Jasleen Kaur

February, 2017

“Tum school jaati ho?” (“Do you go to school?”), I asked one of the little girls who looked around 13-14 years old. “Nai didi, jaati thi par chor dia: ghar ka kaam karti hun” (“I used to go but left: I do household chores now”), she replied.

The year 2016 has been a J-PAL year and well, it has been like a roller coaster ride, of learning new things, meeting new people and realizing that there is a lot more to India than we see. The project I ventured into taught me intricacies of field research in a very short span of time. I am working on the project, “Disconnected and Uninformed: Dissecting and Dismantling India’s Gender Gap in Social and Political Empowerment”. The Principal Investigator on this project is Soledad Artiz Prillaman who is a Phd student at Harvard. We aim to see via an RCT in 5 districts of Madhya Pradesh, the impact of PRADAN’s (our implementation partner) gender interventions on women’s political and social empowerment. I got connected with Soledad in January 2016. I had recently graduated out of CDS and was really interested in pursuing Development Economics. The J-PAL opportunity was a right fit for what I wanted to do, and to put into use what I had learnt for almost 5 years of my education in Economics.

This job has been an enriching experience every single day. When we were doing our baseline in May-June 2016, I visited a few villages to oversee the work that our surveyors were doing. In one of those visits in Shahpur Block of Betul district in MP, I had the opportunity to very informally, interact with young boys and girls about their aspirations in life. While one girl who was the daughter of a sarpanch wanted to become a police woman and wanted to go to Bhopal for training, there were many who could not even study. Either, they were not allowed or they had to help with household chores while both parents went to the fields. Elder sisters took care of the younger kids when both parents were away. They cooked, cleaned, fetched water and gas. My emotions welled up on seeing their overwhelming reaction when I clicked their pictures. Mobiles were something that were so new that they were awestruck to find how a camera worked.  Some young girls were so happy to have their pictures clicked that they would dress and tell me, “Didi, Ab photo loge?”. (Now, could you click a picture?), and their happiness knew no bounds. This was an intellectually stimulating and an exciting experience

Being a part of J-PAL I have learnt to multitask. I had to manage team of surveyors, supervisors, monitors; be their HR, their trainer, their moral support, and a leader to them. The project work provided me with valuable hands-on experience, also the opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills I had acquired as a student of Economics. This field requires a person to develop hard core corporate skills, while keeping intact the soft, people skills. J-PAL research team encourages innovative ideas and critical problem-solving skills, without forgetting that we should serve the community in the best possible way.

The fact that we can make a change urges me to push myself harder. This year has been an effort to make that change that I have believed in. To try and change the situation of women in this country. When I meet kids and their parents in the village and tell them that they should study, I know I have made my contribution. When just my presence makes, them feel that their kids can become what I am today, if they study, I know I have made my contribution. Apart from a great work experience I have gained transferable skills, confidence, motivation, and work habit. I would also encourage other students to apply for such programs and get a broad range of experiences.