Eight years ago, fresh out of engineering school, Ajai made a promise to his father. It was a promise that changed his life and gave him a career. He promised him that he will do science through journalism. That he would not just write about the truth – but show it, prove it. That he would bring the math and engineering he had learned into the world of words that he wanted to inhabit. It got him into journalism school and allowed him to pursue a dream. Talks of “becoming a writer” were far too revolutionary in his family. Like most Indian parents, his parents thought he’d end up as a doctor, engineer or a failure. And writing meant failure coupled with poverty. Number crunching and investigative grunt work was his savior. It was the only thing that sounded respectable to his family. They believed that he will write books on research methodologies one day.
During the initial three years he worked as an urban reporter for The Hindu in Chennai, he often thought about the promise he made to his father. He regularly used the power of numbers in his reporting to go beyond the rigid (but sometimes necessary) constraints of objectivity. He thought of his father when he won the McCormick Fellowship to report on national security issues out of Washington DC. Seven years, more than 600 news stories and a 9,000 mile trip to graduate school later, he thinks his father regrets the fact that he once placed conditions when Ajai asked him if he could follow his heart. But he did show faith. He believed in his choices. And him. The least Ajai could do in return is to do journalism that will make his father proud.
Ajai’s deep and abiding passion for investigative journalism and issues related to governance, thus, stems from the dreams of his father. And a promise that he has tried to keep. His experience documenting stories in both rural and urban India has taught him that India’s failings are primarily issues of governance, or the absence of it. In contrast to the encouragement of Panchayati Raj institutions at the rural level, urban India has no effective local governance mechanisms. He strongly feels that the current process of urbanisation in India cannot be equitable without strengthening participatory governance. He hopes that the skills and knowledge gained from the UFP will enable him to effectively intervene and advocate on behalf of those whose voices are not heard.
Ajeet was born and brought up in the very small village of Dihwa in Aurangabad District, Bihar. After his early education in the village school he moved to Gaya and then to Patna for high school. Although his parents are not educated, he completed his Bachelors of Commerce from Delhi University.
Here he found many opportunities to visit slum areas in Delhi like Jahangirpuri, Seemapuri and J.J.colony regularly. Every time he visited families in these places, he felt at home because of his own similar family background, far from the city lights of Delhi. Although his academic background is in Commerce and he was originally interested in a career in Business, he decided to move into the Development sector because of several incidents that moved him: the living condition of people who have migrated from Bihar in search of jobs and who live in very poor conditions in cities, which he has experienced first-hand; the condition of urban migrant labour that he saw during his industrial visits as part of his course; and the condition of his family and village, where people have high hopes on him. His current areas of interest are in urban settlements, livelihood creation and empowerment.
Aman recently graduated from Symbiosis Law School, Noida, with B.A.LLB (Hons.) and is presently interning with Youth for Seva, an NGO in Bangalore, where he teaches English to high school students at a government school. Born and brought up in Delhi, cultural and extra-curricular activities in school exposed him to the social and economic conditions in the country. Internships and research projects during law school gave him an opportunity to serve with leading advocates and NGOs working in the social sector. During one such internship he worked with the Narmada Bachao Andolan in Madhya Pradesh. Observing the condition of displaced people and selfless service of the activists, he was motivated to align his areas of study and research toward issues plaguing development policies. His association with a college aided research project on land acquisition laws acquainted him with the huge disconnect between the law and ground realities. On the basis of these and numerous similar experiences, he is inclined to study the relationship between various social and economic forces and the political process.
Apurva was born and brought up in Mumbai. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work, and a Master’s degree in Women’s Studies from TISS Mumbai. She loves travelling, trekking, yoga and meditation. She has also worked as a student coordinator with the Photography Promotion Trust, Mumbai. She uses photography as a social medium, inspired by her father, Sudharak Olwe who has used photography to document the horrors faced by conservancy workers in Mumbai. She would like to use her education and experience to take his work forward. As a social work student, and a feminist, her larger goal is to change the condition of women in India and to empower people to help themselves.
Asaf Ali Lone
Asaf Ali Lone belongs to the Kashmir Valley. He has done his B.A. (Hons.) in Arabic from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He has recently completed his M.A. in Society and Culture from IIT Gandhinagar. He is interested in interdisciplinary approaches to knowledge. As a student and a learner, he has tried to cross disciplinary boundaries to enhance his skills and learning. In the future, he aspires to pursue research, which will enable him to build new approaches towards interdisciplinary learning in the Social Sciences and Humanities. His research interests are Urban Studies, Intersectionality, Men and Masculinities, Memory and Violence, Kashmiri Music and Folk Literature, Protest Songs, Arabic Music, and Postcolonial Historiography.
Ashwathy is an architecture graduate from School of Planning & Architecture, Bhopal and is passionate about Urban Design and regeneration of Indian Cities. From Kerala but brought up in Delhi, she has always been drawn to the multitude of layers that lay hidden in our Indian cities waiting to be explored. Following this interest, she has collaborated on many papers, competitions and workshops focusing on Indian cities and particularly Bhopal. Earlier published papers have addressed the transformation of Indian cities in the new global economy and detailed the re-development of specific areas within the old city of Bhopal for its revitalization. On graduation, she has worked as an architect on the development of the City Heritage Plan for Mathura under the HRIDAY scheme, mainly focusing on the Heritage conservation of tangible and intangible assets along with gap assessment of existing urban infrastructure.
Chandni Arun N Parekh
Professionally trained as an architect, Chan completed a postgraduate degree in Visual Art from Ambedkar University, Delhi. Located at the intersection of critical study of space, politics of representation, and gender and sexuality, Chan is interested in researching how urban housing is understood and reproduced as a site that actively rehearses casteist-patriarchy in India; further, how these conceptions structure and inform spaces of habitation for students and alternate/non-families. Chan has just begun to explore archival theory and research methods as integral to their research inquiry in the study of feminist urban geographies of home. They are also interested in – and their own research-artworks often explore – abstract art, surrealism and psychoanalysis, and photography (especially, selfportraiture and transgender attentions with(in) urban settings) as a research methodological tool.
Chandrakanta is from Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Electronics and Communication Engineering, and is now teaching civil service aspirants at an institute in Jabalpur. As an urban resident, she has been interested in the social causes and roots of begging as an urban phenomenon in Indian cities. She would like to understand further the reasons behind why people start to beg, and the relationship of their activity with urban unemployment, housing issues, discrimination, and migration. She feels that our understanding of urban issues has to move beyond a legalistic or planning-centred approach and towards a social and human-oriented perspective. She hopes that being part of the UFP will allow her to identify problems with greater sensitivity, which is the first step to arriving at solutions.
Haifa is a Development Studies graduate from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai. She has gained an interdisciplinary learning experience in economics, political science, and sociology. Her research interests lie in themes of urban citizenship, informal economies, and everyday identities and urban marginalisation. Holding a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology, her forays into contemporary political sociology have opened up wider questions of power and politics. A native of North Kerala, Haifa wrote about the complex operations of Hawala Networks in the Kerala Economy for her Master’s thesis. During her internship with Thomson Reuters, she conducted extensive research on the present legal and policy gaps in minority spaces in South Asia, which framed her insights on politics of policy governance. She had also worked in the capacity of Consultant- Editor for an upcoming book on governance. She hopes to work towards positive transitions in social and political space, both in the capacity of research through incorporating gender perspectives and on a personal level, by challenging conventions. Being an advocate of responsible travel, she respects the natural state and culture of each place she visits. She usually reads, and occasionally blogs.
Jayati is from Delhi, and completed much of her education in the city. After her Master’s degree in Sociology, she worked for a year at a public policy think tank in Kochi, Kerala on issues relating to urban governance and development. Through the course of her studies and work, she has had the opportunity to work on projects across a spectrum of issues, such as displacement & resettlement, the impact of landholding on the sex ratio, wall art & graffiti, the impact of urban growth around ancient monuments, and the challenges of urban governance. While she has been able to study and understand a range of issues, she has found herself most drawn towards questions relating to the affective qualities of physical space.
Kavina is from Ahmedabad, Gujarat, and a recent graduate from CEPT University with a bachelor’s degree in Urban Planning. As an urban planner, participatory planning and governance are two aspects of planning that most interest her and that she wishes to study further. Her research focuses on the effectiveness of participatory local governance in Pune, Maharashtra. She was the co-founder of a start-up, which dealt with real time automation of traffic counting called ‘Transpose’. She plans to take forward her experience that she has gained with the start-up to explore other aspects of planning.
Md. Mahtab Alam
Mahtab is an activist and a writer and has been working on issues of human rights, minority rights, counter-terrorism, development and developmentinduced displacement for the last decade. From Supaul, a small town in northern Bihar, he moved to Delhi at the age of 14 to study further. His keen interest in issues of marginalization and justice made him take up activism, first as a student and later on as a human rights activist. He completed his graduation in Political Science from the School of Open Learning, Delhi University in 2014. He had earlier tried his hand at studying Commerce and Economics at Jamia Millia Islamia, but his activism got the better of him. Mahtab was most recently a senior campaigner with Amnesty International India, where he coordinated the Human Rights Defenders Project. He has also worked with various civil and human rights organizations, such as the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), the Association for the Protection of Civil Rights (APCR) and the Coalition for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (CPHRD). An avid reader and a bibliophile, he has extensively written on the issues of democracy, development, resistance, communalism, media and literature. In the long run, he plans to work in the urban space, and has founded Café SolidariTea, which is an initiative for Learning, Dialogue and Solidarity that is rooted in the Jamia Nagar locality of Delhi. He blogs at mahtabnama.wordpress.com and can be followed @MahtabNama
Nikhil completed a degree in Mechanical engineering and joined the Young India Fellowship to learn things that weren’t taught in the conventional curriculum. The liberal arts program helped him develop perspective and understand the power of questioning. He has worked with Flexing It as a Product Manager, designing and managing online products, and with Playment as a Program Manager. He likes to travel, trek and climb new peaks, exploring and learning about culture and nature.
Nikhila has been working in the media industry for the past five years in TV and advertising in London (UK), Casablanca (Morocco), and currently in Bombay. Among the various media projects she has been part of, the most influential has been factual TV documentaries on mental health issues for the BBC. Being inspired by narrative-driven storytelling in the non-fiction genre, she worked on few documentary short films during volunteering stints in organizations in Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh. Recent fieldwork with All India Union of Forest Working People, as part of a workshop on contemporary social issues with Sambhaavnaa Institute in Palampur, exposed her to various developmental issues in some of the forest regions in India. Drawing parallels from this experience, she has developed an interest in urban issues related to sustainable and inclusive development. Nikhila’s research interests are in public transport services, urban agriculture and affordable housing projects in cities. She is a graduate of Miranda House, Delhi University and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London. She enjoys Asian cinema, traveling and learning languages.
Niyati graduated from Smith College with a BA in the History of Art and Architecture and has worked as a Research and Education Intern on a community based research project at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. She is interested in thinking about cities holistically, as a set of socio-political, economic and social-ecological entities. Her particular focus is on understanding how the social and political implications of the built environment impact and mediate access to spaces and services for women and marginalized communities.
As a student of architecture for five years and a professional for two, Ooha has been biased towards the definition of spaces as inhabited and interacting entities, as opposed to purely independent built forms. The collectives of small identities representing a larger common identity, Indian cities have been central to her experiments and learning in this direction. Her limitations as an architect in understanding cities led to an interest in subjects like history, sociology, economics and philosophy. Added to this is the experience of living in three different cities in different phases of her life: Vijayawada on the banks of river Krishna, Bhopal and its beautiful lakes and Ahmedabad, have each been a rich and unique experience. They showed her how habits and rituals define and distinguish an environment as much as and sometimes even more than the physical entities do. She now intends to document and analyse cities as carriers of people, their daily lives and traditions along with the buildings, roads and bridges they occupy. Some distance into this assignment she also aspires to be equipped enough to be able to introduce such elements into these complex systems that can contribute to the design of a cultural progression.
Pawan graduated as a Mechanical Engineer and was attracted by the diversity that a career in the civil services provides. He firmly believes that the future of our cities is connected to our governance institutions at the local, state and national level and the human capital that these institutions possess. He finds the UFP to be a very promising program to gain experience and skills to engage with the major challenge of urban transition in India. He is particularly interested in understanding our institutional structure, as rooted in the constitution and the possible reforms that would enable them to function effectively under a dynamic environment while leveraging the resources and expertise in civil society and in citizens themselves. He is also curious to learn how policy decisions made by the government impacts the lives of people on the ground, and in the potential of our cities to effect social change. As a Bangalorean who has witnessed the city’s environment deteriorate under the crushing demands of economic growth, he would also like to contribute towards finding sustainable solutions to our urban problems.
Originally from Bangalore, Pranav moved to Mumbai to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from St. Xavier’s College. While in Mumbai, he took a keen interest in issues concerning urban development and human rights having been strongly influenced by the Ambedkarite movement in the states of Karnataka and Maharashtra. In college, he took up projects concerning the urban poor in the Greater Mumbai region and also took to teaching underprivileged children. On graduating, Pranav received the Abdul Ansari Memorial Prize for ranking first in the Bachelor’s of Journalism program, and was further selected for a yearlong exchange program at the Paris School of International Affairs in France. While in Paris, he broadly focused on human rights issues in the European context and was influenced by the ideas of European anti-racism movements as well as his professors like Christophe Jaffrelot and David Rieff. A journalist at heart, Pranav has previously worked with The Hindu and The Hindustan Times in Bangalore. He is fluent in English, Hindi, Kannada, Tamil and Malayalam, and is currently pursuing an advanced level in French. He wishes to further his understanding of development practice to sensitize and sharpen his writing and scholarship from a feminist and anti-caste perspective.
Priyanka comes from Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. She completed her Bachelor’s in Engineering from the Institute of Engineering and Technology, Indore 2014. Priyanka chose to work in the social sector instead of the private sector, as she believes that this would be far more fulfilling for her. She has most recently worked as an IRC coordinator at Samhita Community Development Services in Bhopal, funded by UNDP. This project gave her an opportunity to work with people living in several slums in Bhopal and understand their background and daily challenges like education, livelihoods, and access to basic amenities. Priyanka’s role model is her mother. She believes in learning from people and circumstances at every step of her life. Her biggest strength is her positive attitude towards life.
Pushkal Shivam graduated with an Integrated Masters in Development Studies from IIT-Madras. He is mainly interested in urban transformation. His current research interests concern the politics of land, infrastructure and how they intersect with sacred spaces and has published his work in Economic and Political Weekly, The Hindu and The Times of India. As part of his most recent project, he is looking at the occupancy of ‘public land’ in the context of acute acquisition for industrial purposes. In his earlier role as a journalist, he mobilized the Right to Information Act in his reportage on urban politics. He has worked with organizations such as The Hindu and Transparency International.
Sai Ratna Chaitanya Gurugubelli
Sai Ratna Chaitanya graduated as an architect in 2015 from S.V.C.A Hyderabad. He worked as a Junior Architect with a design firm in Bangalore where he was part of teams working on preparing station accessibility plans for two metro stations in Bangalore, and vision documents for two prospective smart cities in Tamil Nadu. He also worked on small competitions where the team looked at place-making possibilities in the neighborhood of Domlur in Bangalore. Along with a few other regular contributors he writes on “loveofz”, a blog dedicated to the bus based public transport scene in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. He is currently working with the Hyderabad Urban Lab on a project to make sense of public transit data in Hyderabad.
Saubhagya belongs to a farmer family from a foothill hamlet in the central Himalayas. After studying at a residential school in Nainital, he completed a Bachelor’s in Architecture from Dehradun. He received professional training at Anangpur Building Centre, Faridabad (NCR) and Mozaic Design, Goa, where he was introduced to urban development methodologies. He has been practicing in the remote Himalayas, where his interests lie in issues relating to Ghost Villages and the migration/reverse-migration extensively happening in the central Himalayan region. Other than this, Saubhagya has been a part of developing AI & 3D for various computer games, with a special interest in the development of artificially intelligent frameworks. He is also an amateur documentary filmmaker. He finds the methodologies and ideas of modern India by Laurie Baker as one of his inspirations and influences, which, he believes, if combined with modern day technologies would definitely be a step forward towards building resilience.
Sindhuja is an architect based in Chennai. Her inclination to study and work on urban issues started during her undergraduate degree through her dissertation research on design as a mitigation tool for disaster-struck cities/towns, and also when she worked closely with a fishing community in North Chennai as part of her thesis. After her graduation, she volunteered in post- earthquake rehabilitation projects in Nepal such as transitional shelters and schools for remote villages. She has been working with Triple’O’studio in Chennai on a range of projects including the redesign of an iconic road junction, conducting heritage walks as part of conservation measures under “Houses of Mylapore”, and pro-bono projects such as redevelopment of government schools & village housing with the NGO ‘Bhoomika Trust’. She has also volunteered with the NGO ‘Make A Difference’ to create equitable outcomes for shelter home children. Her research interests lie in architecture, urban design & planning as key instruments to deal with environment, economic, and social challenges, leading to urban resiliency. She believes the approach to such complex problems is by harnessing the uniqueness of a community and moving towards “working with communities”, rather than “working for communities”.
Sonal is from in Delhi, and her higher education has been multidisciplinary in nature. During her Master’s in Development Studies, her internship and dissertation were based in Jharkhand, where she studied the mining induced displacement of Adivasis. In addition to urban displacement and resettlement, she has also found herself intrigued by surrogacy from a feminist advocacy standpoint. Her interests lie in environmental issues and international relations.
Sushil Kumar Bhagvanta Prasad
Sushil is from a small village in the Bhadohi (Sant Ravidas Nagar) district of Uttar Pradesh but has spent most of his childhood in a slum in Santa Cruz, Mumbai. He has completed a Bachelor’s degree in Media Studies from Allahabad University, a post-graduate diploma in advertising and public relations from IIMC, New Delhi and a certificate course in Health Journalism from UNICEF. He has interned as a reporter with Fast News in Allahabad, and with Scoopwhoop Media as a content writer. The experience of growing up in a Mumbai slum shaped the questions he would like to deal with as part of the UFP: issues of urban sanitation and equitable access to housing. He is also interested in exploring the larger issues surrounding rural depopulation and the integration of rural migrants into the urban economy.
Swapnil is from Nagpur, Maharashtra and he has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and History from Nagpur University. He has also developed a profound interest in politics, philosophy and religion. His social background and experiences helped him understand how the social structure of Indian society is deeply embedded in the power relations between caste, class and gender. His Master’s degree from TISS provided an opportunity to understand society holistically and supplemented his empirical knowledge with theoretical understanding. For his Master’s thesis, he worked on the issue of “Equity in 24/7 Urban water system at Nagpur” in the light of caste, class and gender. After graduation, he worked as a Programme Officer at National University Student Skill development programme (NUSSD), a TISS project. Both his study and work experiences have cultivated a deep interest in understanding urban issues especially policies and programmes regarding water sector and education.
A life-long nomad, Swati has lived and studied in half a dozen states of India and has been fortunate enough to travel through over a dozen others. As an undergraduate student, she studied Political Science at University of Delhi and was enthralled by the concept of city-states and Janapadas in Western and Indian Political Thought, respectively. This fascination was given a meaningful direction through her Master’s programme in Urban Sociology at the Delhi School of Economics. Her degree equipped her with a deep and critical understanding of different images of the city, but equally focused on everyday urban processes in the form of urban street cultures, aesthetics and architecture, violence and contested spaces, networks and neighbourhoods. This subsequently led her to undertake two short-term research projects where she carried out field-based interviews and surveys in a group. While one paper showed how poetry slam as an emerging urban phenomenon in Delhi captures an important social and political aspect of urban life, the other studied the complex landscape of Chandni Chowk as complex texts with meanings and tropes embedded in the process of naming of streets. Through the fellowship, she hopes to be able to put to use sociological thinking in creating livable and equitable cities.
Syeda Arshiya Sultana
Syeda Arshiya is from Hyderabad, where she finished her undergraduate degree in Architecture. She worked for almost 3 years before pursuing a postgraduate degree in Urban Design from SPA, Delhi. After returning to Hyderabad she worked in collaboration with architect-designers and independently on projects. She was also a visiting faculty for the Urban Design Studio at an architecture school for two semesters. She has a keen interest in learning about the city as it is understood through different fields. Her research interest includes the evolution of urban forms, and spatial inequalities.
TejInder is from Bathinda in Punjab. His research interests lie in the areas of culture, heritage and politics. He has had a range of work experiences from that of a trainee architect to managing electoral campaigns, participating in Model UN conferences, and documenting and archiving contemporary issues. In 2013, he worked for formulating the cultural heritage policy for the state of Punjab as part of a UNESCO initiative as well as for the Cultural Heritage Management & Tourism Development Plan for the Mughal Imperial Highway and The Grand Trunk Road in Punjab. TejInder recently covered Gaurav Gogoi’s electoral Campaign for the Assam elections and was also associated with covering the Occupy UGC movement. He played a pivotal role in the photo documentation of Swaraj Abhiyaan’s Jai Kisaan Andolan. Believing in the power of photographs, he has always been keen on using his skills as a photographer to reflect on society and has held several exhibitions as well. He is currently working to establish an artist’s residency in his village to bridge the gap between urbanisation and the culture of the people.
Vineet is from Dhanbad, Jharkhand. Despite his family’s hostility to the social sciences and humanities, he went on to complete his BA from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Tuljapur. While studying at TISS he had the opportunity to engage with varied disciplines like economics, political science, and research methods, through which he developed a keen interest on urbanization. His research and internship experiences were crucial in shaping his understanding of subject areas. His dissertation on “Urbanization of Jharia” under the supervision of Prof. Abdul Shaban helped him to understand the relationship between urbanization and the presence of natural resources like coal. This research also gave him an understanding of how a parallel economy functions in a region, and how illegal activities fuel local employment, giving him the much-needed skill to connect theoretical ideas to practical, real-life issues.