Miss Varman, an MSc student at King’s studying Women and Children’s Health, began The Nila Extract during the Covid-19 pandemic with the aim to give a voice to marginalised communities and underrepresented social concerns. According to Miss Varman, her podcast was born of a ‘last straw’ effort to cultivate conversation and drive forward action on issues that were continuing to go undiscussed.
Growing up from a South-Asian, Tamil background, Varman struggled with prejudice and discrimination even within her own ethnic community. Discrimination and marginalisation seemed to be inescapable problems, so she decided to step up and do something about it. Miss Varman describes how The Nila Extract was born out of a desire to bring awareness to topics that were going undiscussed: “For a long time, I kept blaming myself and telling myself that I was the only one being discriminated for these issues…. but then I realised that some other people might be feeling the same way. So that’s why I started the show really, to talk about these prejudices throughout society, continue learning about them, and to normalise all of these different taboos in different conversations.”
Miss Varman is passionate that educating people on such prejudices and social issues is the best way to spark change. When asked if there was one particular issue that should be at the forefront of societal conversation and action, Varman replied, “It sounds weird, but none of them. I’d focus on being an ally and making sure that I educate myself and the others around us. There’s such a lack of education on these issues in general. I would focus on that more than a specific issue itself…. there’s no one issue that stands higher than another issue in terms of importance or severity.” In addition to The Nila Extract, Miss Varman also shares educational resources on her Instagram page and is planning on expanding her educational platform associated with the show.
Miss Varman experienced discrimination in a variety of ways throughout her school years -even from within her own South-Asian community. In high school, Miss Varman experienced a shock when she briefly attended an Indian school where she unexpectedly experienced a greater deal of discrimination than she had before in her predominantly white school. This ironic experience caused Miss Varman to have a realisation that discrimination can come from anywhere, and in many forms, such as colourism, caste-based systems, or even language. Miss Varman described how the insecurities from her experiences continued to pile up over the years, until she realised in university that the best way to deal with it would be to just begin a discussion about it.
The Diana Award was established in commemoration of Diana, Princess of Wales, who persistently believed in the power that young people had to change the world. The Award recognises young people who have fostered social change through their leadership, initiative, vision, and service. The Nila Extract does just this through its dynamic, relevant, and educational conversations from an array of backgrounds on a variety of issues. The podcast allows listeners to gain insight from a multitude of people who have an experienced perspective on social change, which is something Miss Varman is proud of. “I’m really, truly honoured that so many incredible people who are so high up in terms of making a social change sat down and gave me the time to educate me and educate my listeners.” As a recipient of the Diana Award, Miss Varman will gain access to a development program featuring tools such as educational resources and training opportunities, that will help further her activism goals.
The Nila Extract embodies the aims of the Diana Award in a way that is twofold: both representing marginalised communities and shedding light on critical social issues. Miss Varman says that these two aims intersect on the show by giving a voice to perspectives from those in underrepresented communities, who, through their stories and life experience, can diversify the current narrative on pressing social topics. Miss Varman says, “All of these different people from different walks of life have so many perspectives on the same issue, so I think it’s really important to amalgamate both perspectives. Not just representation, and not just highlighting social issues, but both, as in a way they go hand in hand.”
Miss Varman is passionate that there is great power in education, a strength that comes both from listening and learning to the stories of people who often go unheard. Miss Varman says, “…the best way to educate yourself is genuinely just talking to people.” The Nila Extract not only gives access to conversations from such a wide array of backgrounds, but it also inspires within us a desire to initiate these conversations in our own lives. Miss Varman says, “It doesn’t have to be monumental to make a change, and I think that’s really important to remember.”
Through her persistent efforts to bring nuance, diversity, and greater understanding to social concerns, Miss Varman has made an impact greatly deserving of such a prestigious award. Miss Varman believes it to be critical in our current generation to listen to, understand, and uplift a variety of perspectives. However, she emphasised that a difference can be made beginning with your own unique voice. “…have a look at how someone else wouldn’t approach the situation…narrow it down to how you would do it because it’s so easy to see all of these incredible change makers and obviously take a note from them and take advice and follow in their footsteps, but at the end of the day, you are your own person and it’s important to really connect to the issue that you want to talk about.”