Change is Slow

The cliché about change is that it is the only constant. However, what no one really tells you is that sometimes change is also painstakingly slow. Often change can crawl along so slowly that it takes years and sometimes even decades before you feel you’ve made the smallest bit of progress. This is something I am learning everyday as I work at Ashoka University.

 

Ashoka is a liberal arts university that focuses on providing students with a broad based education. In a country that has almost exclusively encouraged and celebrated technical degrees since independence, Ashoka is part of both the cause and result of a steadily transforming mindset. Slowly, but surely there is a growing appreciation for people with diverse skill sets and varied abilities. More and more students are finding the courage to defy long-held beliefs of what a lucrative and respectable career path is and are pursuing fields they enjoy. As my colleagues at Ashoka and I travel across the country we meet students who are scared, excited and even confused about pursuing a liberal arts education.  But very often I’ve seen a growing enthusiasm unfurling at the idea of a kind of education that is more nuanced than simply creating an employable individual regardless of interest or passion.

 

However, change of any kind is slow moving and the education landscape is no different. While students from big cities like Bombay and Delhi are increasingly receptive to a liberal arts education, students in smaller cities still have many obstacles to overcome before they can commit themselves to this idea. They have to combat parental expectations and keep in mind financial constraints. From the girl in Nashik whose parents informed her that she could pursue her passion for Sociology after she became an engineer to the girl in Pune who asked me to tell her all about Ashoka’s English and Journalism program and then apologized for wasting my time since her parents expected her to pursue a medical degree, there are young people across India who are chafing against what conventional wisdom defines as successful to choose career paths they are truly passionate about.

 

In a country with very deeply rooted structural inequality, access to education has largely depended on privilege. This is especially true when it comes to pursuing the kind of education that Ashoka provides.  The element of risk in graduating with a degree in Sociology or History in an economy that worships technical ability is enormous. It is even more precarious for students from small towns or lower income backgrounds whose families may depend on them financially as soon as they graduate college. Resistance to this model of education is not easily dispelled.

 

There are days when I feel lost about what exactly my contribution is and experience an almost overwhelming lack of purpose. I despair that there may be no immediate tangible results of the work that I am doing.  It is very easy to forget the larger picture as I field questions from parents, students and teachers about seemingly mundane details like the quality of food and wi-fi connectivity on campus. It seems foolish and a little grandiose to believe that something truly exciting is rumbling underneath this veneer of dreary tasks and repetitive conversations.  On those days, I remind myself that change is slow, but thankfully change is also constant.

Shruti comes to the AIF Fellowship from Madison, WI with a Bachelor of Science degree in Neurobiology and Psychology. Her interest in the health and wellness of marginalized populations developed while volunteering at a village hospital in an Indian village. Since then, Shruti has deepened her experience in instigating community-oriented health initiatives by working as the outreach and health education coordinator at a mental advocacy. She also worked as an honorary research associate at a radiology stroke lab following graduation. Shruti is eager to use the skills she gained to keep building a foundation of meaningful engagement with the country of her birth.

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