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JSIA alumnus Atharva Mehendale’s research and writing placed grassroots organisations, community development & peace building in the spotlight

“I seek to understand the complexities and idiosyncrasies of crowded bazaars, urbanism, everyday life, and queer identities in cities, especially Delhi,” is how Atharva Mehendale begins his LinkedIn profile. No headlining of his achievements, of which there are plenty (he is a published author, and works with the international organisation, United Religions Initiative). The alumnus of O.P. Jindal Global University (JGU) is driven by curiosity, an eagerness to learn, and knowledge creation through research that raises awareness about community challenges in north India and Afghanistan. The unassuming youngster is making a difference, one meaningful research project at a time!

What has made all the difference for Atharva is taking the road less travelled, à la Robert Frost. He travels back in time to his days as a student of Commerce aspiring to become a Chartered Accountant. At the crossroads of his career decisions, he chose the M.A. in Diplomacy, Law and Business (DLB) programme offered by the Jindal School of International Affairs (JSIA). “I joined the programme in 2018 not knowing where it would take me.Switching streams at that juncture was not an easy decision to make. Two years and four semesters later, I’m glad I did,” he says, looking back on how the journey into an unknown territory panned out for him.

Atharva asserts that it was the multidisciplinary approach to learning at JGU, which eased his transition from Commerce to the Humanities. His learning interests grew beyond the scope of International Relations, and so did his passion for research. His work as a Research Assistant with various centres at JSIA helped to develop his skills in research, analysis, and writing. It also resulted in compelling research reflected in his academic papers – “Urban Mobility in a Post-COVID-19 World: Revisiting Infrastructure Frameworks” and “The Changing Face of Urban Informality – Class, Migration & Gender” – that addressed issues relevant to the present times.

But there was more to come from the avid researcher. In August 2020, Atharva’s first book Community Chronicles – Volume 1 was released. The book explores the role that NGOs and civil society organisations play in community development and peace building processes, and in advocating for policy level changes. A second volume of the same was released in October 2020. It looks at how non-profit organisations and CSOs promote the idea of social inclusion by actively involving marginalised and underrepresented communities living on social fringes, in development and policy-making processes. 

That is staggering work right after completing his Master’s programme! Atharva credits the achievement to the opportunities he got working with URI, a San Francisco based global grassroots network in a freelance project based role. “During my tenure at URI, I was able to extensively work on a grassroots-focused research project, which required me to liaison with non-governmental organisations and civil society institutions working in Delhi NCR, parts of north India and Afghanistan,” he says recounting his experience. He also stresses that it wouldn’t have been possible without the institutional support from JSIA and JGU. 

Atharva’s contributions to JGU’s institution building initiatives as a Board Member of Diplomania, JSIA’s International Relations Society, and as a student representative of the Committee on Gender Sensitisation Against Sexual Harassment (COGSASH) not only helped to encourage strong dialogue but also offered him valuable insights into outreach. Moreover, the two-way engagement through his active participation and JGU’s continued support cemented his bond with the University. During the pandemic, he conducted a webinar for the students of JGU. The association has only become deeper over time.

The prolific researcher has returned to JGU in the capacity of an Academic Tutor and TRIP Fellow under the Teaching & Research for Intellectual Pursuit (TRIP) Fellowship programme. He believes it is a one-of-a-kind opportunity that would help him build on his strengths and further explore his academic, research, and teaching interests. “JSIA and JGU have helped me grow both personally and professionally. I have immense faith in the capabilities of the entire cohort at JGU, and in the excellent support provided by the institution in these vulnerable times. I cannot wait to be back on campus and interact with everyone again,” he signs off on a promising note.

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