Hina Fathima’s thesis may have a provocative title, but it’s in service of a serious issue. “Shit Talk: Culture, Open Defecation, & Development in Rural India” explores the political science major’s interest in poverty and development in her home country through the issue of open defecation, the practice of people going out in fields, bushes, forests, bodies of water, or other open spaces rather than using the toilet.
“Open defecation seemed to me a really interesting and multidimensional topic,” says Fathima. “It had elements of public health, public policy, environment, culture, and economics. The fact that nearly half of my country’s population does not use toilets was absurd enough to thoroughly captivate my interest. Plus, it was a hot topic in India in 2014 as Narendra Modi, India’s new prime minister, claimed to eliminate OD in five years, by the year 2019.”
In addition to the work she did here on campus for the thesis, Fathima traveled to Bangalore, India, over winter break with funding from the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship for some first-hand research. While there, she worked on the Behavior Change Campaign for Arghyam, a grant-making organization that works on sanitation and groundwater issues across India.
“Arghyam, along with its partners, was trying to induce behavior change in villages in order to promote toilet construction,” she says. “Through Arghyam I was able to visit villages in rural Davangere and conduct semi-structured interviews with village residents and local government officials.”
How did your advisor help you develop your thesis?
My advisor was [Associate] Professor Craig Borowiak, and frankly, I could not have produced the work I did without him. We used to meet almost once a week to talk about thesis and set some doable deadlines. He helped me polish my research question, challenged my assumptions and analysis, helped me shape the chapters and narration of the thesis, discussed ideas with me, and encouraged me when I was feeling [unmotivated]. He provided helpful articles, read chapters at short notice, and also helped me understand my research findings from my fieldwork. He was an endless source of support and someone I could lean on during the entire thesis process.
What is your biggest takeaway from the project?
I enjoyed learning new theories and grappling with my own assumptions of Indian politics and government. I was especially compelled by anthropologist Arjun Appadurai’s writing on culture and development and truly wish I had taken at least one anthropology course at Haverford! My biggest takeaway is that I really enjoy fieldwork and being a researcher. I realized to my surprise that presenting my findings and doing a large-scale research project is quite fun, and that I really am passionate about development politics in India. I want to go back and work in India, but [I’m] not sure how soon.
Photo by Hina Fathima ’15
“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.