Duke University | Baldwin Scholars Program

Suhani Jalota


Suhani Jalota

Having lived in seven cities, two countries and studied at eight schools, change has been a constant in my life. I was born in a village called Osmanabad in India and then lived in four small towns as my father would be transferred in his government job. Kids of bureaucrats in India are a privileged lot. So liveried chauffeurs, beckoned cars, and security guards had been the norm so far. Fortunately for me, my parents moved up the social and professional ladder from the bottom rung, so they have imbibed in me certain values that will help me climb my own ladder to excellence. Honesty and humility are the crucial factors that can really make one go places and my parents reiterate their importance to me every single day. My mother, who works in an NGO that supports the rights of the girl child, taught me the importance of human rights and social equality.

Being a new student numerous times has given me strength to overcome difficulties associated with change and has made me flexible to adapt to different surroundings. This is perhaps what draws me to the Dharavi slums of Mumbai, the maximum city, my new home where people from all over India with its thousands of languages and cultures live together for survival. These people have no secured home, savings and no or very little education. They lie on the streets of the magnificent Mumbai with lowly paid jobs while the city is indifferent to them and is least respectful to women’s rights. I decided to do my economics research on public toilets in the slums with the help of an NGO. It was this research project that spun my life around and made me see astonishing facts and daily suffering. Yet, there were stories of success that gave me confidence to overcome any hurdles in my way, because if those people can play with death every day, my problems are so miniscule. The NGO I was working with consisted only of women from slums all over India who worked as contractors for buildings, as the local police, started microfinance type saving, and took care of their family that mostly consisted of at least four to five children. The zeal and determination of these women really inspired me and I understood a lot about the gender dynamics in the slums. Women empowerment is one of the biggest challenges today in a country like India, where most women employment goes unregistered, yet many households run solely on woman’s income; where the society is largely patriarchal, yet everything is dependent on the woman- household chores, giving birth, income, savings and education of children.

In the slums, I could share my experiences and difficulties and listen to what the slum women had to say. These topics, in addition to subjects of public health and community development and empowerment, are my areas of interest as in the future I hope to help improve lives of the needy and help the people of my country lead a higher standard of living. It may be a seemingly impossible task, to create a world with less poverty and more beauty, but then that’s what dreams are all about. No great idea seems feasible till someone comes up and does it right.
Working in the slums, observing the struggles of the young girls from less advantaged families and discussing work-related issues with my parents have through the years conditioned me to think and live for those who do not have the privileged life I do. Helping to make their lives better by empowering them economically and socially is how I see myself. It’s a life which promises to be enriching and fulfilling and I look forward to living every moment of it.

I am excited and honored to be a part of the Baldwin Scholars program with women who want to impact the world in a big way. Women need to take the forefront and face the challenges head-on; that’s what the Baldwin Scholar’s program is training us to do. I can already feel that it is going to change my life.

You can reach out to me at sj136@duke.edu, and I would be more than delighted to answer all your questions/ tell you how amazing being a Baldwin really feels!