Priyanka is a labour rights activist and researcher focused on workplace safety. She is engaged in movement building against the ravaging effects of the occupational disease of silicosis in western India, particularly among stone carving workers that build Hindu temples across the world. Her work challenges an unconscionable form of inequality - manifesting as fatal, occupational diseases that are disproportionately imposed on caste-oppressed social groups and tribes in India’s hierarchical labour markets. Priyanka has led efforts to collect evidence, undertake advocacy, and enable legal challenges to corporate impunity in this sector, whilst working with networks of community-led and based organisations to achieve policy change in the state of Rajasthan.
Growing up in Kolkata in India, Priyanka spent her early career in Southeast Asia, studying Economics at the Singapore Management University and then working as a public servant implementing economic growth policies for the Singapore government. From here, she pursued her concerns for social and economic justice more directly, with a Master's Degree in Development Studies from the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex. Priyanka returned to India in 2015, to live and work in rural Rajasthan. Since then, she has been immersed in labour and human rights research as well as activism, supporting unions of migrant and informal workers as well as solidarity groups of self-led, Adivasi women.
Priyanka approaches knowledge-building and analysis as a collective process of sense-making of realities, with the goal of enabling strategy building and action in people-led spaces. For instance, Priyanka co-developed the conceptual lens of gender-based subsidies extracted out of women in the contemporary migration economy. These ideas have been published in leading feminist journals such as Gender, Place and Culture as well as Gender & Development, while also fuelling feminist action and politics of women’s collectives, which the research was built around.
Priyanka is a Senior New Voices Fellow with the Aspen Institute. She is also a budding storyteller, interested in the art as means of experiencing freedom and as a tool for advocacy. For several years now, Priyanka has also been invested in exploring pedagogical methods that can strengthen praxis aimed at socio-economic justice. Her current endeavour is to document the experiences of stigmatisation and debasement as well as agency, resistance, and empowerment among Silicosis affected workers and union leaders in their encounters with state and industry.
I have had the opportunity to participate in and observe the inner life of resistance against death and disease in factories and worksites. The material forms of change that have come about are crucial. For me, however, an even more important signifier of change has been an inward shift that has occurred among some workers and their leaders. Overcoming the psychological beating from repeated oppression, their acts of resistance have initiated processes of healing, self-realisation and empowerment for many of us that are involved in this struggle.