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Building Youth Centric Knowledge - Kanaja

About youth, for youth, by youth

The Kanaja Youth Research Cell:

The mandate of Kanaja, Samvada’s youth research cell, is to create and disseminate knowledge about youth and youthhood, in partnership with young people. Youthhood is marked by multiple life transitions in education, work, families and relationships, amongst others. These transitions occur at a time when individuals have limited autonomy in their lives — with families, and other adults viewing them as immature, or incapable of decision making. Within public discourse, youth are seen as a potential economic resource or demographic dividend important for the future goals of nation building.
These views of young people, as either immature and short-sighted, or as important only for a productive nation’s future, does not do justice to the complex social realities young people grapple with. It is this complex social reality of young people’s ‘today’ that Kanaja hopes to understand. Rather than see youth only as economic actors, we see them as physical, emotional and sexual beings; as philosophers and visionaries.

We seek to understand how youth and youthood are shaped by the social, economic and political upheaval and transformation that mark India today. The country has moved from manufacturing to a service industry, and now a ‘gig economy’- these have brought in new possibilities, as well as vulnerabilities. A polarised political landscape, largely unchanging norms about marriage, relationships, education and career, are the realities that young people face. Even as social media and new forms of technology have re-defined their everyday social lives, conservative social norms continue to be upheld, often in the name of tradition or community, and the threat of violence for transgressions remains a constant.

Understanding youthhood within this complex socio-economic, cultural and political landscape is the challenging task that Kanaja has set for itself. We recognise that youthhood is not singular- caste, class, ability, gender, sexuality, community identities, among other axes of social difference- shape a young person’s life. Staying attentive to intersectional identities of young people, Kanaja will work to produce knowledge about youth and youthhood in ways that sees young people as collaborators and partners, rather than objects of knowledge production.

Some broad themes that Kanaja is interested in include

• To understand how disadvantage/privilege shape youthhood through the intersections of caste, class, gender, religion, region, disability, and sexuality.
• To understand youth attitudes towards caste, communalism, gender and other aspects of society.
• To understand the education and livelihood concerns of youth from disadvantaged social locations, and the opportunities they are able to access.
• To understand how youth from marginalised social locations experience exclusion/ inclusion within workplaces, and the transformations that become possible through work.

Currently, Kanaja team members Dr. Shalini R and Dr. Savitha Suresh Babu have received research grants individually to work on projects related to-

1) Education and social justice titled ’Mapping educational innovations for social and ecological justice’ funded by TE|SF (Transforming Education for Sustainable Futures).

This research project will map two educational interventions with an explicit commitment to social justice- Baduku Center for Livelihood Learning and Visthaar- A Non-Formal Academy for Peace and Justice. These Bangalore-based interventions offer livelihood-centric courses using innovative pedagogy and inclusive design with the goal of forging spaces for transforming education. This mapping by adoption of a participatory feminist framework hopes to fill the gap in understanding alternative educational interventions in India, particularly those that cater to the socially marginalised. Subsequently, this understanding will be important in collectively framing new pathways for social justice in and through education.

Principal Investigator: Dr. Shalini R
Co-investigator: Dr. Savitha Suresh Babu

2) Cultural hegemonies in Kannada theatre funded by India Foundation for the Arts.

This research project will investigate the ways in which youth from marginalised caste groups navigate the contemporary Kannada theatre space, by examining the nature of conflicts they grapple with to claim their cultural legacies. The project will explore the layered cultural hegemonies of Kannada Theatre and the possibilities of imagining counter-cultural aesthetics. By exploring the journeys and aspirations of young theatre practitioners through and beyond the formalised theatre education, this project seeks to understand the diversity, complexity and intersections of caste, gender and class within Kannada theatre. Through rigorous archiving of Dalit cultural forms, it will attempt to rethink theatre pedagogy and practice in ways that could diversify contemporary Kannada theatre in terms of composition, aesthetics and form.


Project Coordinator: Dr. Savitha Suresh Babu

Collaborators: Dr. Shalini R & Lakshmana KP

Between 2019 and 2021 Kanaja has funded and guided the following youth-focused and youth-led research projects:

1. Young Dalit Women's Negotiations with Education, Career and Marriage

2. Experiences of Young Women Journalists in Kannada Print and Electronic Media

3. Impact of Covid 19 on Youth Retail Workers

4. Youth Perspectives Towards Inter-Caste and Inter-Religious Relationships

Support Our Research

Help us strengthen the idea of knowledge building from the grassroots!
We are looking for funding to continue our research and
establish Kanaja as the first of its kind in India. ​

In the coming years, we hope to build Kanaja into a fully fledged and fully funded independent body within Samvada. With your help, we can encourage youth-led research, intervene meaningfully in the field of youth studies, and develop research methods that are ethical, participatory and rooted in the goal of social justice.