“I have naturally been inclined towards social services since my childhood, primarily because of my parents who often would take us to NGOs on special occasions and donate generously to people. So in order to follow in their footsteps of giving back to society, I opted for Law during my Bachelor’s and then got into the litigation sector. Unfortunately, I not only found the job boring but the pay wasn’t great either and everything was too technical, rather than social. So I shifted to the corporate sector and joined the social security laws team at B S R & Co. LLP (an entity of KPMG India) in Gurgaon, Haryana. The pay improved but I wasn’t still satisfied personally. At the same time, I was also doing my LLM, which often led to sleepless nights and additional stress.
Eventually, a year later, I quit my high-paying job and decided to go to a village to work for the Youth for India fellowship, a flagship program of the State Bank of India Foundation. My father was shocked and concerned but my mother was supportive. They both believed when the reality and hardships of staying in the village would strike me, I would want to come back to city life and my corporate job but the opposite happened! I fell in love with the simplicity of village life; I finally felt I was doing something worthwhile for this society. And the warmth, love and care that the villagers showered on me made me the happiest I had ever been. I came back almost disliking the life I had led before. The pandemic was just setting in, but I was fortunate to get a lectureship position at my own university for a period of six months. I loved teaching and it made me realize I shouldn’t let the academic and corporate knowledge that I had gained over the years go to waste. So I decided to combine all of it and opted to do a PhD.
My PhD work involves identifying the lacunae in labor laws for migrant workers, particularly the female workers in New Delhi. As we are all aware, migrant workers were the most affected people during the pandemic. Those images of people walking to their village from the city still haunt me! When I went to talk to these female workers a couple of months ago, as part of my field study, I discerned whatever minimal they earned during the day would get utilized by the end of it, and there were no means of savings for them.
My supervisor wanted me to target about 500 such female migrant workers for my empirical study. Initially, I thought it was impossible because I was alone. But my mother pitched in; she accompanied me to almost all my field trips, be it the factories or the slums, and I managed to talk to 506 female workers in total. Having her by my side helped me a lot. I tend to be temperamental and there were times when people thought we were from the opposing political parties asking them odd questions, which would have made me lose my calm completely had she not been around to handle those difficult situations. Funnily, I also experienced moments when male migrant workers would come up to me and start narrating their stories thinking I would take those into account as well, I couldn’t explain to them that there were limitations in my study.
But all in all, I think it was an eye-opening experience for me because it made me understand how privileged we are and how we take those privileges for granted. It made me appreciate life more. Now that I am done with my field study, the next step is to start writing my thesis chapters, something I have been pushing aside for a while and hopefully finish my PhD on time.”
-Niimisha Kaul, PhD in Law, University School of Law and Legal Studies, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, New Delhi
Interviewed and written by Payel Das