I am a second-year doctoral student in the Political Science Department at the University of Pennsylvania. I am primarily interested in comparative politics and the political economy of development in modern India. Broadly, my research pertains to questions of state capacity and the role of identity in public provision of goods and services in developing countries.
After acquiring degrees in Economics and Development Studies, I worked in development research and the public policy space for over eight years before beginning my PhD, mainly conducting mixed-methods impact evaluations and process assessments of government programs in India with a focus on governance and service delivery in the realms of social protection, nutrition, and early childhood education interventions. Prior to arriving at Penn, I worked as a Senior Researcher on a CASI research project related to urbanization and female labour force participation in northern India, led by Prof. Devesh Kapur (Johns Hopkins SAIS), Prof. Neelanjan Sircar (Ashoka University) and Dr. Milan Vaishnav (Carnegie). I have also worked as a researcher in Oxford Policy Management’s Poverty and Social Protection portfolio; IDinsight; and the Poverty, Health, and Nutrition Division of the International Food Policy Research Institute in New Delhi. Over the years, I designed questionnaires and sampling strategies, developed analysis plans for evaluations and cross-section studies, and managed multiple large-scale household surveys of sample sizes ranging from 3000 to 14000 across India. In doing so, I interacted with multiple stakeholders including bureaucrats, frontline workers, rural communities, academics, policy think tanks and donor agencies.
While, on the one hand, policy research allowed me to explore new settings — across multiple states in India — that threw up a series of interesting questions about state capacity and local politics, the tight deadlines and limited scope of the specific policy problem at hand did not afford me the freedom to pursue this in any systematic manner. A PhD, I realized, was the appropriate way forward so that I could have the time and resources to explore issues rigorously while also equipping me with the language and additional tools for such an endeavor.
This is my second and final year of coursework, during which I also intend to work on a framework for thinking about politician-bureaucrat-frontline worker relationships at the lowest levels of government in India, particularly in terms of the interplay of social hierarchy and administrative hierarchy. In addition to this, I am currently engaged in some other collaborative projects which I will write about in subsequent posts.
The Sobti Family Fellowship will be immensely useful at this stage of my doctoral studies, specifically the opportunity to be directly supervised by CASI’s Director, Professor Tariq Thachil. My goal for this year is to work on my second-year research paper and lay the foundation for my dissertation prospectus. I will use the Fellowship funds in service of my research goal to investigate if (and how) identity – i.e. gender, religion and caste – plays a role in service delivery, primarily their impact on the ability of local bureaucrats, frontline workers and local politicians to liaise and coordinate their efforts to provide public goods. I will also develop partnerships with organizations in the field, fellow academics, and the existing network of CASI scholars. Achieving these goals in my second year will mean that I will be better positioned to design a coherent research agenda in my third year.
I am very excited to continue my association with CASI in a more formal way and I will use this blog to share the progress I make this year!
To end, here’s a picture of me piloting a questionnaire with a respondent in rural Patna (Bihar) in September 2018.