Starting at Shahi

 

When we first came to Shahi, we were presented with a list of potential projects as options for what we could choose to do this summer. Confused and overwhelmed, we weren’t sure how to narrow down what we wanted to work on when every project sounded like such a great idea. Our supervisors, Chitra and Anant, wanted us to decide on our projects earlier in the summer so that we wouldn’t be rushed towards the end, as this had been an issue during previous years. While Chitra was away one afternoon, we were told that we needed to have our initial project proposals done by the end of the day. We frantically attempted to collect our  thoughts and put them down on paper.

Given my background, interest, and knowledge of different languages, I knew that I wanted to do something related to this. Two summers ago, a previous CASI intern (Kendra) had done a project at Shahi focused on language differences and the effects that these differences had on migrant workers. In summary, she found that while it was previously assumed that migrants from northern and northeastern parts of India spoke and understood Hindi, this was not true for many migrants from Odisha, Assam, and other states where the native language is not Hindi. Not only did this discrepancy lead to workplace discrimination and mistreatment, it also had a lot of negative implications with regards to safety as these migrant workers were not able to read or understand safety signs posted around the factories. Kendra’s project gave a clear indication to Shahi that more work needs to be done to understand and accommodate for migrant workers at Shahi.

With my natural inclination towards studying languages, I was very fascinated by this project and Kendra’s findings. This inspired me to design my primary project around creating language classes for migrant workers. Language is a huge privilege and my initial goal was to equip migrants with the power to navigate their way around Bangalore a little more easily. While reviewing this idea with Chitra and the rest of the OD team, I was immediately hit with a lot of questions. Do the migrants even want to learn a language? If so, what? Do they have time for these classes? Who would teach these classes? Where and when would the classes take place? I realized quickly that I needed to learn more about the current situation and exactly what the migrants would like before imposing my own ideas upon them. This lead me to create a survey in which I attempt to ask these questions and more including questions about hostel life, adjustment, and long-term aspirations.

Long before designing and implementing the surveys, I visited numerous hostels around Bangalore and interviewed residents about their living situation, diet, leisure time, freedom of movement, etc. I distinctly remember the first hostel we visited when we were all attempting to ask questions in English and the young women at the hostel appeared to be very shy and answered only in short phrases. That’s when I got the idea to switch to Hindi. The minute I asked my first question in Hindi, the girls’ faces lit up and they started asking me about how I knew Hindi. They immediately became more talkative and it seemed almost like I could have a natural conversation with them without the help of other staff. This was the moment I realized that my project should be related to migrants as this is where my strengths are. I could use Hindi as a tool to truly connect with these young women and talk to them myself instead of having to work through other channels.

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I decided my second project in a similar way. While visiting many different units around Bangalore, we met with HR personnel, visited counselling cells, dispensaries, and creches. Learning about Shahi through all these field visits was a truly incredible experience but I was immediately drawn to the little kids at the creche facilities. One of the ideas on the initial list of project options was standardizing creche across all Shahi units. While my co-intern Lawrence was busy interviewing the teachers of every creche unit we visited, I often became distracted playing with the kids or taking the little ones onto my lap. I have a lot of previous experience working with young children through summer camps and tutoring jobs and this was an area where I had clear interest. Lawrence and I decided that he would create an academic guide for the kids while I looked at it from a health and nutrition perspective.

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In my next blog I’ll go into depth about completing the migrants project as well as my secondary project with the creche!

 

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About Raisa Shah

Class of 2019 in the School of Arts and Sciences. Majoring in Political Science with a concentration in International Relations and minoring in Spanish and potentially Law and Society. Intern at Shahi Exports in Bangalore for summer 2017.