Lives in: Kanker, India
Varnica Arora is a Development Professional with a passion for working around issues of poverty in Rural India.
At present she is working with PRADAN, one of India’s largest non-profit organisations in the area of rural livelihoods. She completed her master’s in Psychology from the University of Delhi and is also a certified Art-Based Therapy (ABT) Practitioner. For the last eight years she has been working closely with institutions of poor women from marginalised Adivasi (tribal) communities across rural India. She continues to be passionate about engendering processes of social transformation in rural India through women’s self-help groups, particularly in the sphere of rural livelihoods, gender justice and governance. Previously, she has worked on an action research project on the psycho-social processes underlying the work of professionals engaged in the development sector and the communities of rural women they work with.
She has also been involved in the initiation of an MPhil in Development Practice collaboratively with the Ambedkar University Delhi (AUD) and PRADAN. At present, she is based out of PRADAN’s team at Bhanupratappur in Upper Bastar Kanker, India, where this research will be conducted.
My interest in Inequalities stems from my own experience of growing up in India; a society that is diverse as well as deeply divided. These divisions - of rural-vs-urban, cast, and class - brought about a deep sense of indignation within me, which at some point prompted me to give up a corporate career and join PRADAN to work with the rural poor.
Unlike the West, absolute poverty continues to form an integral part of the inequality discourse in India. Intersecting identities (caste, class, gender, ethnicity) are pivotal in defining the quality of life of those at the very bottom of the income distribution, making them among the toughest groups to work with. This is a particularly true of the Adivasi Gond women who are among the poorest in India, presently residing in areas afflicted by conflict between the State and the left wing extremist groups.
PRADAN initiated work in this region in 2008-09 and, despite concerted efforts, the impacts of our work have been limited. Thus, the aims of our team’s research project stem from the challenges faced by practice and shifts in development discourse and policy at this point of time. The present study thus seeks to explore how Adivasi gond women understand and experience gender inequality and the extent to which current interventions around self-help groups (SHGs) of women address the same. It also aims to identify emergent pathways to engender processes of change. The underlying assumption is that processes of addressing the inequalities experienced by women would be accelerated if they were embedded in the everyday life of communities, as they negotiate normative changes based on critical reflection of their own societies (Green, 2012). These are remaining largely neglected in development discourse and practice that is still attempting a ‘one-size-fits- all’ approach.
As a practitioner, the fellowship offers a unique opportunity to critically reflect on my own practise and engage with it in an academic perspective. This will enable me not only sharpen my own analytic skills but also strengthen our existing work with communities in the Bastar region.