I hope this letter finds you in the best of your health.
My name is Harshali Nagrale. I was born and brought up in Maharashtra, India. It gives me an immense pleasure to share that I have recently got an offer to study M.Sc. Election, Campaign and Democracy from Royal Holloway, University of London commencing from 20 September, 2021.
It is an honour to study one of the most crucial topics of democracy at an international institute. With this course, I will get the opportunity to understand the global perspective of representation of women in political spaces along with intersectionality of caste, class, and gender.
Thank you for taking out time to read about me.
As a first generation learner and a member of the downtrodden section of the indian society, me and my family have faced multitudes of socio-economic and cultural discriminations.
I recognise that this opportunity will not only help me individually but also through my personal trajectory, present ways to integrate underrepresented communities in the social and economic mainstream.
Despite low family income, my father who is a retired mill worker and my mother who is a homemaker were committed to provide the best education for me that they could afford. I completed my graduation in Physics from Fergusson College, Pune. My degree in Science encouraged a sense of scientific and rational enquiry in me. However, it also allowed me to participate in programs like NSS and work for ‘Science For All’ foundation which gave me an insight into how even in educational spaces structures of oppression, marginalisation continue to be reinforced through everyday practices of administration. This steered me towards a degree in Social Sciences at Tata Institute of Social Science Mumbai, as I wanted to employ my academic training to build a significant impact in supporting the educational goals of the most deprived students. I completed my Masters in Social Work from Tata Institute of Social Science, Mumbai. My educational experiences exposed me to different realities of society and expanded my world view.
Despite my grit and my family's unconditional support, our financial condition continued to pose a challenge in achieving my educational goals. It was only through government scholarships and fellowships that I could manage my fees. These aids also gave me a chance to work with children, women, and other minority groups.
What have I done?
During my first year of masters at TISS, Mumbai at the People Association and Training Health (PATH), I got an opportunity to work with the Muslim community where tuberculosis was a rampant medical condition. The interactions with the community taught how the shortcomings of the education system are directly proportional to the failure of the healthcare system. Also, the social and economic backwardness makes it worse.
When I went for rural practicum in Chhattisgarh as part of my course requirement at TISS Mumbai, I was saddened to witness the hierarchically discriminative structures within politics that exploited tribal people who were fighting for their land rights. The political leaders and industrialists exploited their vulnerabilities and the struggle for rights in order to gain electoral victories. These experiences helped me understand the ground realities of how the idea of a welfare state gets starved, when it comes to the realities of the marginalized section of the society.
In the second year of Masters, I was placed at the Resource and Support Center for Development Organization. I worked on, ‘Gender dynamics and changing perspectives of Elected Women Sarpanch (Head) of the village’. Our research showed that when women participate in the ecosystems of politics and power, the empowerment also translates to the households showing the merit of integrating women in such spaces.
While working with Panchyati Raj Institute to empower EWR’s at Maharashtra, I researched on ‘Sexual Harassment of Elected Women Representative at Gram Panchayats’ to understand the violence happening in such spaces. For this I was awarded the Martha Farrer Award for this research at the 6th National Congress, 2018. The outcomes of my research were heartbreaking and disturbing that EWRs frequently go through - predatory touch, whistling, passing comments, unwelcoming compliments and leering. Sexual abuse and assault also include rape, sharing dirty jokes, jeering and inadvertent physical touch. However, women showed a determined fighting spirit against such a system and their drive to bring change in the society was stronger than ever. These women need equal and safer space to assert and work to develop their village and contribute for the change.
The research inspired and encouraged me to work further in the area of power, politics and equality. I joined Indian-Political Action Committee (I-PAC) for the West Bengal Campaign for Mamta Banarjee, the only women chief minister in India. I was fortunate to work with women leaders contesting for one of the toughest political fights. It was a challenge, as the competition was not only from opposition but even from media analysts and commentators who were very chauvinistic and dishonest in assessing a female leader.
In addition to such experiences, a lot of my motivation comes from my encounters with the discrimination based on caste and gender. Being a female researcher and coming from one of the most oppressed sections of the Indian society (Scheduled Caste), for whom education serves as the only instrument of social mobility, it was very challenging to gather acceptance in workspaces. Often, my ‘upper-caste’ classmates and colleagues made me realize my social position and discriminated on those lines. As a social-political researcher, I not only experienced it personally but was also able to see a hierarchical, gendered, and casteist environment which further probed me to understand this issue through a sociological and political perspective and interlinking it with caste, class and tribes.
Unless there is political participation and representation of the marginalised sections in the decision making processes, the state policies would continue to be blindsided to actual experiences of the large sections of the society.
Despite the grave reality, I still see hope in the process of free and fair elections. With the knowledge and training I will receive through MSc, I wish to contribute to strengthening the political representation of different oppressed communities. I would like to work in my home state of Maharashtra to strengthen participation of different capable individuals, oppressed communities, women leaders in the political spaces to make the system more inclusive and thus more sensitised to violence against any community. However, it would be a challenge to achieve my dream without your support and wishes.
What do I want from you?
Pursuing education has always been a struggle for me. Currently, my family is financially dependent on me and cannot support my higher education.Moreover, the pandemic has aggravated the situation further. Due to the pandemic, many funding institutions have frozen their scholarships and funding opportunities. Therefore, self-funding my higher education becomes a critical roadblock at this juncture.
I plan to fund my tuition fees through partial loans and living expenses through part-time jobs. But, due to the high amount of tuition fee, I need your help to achieve my dream of attaining this prestigious degree.
Below are the estimated expenses I am going to need for the duration of the course in INR: