Education Student Engagement

Participatory Action Research – Irukkam Island, Pulicat Lake

By Gideon Balasingam

A Master Program at TISS requires us to submit a thesis to complete the graduation successfully. This thesis is an outcome of extensive work done by the student while researching on a specific theme selected by the student. However some Centers in TISS like the Center for Livelihoods and Social Innovation (CLSI) give students the opportunity to add an action component to the research and call it the Action Research. Action Research is where you implement some problem-solving strategies that the local communities want, after the detailed contextual and vulnerability analysis of the selected location. It is the free will of the students to choose between the usual research and the action research.

My specialization under social work is livelihoods and Social Entrepreneurship, it majorly deals with participatory techniques to understand, assess and transform communities. Thus I very enthusiastically chose to take up the Participatory Action Research for my dissertation. However this comes with plenty of challenges and the need to remain committed as it involves working with people in the community.

I chose Pulicat Lake, a fragile eco-system in the southern part of India as my target region for a contextual study. It is the country’s second largest brackish water lake, located majorly in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh and some portion in Tamil Nadu. My dear friend and classmate, Mr. Babu Rao and I spent almost ten days initially exploring the longitudinal and latitudinal stretch of the lake. We realized that the lake was under human threat and soon drying up. People who were earlier dependent on the diverse eco-system of the lake for their livelihoods have lost their sources of income and have become vulnerable to exploitation.

A major part of the lake is left with nothing but the dried salt bed. The local people recount their experiences of how different and full the lake used to be just a few decades ago. But now roads have been built within the lake dividing it into smaller parts. Human Exploitation of the earth resources is TRUE and Climate Change is REAL.

After my first fieldwork in the area,I narrowed down to an island called Irukkam Island within the lake for in-depth vulnerability analysis, I spent around a month living on the island, along with the people there as one of their own. This island is a beautiful place and it’s an hour-long boat journey from the mainland and there are only two boat trips a day to reach there. There are around 2000 people living on that island and they are majorly rice-cultivating farmers and fishermen. Many tourists and bird-watchers also come to the island to experience the life in a remote delicate eco-system or just to take a break from the fast-moving urban lives. However the responsibility to protect the environment and keep it safe from littering or dumping non-biodegradable wastes is hugely lacking among the local people and the tourists. As a result the local people are losing out on their sustenance and irreversibly damaging the environment. There has also been damage to the Pulicat Lake because of over-fishing of crabs, prawns and fishes.

As part of the Action Research, I’m now working with the local people to resolve the climate change issues by aiming to minimize the natural resource exploitation and eco-sphere pollution, and promoting alternative livelihoods and sustainable eco-tourism. I wish to continue with my Action Research even after the completion of my course and the CLSI Center at TISS has been very supportive of it.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Copy of IMG_9548_2
Gideon Balasingam, 25 years
MA Social Work in Livelihoods and Social Entrepreneurship at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

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