The MPhil programme hopes to engender a classroom and field based learning process that brings to dialogue the three hitherto hyper-separated components of ‘knowing’-‘relating’-‘doing’ and therefore ‘being’ through a one-year long immersion experience in largely adivasi and Dalit contexts in central India and an ‘action research’ based pedagogy.
The process of knowing involves inculcating a critical-analytical-reflective relationship with the dominant discourse of development through first semester Courses like Philosophy of Development Practice and Understanding the Rural, second semester Courses like Equality Discrimination Marginalization, Environment Natural Resources and Development and Gender and Development and third semester Courses like Philosophy of Justice, Discourses on Well-Being, and Politics Resistance Transformation. These taught Courses enable students to conceive of development beyond quantitative, top-down and statist approaches, and take them to a more human-focused, relational or psychological context. It also helps them move from an understanding of “what is wrong” in the rural and in forest societies as also in practices of development in the second semester to how one can “right the wrongs” in the third semester (the Courses on justice and well-being help make sense of and create coordinates of “righting wrongs”). This can help the student move from knowing about rural development to knowing about social stratification to knowing about justice and well-being. However, in all these Courses knowing and doing (i.e. doing rural development, doing away with extant stratifications and ushering in justice and well-being) are brought to dialogue. The taught Courses are taught in a manner different from how they would be in taught in say Sociology, Economics or Development Studies; they are taught so that the students can conceptualize and usher in practices of transformation – transformation in the axis of the self and the social, as also the political – in the extant world of the rural, and not just understand, explain, or critique the world.
The process of ‘learning to relate and listen’ and ‘communicate non-coercively’ is engendered through Courses like Experiencing the Self: Relating with Others, Listening Learning Communicating, as also through ImmersionI (Village Stay). The focus of Immersion I (Jan-Feb, 2nd semester) is primarily on the ‘self’ of the student, and her experiences of being in close touch with the rural community or the forest society in which she is immersed as also the process of being in touch with her own feelings, dreams and subjectivities in immersion.
To facilitate an appreciation of the ‘community’ as an ever-emergent ever-transforming ‘being-in-common’ (and not as something given), students are taken through Courses such as Researching Rural Transformation, Collective Action, Action Research, Participatory Rural Appraisal and Grassroots Engagement Methodology, Theatre of the Oppressed, as also the experience of being in L-Groups (Group Process) and Immersion II. The focus of Immersion II is on the ‘community’ and on ‘group processes’; it is about building relationships with the rural community/group and their voice to arrive at a shared action research agenda emerging out of a dialogue and deliberation on the community’s needs.
The dimension of ‘doing’ in undertaking in and through Action Research in largely Immersion III; this is to explore possibilities of appreciable changes, in spaces of extreme impoverishment. Transformative social praxis is undertaken in the 4th semester (Immersion III) through a deepening of the action research question, in the ‘we’/‘us’ mode of collaboration with the community/group. This journey in the MPhil student – from the first to the fourth semester, which is also a journey of the ‘self’ and to the ‘community/group’ – is important because in Development Practice we take transformation in rural communities as an area of research as also an area of action. However, in Development Practice we do not wish to just do research, say just research on poverty, on gender, on caste. We wish to alleviate poverty as well, transform gender and caste relations as well, in a small way at least. We wish to transform; and we have intense debates among us as to what is ‘desirable’ transformation, what is a ‘just’ transformation; as also, what would be the ethic of transformation. On the one hand, while we try to make sense of, understand and analyze macro and micro-processes of rural transformation, we also, on the other hand, try to engender/facilitate/catalyze through sustained community participation and collective action processes of desirable (we, hence reflect on and remains reflexive as to ‘what is desirable’) transformation in rural spaces in Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Odisha, Bihar and Bengal. We see rural transformation as not a State/government driven affair but a community-driven affair.