Introducing our 2023 DAC Scholar Debayan Das

Debayan Das is the 2023-24 DAC Scholar at St Antony’s, studying for an MSc in Social Anthropology. He wants to use his academic studies alongside his experiences living and working with tribal communities to conduct development-oriented research among the marginalised communities in India with minimal threat to their socio-cultural structures. He hopes to initiate a process of change through long-term projects in the areas of sustainable community development, education, and capacity-building for women and youth in the isolated rural areas of India.

Since his school days, Debayan has believed in the idea of service and was deeply influenced by the need for thoughtful action in society through his involvement with the National Service Scheme in India, a government-led scheme that provides hands-on experience to young students in delivering community service.

While he was studying for his bachelor’s degree in history at St Stephen’s College, Debayan undertook a volunteering role, teaching fifty children from neighbouring slums as part of the college Social Service League activities. The crippling poverty and deplorable living conditions in these urban slums propelled in him the need for a platform to speak the truth to the people in power. He co-founded a students’ collective ‘Sankrityayan Kosambi Study Circle’ which believes in the transformative potential of critical thinking against the prevalent structural inequalities to seek social justice. 

He says that his interest in Social Anthropology arose out of a wish to follow his passion for the documentation of intangible cultural heritage, especially folk songs, travelling to the most remote parts of his country, and acquiring knowledge from the lived experiences of people.

After completing his bachelor’s degree, he felt compelled to use his academic rigour for praxis and found work opportunities at non-profits in isolated tribal areas. Struck by the desperation and powerlessness of those people he was working with, he realised very quickly how his ambitious research ideas and passion for contextualising their social actions come from a position of privilege and can take up the form of exploitation if it plays no role in the positive transformation of those people researched. Debayan explains, “whenever I interacted with an Adivasi family, they asked me how much my camera, watch, or jacket cost. In most of my replies, I scaled down the original prices, prompted by guilt and embarrassment.”

Since his bachelor’s degree, Debayan has created a focused body of work among tribal communities in the fields of education, livelihood, community development, heritage documentation, preservation, and practice. Volunteering and working with esteemed non-profit organisations like the India Tribal Care Trust, the Mrida Education and Welfare Society, the Sshrishti Trust, and various local schools in tribal areas over the last two years, he has developed first-hand exposure and priceless insights into various tribal societies and their predicaments, and a great degree of comfort in living and working with them.

He describes how his experiences living and working with people in tribal areas have motivated him to pursue an MSc in Social Anthropology:

“I would like to develop an inductive self-critical approach to perceive the communities and institutions under study not as entities taken for granted but as lived and contested realities. As a practising folk musician, I aspire to deconstruct the ideas encapsulated by the Marfati Fakir tradition where they espouse an alternate idea of the caste system, through their rich canon of songs, disembarking from the mainstream segregating ideal of the caste system, and creating a unique form of caste inheritance, focusing on the notion of fundamental unison within the seed of life.”

St Antony’s is committed to enabling students to fulfill their academic potential, regardless of background or financial concerns. In October 2021, the College Governing Body agreed to a proposal to raise funds for scholarships that will be awarded to students who completed their undergraduate degrees in countries that receive Development Assistance (as identified by the OECD).

Awarding scholarships such as this is not possible without the support of the worldwide Antonian community, and we are grateful to all who have contributed.

Find out more about the DAC Scholarship.

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