My Experiences in Pagdandi Yatra: A Rural Immersion Program

Pagdandi Yatra is a two-week rural immersion program, which is held annually amongst the Korku Tribe of Satpura Forest, Madhya Pradesh. It is a grueling, adventurous, and meaningful journey of exploration, self-actualization, and a means to acquaint yourself with the ground realities of rural India. The aim of the program is to push participants mentally, emotionally, physically and tests how they adapt in groups and individually in unique terrains.

A group of people sitting on the ground. There is a photo exhibition being conducted in the area.
Last Goodbyes at Pagdandi Yatra.

I was fortunate enough to be a part of Turn Your Concern into Action (TYCIA) during the period of my AIF Clinton Fellowship to have this unique experience. I was a bit skeptical about how much I could endure during such an intensive program. I was mostly at home quarantining with my family and working from home hence this was an opportunity I was most excited and nervous about.

As a group, a train from Delhi with my team members and I was extremely excited about embarking on this journey. On the way, we were joined by other yatris who were very open and welcoming. I could feel this could be an interesting adventure. After 17 hours on the train, we finally got off in Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh. We made our way towards the forest through a tempo and by that time it was already sunset, and we witnessed the most beautiful sunset on our way towards the forest.

We laid out the mattresses and bedsheets in between a farm under the broad night sky and set out for the night. We familiarised ourselves with the forest authorities and members of the other partner organizations working with the Korku tribes in the region.

I was excited to see what lay ahead of me during this trip as we slept through the night. In the morning we bathed from a handpump and worked towards collecting stories about the culture of the tribes, COVID relief work, education programs in the community. I had never experienced living so intimately in nature and that was an invaluable experience for me. The parallel of feeling safe and uncertain in an open field is the one you must experience yourself. While interacting with the tribal members, I could feel their enthusiasm as well as skepticism towards outsiders. Over the years, I am learning more about the impact of my presence and privilege. This has made me self-aware of my own social position in society and the various ways in which I need to hold space for others to move towards a diverse and inclusive society.

In the evenings. we cooked, drew water from a well, moved, and made our beds get ready for the night. It is amazing how such programs are creating this space in the community where absolute strangers bond and live together in the community. They connect and live imprints on each other even if they know each other for a short period of time in  the form of memories.

The next days passed living and moving through different villages in the region and learning more about the communities. We created a routine and shared responsibilities with each other.

A group of people sitting under a tree
Pagdandi Yatris sitting together under a tree to relax.

I have not described my favorite part yet! I had never sat in a tractor and never had I realized how different it is to experience moving from place to place in one. On the last day, we collected data on three community issues and presented our work in front of our groups. The village authorities joined in and described their experiences of working with the community.

We ended the day by playing a cricket match and writing notes for each other. We left for our homes and were determined to recreate this experience sometime in the future.

You can find more about Pagdandi Yatra here.

Shivranjani is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Clinton Fellow with TYCIA Foundation in Delhi. For her fellowship project, she is designing and implementing a long-term impact monitoring and evaluation strategy to further the organization’s criminal justice reform work. Being a social and cultural psychologist by training, Shivranjani has developed a deep inclination towards several social and contemporary issues that can be researched and solved at an interdisciplinary level. Her passion for applying to the AIF Clinton Fellowship emanated from her personal and professional background. Her experience of working as a counsellor and life skills trainer with young people from different backgrounds has given her insights into the subjective lived realities of youth in India from an intersectional perspective. As a primary component of her Master’s degree in social and cultural psychology, she has lived, worked, and studied in four geographically and culturally distinct countries in Europe and Asia. These experiences have facilitated her process of understanding different migration systems and cultural systems in different countries through a gendered lens and given her a holistic perspective on the work conducted at TYCIA Foundation, her fellowship host organization. She is looking forward to serving as an AIF Clinton Fellow as it will provide her an invaluable opportunity to create a more empathetic, hopeful, and kinder society through action research by strengthening the projects to reduce recidivism and induce integration.

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