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Thinking Beyond Boundaries: A self-profile by Shivaji Kumar

As far back as I can remember, I have always had this desire to know: to understand, and to question why, to ponder, muse and strive at answers, elusive though they maybe. I suppose, it is this overwhelming curiosity towards things tangible and intangible that shaped the course of my life and directed its turns and bends.

It is said that life is a blind alley, one packed with people trying, groping at the unseen walls, to find their ways. Light however, occurs only for a few. Still, and in poverty I realised something of the individuality of each man and of his capacity to mould his environment and change his destiny. Born of extremely poor though determined and courageous parents, it was their sheer tenacity that saved me from the ignorance and poverty that befalls so many millions. It was the cheating and the exploitation meted out to them by the so-called learned men in one of India’s countless villages that prompted them to take such a bold and unusual decision.

I lost my eyesight when I was five, just about the time I could go to school in the city of New Delhi. Fate, and the fact that I was born in the lowest of social strata conspired and made it seem as if everything was lost. And it was only after wasting three long years that I was sent to a blind school at the initiative of a social worker who, was struck by my acute mental keenness among the motley group of children of the construction laborers. I received my education till the fifth grade at this school. The conditions at the blind school were quite constraining and I felt that there were not enough challenges and my potential would not get an opportunity to actualize. Fortunately, having proved myself academically, I was able to get full scholarship to one of the best schools (Spring Dales) in New Delhi, one meant for sighted students. I finished my schooling here, carrying with me an outstanding academic record, with pride, as I had secured an overall second position in the school and top marks in Political Science that year, all over India. The surge of self-confidence inspired me to join as a Political Science undergraduate at St. Xaviers College, in cosmopolitan Mumbai, and for the first time alone to fend with the travails of my daily tenures. I was able to excel here and move to Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi, for graduate studies (M.A. and M.Phil) in International Relations. It was this streak to aspire for progress that propelled me to seek admission into universities in USA for Doctoral studies in International Relations. I received acceptance offers from Purdue University (Indiana), Florida International University (Florida) and Denver University (Colorado). Finally, I accepted admission along with full financial aid from Purdue University for Fall 2002. In addition, I have been selected for the final round of interview for Ford Foundation scholarship due to commence from 2003.

I have decided to pursue academics primarily because this profession affords an opportunity to interact with that section of the society which is generally young, dynamic, and ready to accept new ideas, attitudes, views, and approaches to resolve pressing problems of our lives. I firmly believe that an inclination to explore new ideas and views generates thought processes capable of ushering in a new environment. Such an environment assumes that individuals possess the potential to engage in actions aimed at improving their moral worth, inculcate new thoughts and habits, invent new ways and means to free themselves from the shackles of moribund customs and traditions, and bring fresh outlooks and to bare upon old and seemingly intractable problems besetting our progress.

I have been interested in distinguishing facts from fiction and understanding and explaining them theoretically in order to go beyond the rules and regulations of states and society for their consequences for individual and social life. This has led to explore ideas and issues as varied as human rights, environmental protection, Civil services of India, corruption, the constitution of India etc during my days of under-graduation. I have also written several papers on international issues apart from attending numerous conferences, seminars, and symposia at the School of International Studies at JNU during my M.A. and M.phil. Such an extensive exposure to topical issues of international relations has always induced me to select topics for paper writing and presentations without much interference from my professors. It has helped me to adopt positions on issues of international relations independently of the stated perspectives. I have dealt with topics as diverse as nationalism, globalization, Sino-Indian bilateral relations etc. Significantly, I delved into India-Pakistan bilateral relations immediately preceding, and during a near war situation between the two nuclear power neighbors in 1999 from the perspective of the democratic peace theory for my M.phil dissertation. It explored both empirical and theoretical issues in their bilateral relations, which failed to prevent that crisis and normalize their relations in spite of the existence of democracy in both countries at that time.

I like to communicate my ideas and opinions to as many people as possible and engage in discussions and deliberations. This is so because I firmly believe that it is only through exchange and understanding of varied interests, ideas, and views can we benefit from multiplicity of perspectives on an issue and adopt a comprehensive approach to solve individual, national, and international problems. Therefore, I engaged myself with organizing and conducting several lectures, seminars, and field trips for the political science department of the St Xavier’s College Mumbai in the capacity of General Secretary for two consecutive years during my under-graduation. I have also been member of a voluntary group of students formed for the purpose of arranging and conducting lectures, conferences, and seminars on international terrorism, globalisation, national security, and foreign relations of India with Pakistan, China and the USA at Center for International Politics, Organization and Disarmament in the School for International Studies JNU since October 2000.

This long journey from ignorance to intellectual pursuit has been often punctuated by a deep gap between aspiration and achievements. It is largely so because a blind person in India struggles not only against his disability but also against social attitudes and governmental structures. Every move to receive education and improve one’s status is confronted by a strong antipathy from society that closes almost all doors to develop and progress. The absence of the study material either in Braille or on audio tapes, the non-availability of computer technology for blind coupled with the government’s utter disregard for their upliftment permit little room for personal amelioration. These problems were further compounded for me because I could not afford special aids and equipments and study material.

Nevertheless, I believe it is my optimism, self-belief and will, that have carried me thus far. Sculpting my aspirations out of hard reality will never be easy, but I know my greatest strength is my commitment to hard work and truth.

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