It is hard to say where the scholar ends and the activist begins in Swarna Rajagopalan’s work life. She uses her political science training to read, write, teach and engage with social issues, in consultancy, academic and social change work. Swarna is now based in Chennai, India, where she works as an independent scholar and consultant. She founded Prajnya in 2006, a non-profit that works in the areas of gender equality and peace. She is a founder member of the Women’s Regional Network. Her portfolio is available online at swarnar.com/portfolio. She writes prolifically and is on Twitter @swarraj.
On the Dr. Malathy Singh Visiting Fellowship at Yale University:
On September 11, 2001, I was teaching my second Yale class as Singh Lecturer when four planes set off to cause death and destruction and rewrite international relations. In the weeks that followed, I saw the campus respond, putting its rich knowledge resources at the service of a shocked and confused society. Through the year, I got to be part of community outreach programmes the university organized. I also curated a then-popular series of resource pages on my Yale webspace addressing the questions people were raising after 9/11, and subsequently, after the Gujarat riots in India.
To my mind, scholarship and social engagement have always been symbiotically, organically related, and in the year that I spent at Yale, in the shadow of an event that touched so many lives locally, I learned how knowledge and scholarship can be made available and accessible to anyone who seeks it. The efforts of faculty and administration at Yale to address the trauma and questions of those on and off campus in the New Haven area showed me many ways in which research and public education are related.
This marriage of scholarship and activism defines my life now. I continue to read, write, think and teach, but sometimes I do this in traditional academic spaces, and sometimes I do not. I bring the same spirit to both tasks. I have also founded a non-profit, Prajnya, which works towards gender equality and peace.
My memories of the year I spent as Singh Lecturer are of people, including my wonderful students, and of the magnificent library, of the trees on Hillhouse Avenue, and most impressive, the way that the University took upon itself to reach out to a community in shock. The last spoke to me then, and stays with me now, every day.