based organizations with communities of former members of the youth fellowships. Four groups were organized during the process:

The Swaradhar group organizes a band of street artists who perform in trains and provides them with viable alternatives and additional sources of livelihood. However, the group’s pri­mary concern is to understand why these street artists are identified as beggars rather than as art­ists. This group will study the lives of the artists to understand how notions of respectability are articulated in various contexts.

The Matunga group is interested in under­standing the efficacy of the system in place at their college that segregates vernacular medium and English medium students. While exploring issues faced by the vernacular medium students, this group also wants to examine the impact of such a system on students’ confidence levels.

The third group, Swayam, is a group of para­professionals trained in social work. The group works to understand the politics of stigma attached to spaces, such as the red light district of Kamathipura, and the consequences on its resi­dents. Their interest in the topic was prompted by the experiences of some Swayam members who are social workers based in red light districts.

Parivartan, made up of social work para­professionals from Nirmala Niketan College of Social Work, is doing exploratory research into the leadership development processes of grass-roots level social workers. The members of the group drew upon their own social work experi­ences to reflect on why the contributions at the grass-roots level are not adequately recognized. Through their research, they hope to determine how grass-roots level social workers can over­come the odds they face and bring about change in their respective fields.

–2014 IDS annual report


PUKAR Urban Youth Engagement

One disenfranchised group that PUKAR serves is the youth of Mumbai. India is a young country; two-thirds of its population is under 35 years of age, and one-third of those are under 25, resulting in a deep demographic dividend.

PUKAR Monsoon started on August 11, 2013 at Akshara, an organization working towards gender equality, and continued over the course of three months, concluding with a public event on October 26 at Studio X, Fort, Mumbai. Eleven events were conducted in various communities and colleges around the city. The colleges turned out to be ideal set­tings to engage an 18–21-year-old audience at a critical point in their lives.

PUKAR Monsoon was also organized in several NGOs, attracting many community members who demonstrated an interest in the project and its potential. Organizations that work with marginalized youth had the potential to connect PUKAR’s Barefoot Researchers with other youth of the city, especially early dropouts who cannot be reached through educational institutions.

Based on the feedback collected, the events were a resounding success. For instance, as a student at Ruparel College observed, “it is commendable that these girls, who are not even formally graduated, are standing here and giving a presentation. Even I cannot do it.”

–2013 IDS annual report