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The Center for the Advanced Study of India provides funding and support to undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania to conduct independent research and volunteer internships in India. Funds for the CASI internships are made possible through the support of Penn’s Office of the Vice Provost for Global Initiatives in conjunction with Penn Abroad and Penn’s Global Internship Program (IIP) and through the generous support of CASI donors.
Updated: 4 hours 36 min ago

Preparing to Leave for India

Tue, 05/17/2022 - 22:00

Hi! My name is Himanshi and I’m a rising junior from Gainesville, Florida. This summer, I have the privilege of interning at the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) in Gurgaon, Haryana. A fair warning in advance, this post will probably feature one too many uses of the word “excited”.

As I’m writing this introductory post, I’ve just wrapped up my sophomore year and the trip to India is becoming increasingly more tangible. I’m now two weeks out from my departure from the US and I couldn’t be more excited. My house is invaded daily with conversations about the trip as my parents discuss the logistics of figuring out phone communication, access to Indian currency, and outlet adaptors among many other necessary concerns. While I knew living abroad would be an adjustment, I had little idea of how nuanced some of the changes could be. For this, I’m extremely grateful for my parents’ reminders.

Besides the behind the scenes that’s occurring as I’m gearing up for the trip, I can’t help but remember all my past trips to India. A large majority of my extended family lives in India, so my family makes it a point to make the trip at least every two years. I have extremely fond memories of conversing with my family in broken Hindi, trying the amazing Chana Bhatura for the first time (a wonderful Punjabi dish!), shopping for regal Indian clothing, and experiencing the incredible wonders of India (the stunning Taj Mahal!). These memories are still vivid, but I haven’t been back to India since my sophomore year of high school- and that was well before the pandemic hit. Needless to say, I’m excited to reunite with extended family and be back in India as it’s recovering from the hard hit the pandemic just recently had on its civilians.

Birthday Celebration! Chandigarh rock garden Visiting our Aunt! Memories from past visits to India

With this excitement to be back in India come equal concerns about living there for an extended period of time. My past trips have usually been short and very sheltered as I’d stay with my grandparents and have my parents with me to facilitate conversation wherever necessary. Now, this won’t be the case as I’ll be staying in Gurgaon far from family. Though, this concern in itself brings a great deal of excitement as I’m confident that my wonderful co-intern, Niki, and I will have fun navigating our way through India together. Moreover, as a native Floridian, I really shouldn’t have any concerns about heat, but the Delhi heat is the only unanimous topic I’ve been reminded about constantly whenever I tell people about my summer plans- so, it’s definitely something I’m a bit nervous about!

And now, onto my internship in India- I’ll be interning at PHFI! As someone interested in global health and how the social determinants of health impact health outcomes, I’m very excited to be working in the amazing global workforce that is PHFI. My project centers around studying adolescent health in the area of non-communicable diseases during the pandemic as a means to potentially prepare for similar, future scenarios. I’m looking forward to working with my supervisors, co-intern, and PHFI as a whole on their essential community-based projects.

With that, I know this summer will be a fulfilling one. From the plethora of skills and knowledge I will gain at PHFI to the ability to explore India, I am teeming with excitement (Yes again, sorry)! I am very thankful to CASI for providing me this opportunity.

Can’t wait to meet you again soon, India!

Cyclones and Covid: The dual impacts on the Bangladeshi Sundarbans

Mon, 11/15/2021 - 07:46

Hello again from Dhaka! I wanted to share a bit of my findings in my final post for the Summer (which ended up actually being Fall — sorry Laura!!)

I mentioned in my last post that there were two cyclones: Amphan and Yaas, that affected the Sundarbans during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many families have not been able to work due to the lockdowns and have faced food shortages. This exacerbated existing patterns where the increased extreme weather in the region was already having catastrophic effect on food security and livelihoods. This is well documented in the IPCC fifth assessment report, which states that climate change is adversely affect people’s propensity to produce, access and consume food.

NGOs, INGOs, research institutes, and the Bangladeshi government are working to address the massive food insecurity through policy. There has long been work on food security in Bangladesh and much of the development interventions have been through modern technologies — saline tolerant plants, flood resilient seeds, elevated and sac agriculture, aquaculture, floating gardens, and hydroponics.

The pandemic has led to a massive shift in traditional livelihood practices. Speifically there has been an exponential shift in cultivating shrimp and crab (these changes were already happening slowly but the pandemic has catalyzed them) instead of paddy, although many poor people are being forced to do seasonal migration due to this practice.

One of my interlocuters recounted that her husband became unemployed after the crab sale was stopped due to lockdown. She mentioned that her husband had borrowed a lot of money from various ngos, and now they are facing the uncertainty of repaying this borrowed money. She explained that they are afraid that if they are not able to pay the money back, they will have to leave their home in search of new livelihood and repay the debt.

Some women from her village who work at a local crab export company said that they became demoted from having salaries and fixed income to daily laborers because of the pandemic. This demotion also resulted in not having paid days off and making significantly less money for the same or sometimes more work than before.

The financial losses increased during the lockdown period when cyclone Amphan innundated the coastal area. Many people, who were barely making ends meet, lost their crops and fish, their homes were destroyed, houses were destroyed, and needed to do a lot of labor to make their villages inhabitable. This lead to any even larger increase in borrowing money and an even larger increase in the cultivation of crops, fish, shrimp and crabs again in the hope that they would repay the loan with that money by cultivating again. 

Just when they began to get their lives back in order, another cyclone, Yaas, badly affected local people and their lands. Following Yaas, the embankments of the region were overflooded with water two more times this year (four in total), so the current crops, shrimp, and crab projects have all faced tremendous damage and loss. As a result, there is a possibility of an even more massive food shortage as well as crippling debt in the Sundarbans.

Wayward Internationalisms Across India and Mexico—Conclusion to Summer 2021 Research

Fri, 10/08/2021 - 18:51

In my previous update on my summer research project for CASI, I provided a critical review of scholarship on Latin American Orientalism and Mexican literary representations of the Orient, particularly India. I sketched out an updated outline of my chapter that attended to the question of Orientalism in Latin America and its roots in the early modern Iberian empire that linked Asia to Mexico via the Acapulco-Manila trade routes. A précis for each subsection of the chapter explained how the autobiographical writings on three historical figures—Octavio Paz, M.N. Roy, and Pandurang Khankhoje—help us think anew various historical connections forged between India and Mexico. As a refresher: Octavio Paz—a recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature and Mexican ambassador to India from 1962-68, whose poetry and autobiographical writing on India updates nationalist ideologies of mestizaje through extended references to various Indian spiritual textual traditions; M.N. Roy—an Indian radical nationalist turned international communist who founded the Communist Party in Mexico in 1919, whose Memoirs detail his encounters with Theosophical Societies in Mexico led by mestizos who promoted the Orientalist image of a spiritualized Indian, which, in turn, causes him to meditate on the question of “cultural nationalism” produced in various exchanges between India and Mexico; and, lastly, Pandurang Khankhoje—a Ghadar internationalist revolutionary, trained as an agronomist in Berkeley, California, then fled to Mexico as an exile to avoid extradition by the British Empire after being implicated in the Hindu-German Conspiracy case, and then lived in Mexico for nearly forty years (also becoming a Mexican citizen in the process, astoundingly) until India’s independence. This chapter sought to bring together the travels, writings, and lives of these figures in order to illuminate the range of political, economic, and literary connections that developed between India and Mexico from the interwar period, to the years following India’s political independence and into the revolutionary era of the 1960s.

In my last post, I mentioned the difficulty of neatly synthesizing my research on Pandurang Khankhoje with my writing on Octavio Paz and M.N. Roy. I feared that my work on Khankhoje had started to drift too far away from questions of peripheral Orientalism, which were central to my analysis of Paz and Roy’s writings. I considered excising my section on Khankhoje from this chapter; I thought it would be more appropriate for a separate project, one that would also draw upon the Godha Ram Channon papers held in the Kislak Center’s special collections. However, upon rereading Savitri Sawhney’s biography of her father Pandurang Khankhoje, titled I Shall Never Ask For Pardon, I realized that this need not be the case.

In my last post, I had mistakenly assumed that Khankhoje did not have any contact at all with M.N. Roy. This was entirely incorrect: it turns out that both Khankhoje and Roy had connections with V.I. Lenin through the Second Communist International, particularly in a set of debates related to Lenin’s famous Draft Theses on National and Colonial Questions. Initially, it seems that Khankhoje and Roy had their own differences, as Khankhoje quietly accuses Roy of acting as a kind of political gatekeeper for the Comintern. Speaking as part of the “Berlin Committee,” composed of members of the Ghadar Party and other militant internationalists, Khankhoje responded that the Comintern cannot abandon pursuing “world revolution” in a truly global scope. However, Khankhoje mused that “We could not get an interview with Comrade Lenin. M.N. Roy’s view of us, as not being serious about communism, prevailed.” (I Shall Never Ask for Pardon, 214). Eventually, Khankhoje did end up developing a friendly relationship with Lenin over time, and he was particularly interested in Khankhoje’s agricultural research and the possibilities of improving the caloric intake and diets of peasant laborers in Bolshevik Russia. Their shared concern over better food security for the peasantry, and the land question more broadly, is provocative, but it does not seem to lead to any kind of fully-fledged revolutionary program or collaboration. Rather, Khankhoje takes time to explain in detail ideological fractures that emerged among Indian revolutionaries involved in the Berlin Committee those in the Comintern, particularly over differing views on the “colonial question.” Khankhoje expressed the suspicion that Roy was somehow unnecessarily deepening divides among a pan-Indian revolutionary collectivity. I found that this episode in Khankhoje’s Memoirs , and the fact that not-easily-smoothed-over tensions between Khankhoje’s contingent of revolutionaries and Roy, helped me construct organic pivot from my subsection on M.N. Roy to the one on Khankhoje.

Hot gossip about the interwar Comintern aside, I began to tell a very different story about India and Mexico in the twentieth century when I turned to Pandurang Khankhoje’s memoirs: one about the overlooked socialist origins of the Green Revolution in Khankhoje’s experimentations with cross-breeding high-yield variety seeds in Mexican Free Schools of Agriculture. Initially, these agrarian development programs were to be part of a popular socialist initiatives in Mexico to reduce crop failures and to ensure food security for indigenous peasants. However, after Independence, Khankhoje returned to India and was invited to partner with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, as well as other national and multilateral agencies, to create institutions devoted to rural development. Some aspects of these rural development programs were based on Khankhoje’s research he pioneered in Mexico. More particularly, versions of high-yielding variety (HYV) seeds, as well as these newly formed national and international rural development programs, extended across India (especially Punjab, but also other regions) and Mexico. However, these institutions were ultimately appropriated by global financial institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund under the aegis of Norman Borlaug, with whom Khankhoje also collaborated alongside other technocrats. These partnerships produced a top-down template for agricultural modernization designed to “develop” the Third World—this global project came to be known as ‘the Green Revolution.’ Borlaug, the World Bank, and the IMF worked in tandem with the kinds of institutions founded by Nehru and Khankhoje to expand ‘the Green Revolution’ into rural zones across India and Mexico. Both Akhil Gupta (Postcolonial Developments: Agriculture in the Making of Modern India) and Arturo Escobar (Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World) persuasively detail the many ways in which the Green Revolution devastated rural India and Mexico (as well as other regions in the Third World). These agricultural modernization programs entrenched capital-intensive production of agricultural commodities for both national and international markets, which immiserated small peasant producers and aggravated various kinds of ecological & climate destruction. The Green Revolution continued to ‘’underdevelop” these nations through restructured relations of imperial dependency. Furthermore, the nominal claim heralded by Borlaug and his affiliates to end hunger in the Third World under the banner of the Green Revolution amounted to nothing more than an anti-communist effort to keep the activities of the “Red Revolution” in the countryside at bay–who were seeking to create a revolutionary base among the peasantry.

What we see in this longer trajectory is a reversal of some of Khankhoje’s original egalitarian dreams to labor as part of the revolutionary intelligentsia in political, racial, and economic solidarity with the peasantry. Khankhoje’s socialist experimentations on maize, wheat, and other crop seeds ended up bolstering a capitalistic set of international agricultural modernization programs–a program that was not unilaterally ‘imposed’ onto the Third World by the ‘West,’ but facilitated by various heads of state of newly independent postcolonial nations, and, to a degree, Khankhoje himself. My commentery here is not meant to condemn Khankhoje’s political legacy or scientific achievements; in fact, his narrative raises larger, intriguing questions about the role of science and technology in socialist and capitalist agrarian relations of production (though, admittedly, this inquiry is outside the scope of my own chapter). More importantly, at least for my chapter, Khankhoje’s memoirs continually rehearse his own dissatisfaction with his role in politics in postcolonial India (though he never became totally disillusioned with the possibilities for revolution). As he approached an older age and started to encounter chronic health issues, he started to very reluctantly step back from political work, though the narrative makes clear that this proved to be quite difficult for him psychologically. Indeed, at this point in his life, especially his return to India as former Ghadar revolutionary, was indeed suffused with what we may perhaps call a kind of melancholia. His daughter routinely described some of the challenges he faced in fully reintegrating back into into Indian society as a former political exile, especially in the aftermath of the major social and religious dislocations engendered by Partition.

As I completed the research and writing for this chapter, I found my myself refining the following overarching argument for my chapter: this unorthodox set of texts, when read alongside one another, challenges pieties that underpin dominant narratives of the formation of the “Third World,” usually termed the “Bandung Spirit.” “Bandung” refers to a specific historical event, the 1955 Bandung Conference convened in Indonesia, where several recently independent postcolonial nation-states met to devise institutional structures that would challenge existing forms of colonialism and neo-colonial practice. But, the “Bandung Spirit” refers to something more expansive. It encapsulates a kind of celebratory vision of the Third World as an anti-imperialist project, particularly one that rests on presumptive cross-racial solidarity among peoples in formerly colonized nations across Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

And so, in my final post for the 2021 CASI Summer Research Grant, I wish to touch on the ways I substantiate this argument in my chapter’s concluding subsection, currently titled: “Beyond the Bandung Spirit.”  

To be clear, my chapter does not focus on the 1955 Bandung Conference as such, but the ethos of the “Bandung Spirit” that guides so many popular and scholarly histories of South-South political internationalisms in the twentieth century. And so, my chapter does not exclusively focus on Bandung, but a number of other intergovernmental fora and regional blocs that advocated on behalf of the economic interests of former colonies across Asia, Africa, and Latin America to the United Nations. This includes the Non-Aligned Movement, which emerged out of the 1955 Bandung Conference, as well as the G-77, a forum that played a role in legislating the 1974 New International Economic Order (NIEO), a set of proposals that sought to acknowledge “economic colonialism” and resolve ongoing inequalities related to trade, industrialization, and technology transfer. I also address some of the collaborations between Mexican and Indian nation-states through regional political blocs, like the Economic Commission on Latin America (ECLA) and the Afro-Asian Organization for Economic Cooperation, as well as their participation in the 1966 Tricontinental Conference held in Havana, Cuba, which itself generated a powerful Third World anti-colonial mythos not at all different from the “Bandung Spirit.”

Vijay Prashad’s The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the New World helped me understand these institutional histories. He discusses the hopes and dreams of those from formerly colonized nations, who sought to coordinate global projects against the brutality of European and American colonialism, economic warfare, and imperial racism. These shared aims and objectives constituted the contours of the Third World; as Prashad pithily puts it: “The Third World was not a place. It was a project.” What I appreciate about Prashad’s study is his attention to Communist internationalism in the interwar period, and his cursory remarks about the ideological and institutional implications for the foundations of Bandung-era Third Worldism. In an essay titled “Imaginary Futures and Colonial Internationalisms,” the historian Manu Goswami has expressed that “the neglect of colonial internationalisms has impoverished our understanding of twentieth-century political modernism. It has also made it harder to grasp the affiliations of interwar movements with subsequent waves of internationalism that have oriented an advancing wave of interdisciplinary research” (Goswami “Imaginary,” 1485). A study like Prashad’s attends to this gap—and it is one that I have sought to tend to, as well.

Prashad, for the most part, does not slip into an uncritical hagiography of the Third World, which is a familiar mode of left-wing writing on political histories and individuals. He tries to offer a clear-eyed assessment of the Third World project. For example, he addresses the failure of Julius Nyerere’s socialist village project of ujamaa in Tanzania; this national development project was conducted by state officials and not in any meaningful way alongside the peasantries, who were forcibly relocated in order to “develop” the nation-state. Prashad, in this same mode of calculating some of the pitfalls of the Third World agenda, specifies that the Indian and Mexican nation-states, in the later years of the Non-Aligned Movement, “played a crucial role in the derailment of the Third World agenda” (215). This is largely related to the states’ mismanagement of the debt crisis: “The experience of Mexico cast a long shadow on India’s growing debt. Mexico, an oil-rich country, defaulted on $80 billion in public-sector debt in 1982”; both India and Mexico responded by ramping up national security in order to crack down on organized labor (217) In my understanding of Prashad’s analysis, the Third World agenda did not necessarily create a robust enough buffer against aspiring technocrats from formerly colonized nations, those who would rise to the upper ranks of the state apparatus and blunt the more radical dimensions of the Third World project through bureaucratic means. Nor did the agenda really pursue the revolutionary horizon of the “withering away” of the bourgeois state apparatus, a process that Lenin described in The State and Revolution.   

However, Prashad’s analysis loses its critical nuance as he strains to recuperate elements of Bandung-era anticolonial nationalism. In detailing the difference between racialized European nationalism and the anti-colonial nationalism of the Third World, Prashad writes that “anticolonial movements were conscious of these dual (security and racial) roots for border construction. Many of them had great unease about the linkage between ‘national dignity’ and territorial integrity. Multinational states had little need for chauvinist sensibilities about where the state started or stopped. Within the country, the division of the landmass was often conducted on lines that did not privilege the fault lines of race or religion; in India, for instance, the internal states were divided along the lines of language (which can be learned and therefore is not ontologically derived)” (171). While I understand the impulse to differentiate European nationalism from its variations in anti-colonial practice across the Third World, it is unsettling that the argument rests on an understanding of postcolonial India’s “success” in “dividing the landmass” after Independence. There are countless accounts, both scholarly and activist, about India’s border-making history that do not at all support such a claim. One need not be a scholarly expert to know this and can simply acknowledge the histories of Kashmir, the Assamese Northeast, Manipur, as well as territories that Adivasi communities inhabit, restive regions all contest the legitimacy of the borders born out of Independence. Prashad overlooks these disputes. Furthermore, Prashad’s move to neatly separate language from race and religion is too crude, as these are elements of social life that ultimately cannot be disentangled from such categories. Further, this does not account for questions of multi-linguality and the ranked, hierarchies inscribed in relationships between languages in India.

Prashad distinguishes an earlier practice of anti-colonial nationalism, one that was part of the inception of the Third World, from later anti-colonial nationalisms that regales in religious, racial, and patriarchal chauvinism: “The Third World agenda crafted so carefully, and with its major limitations, withered. The idea of nationalism began to change. Anticolonial nationalism disavowed a strict cultural or racial definition of the nation. Forged in opposition to imperialism, this nationalism created a program and agenda that united people on a platform of sovereignty of economic and cultural freedom…it allowed the new states to be patriotic without being chauvinistic. Patriotism in the Third World states was not to be a ‘zealous love of the country’ in an abstract, mystical way. National patriotism came in the defense of the principles of the republic” (217). In Prashad’s narrative, it is only during the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as a significant political force in the 1980s-90s when anti-colonial nationalism fell into a “systemic crisis.” He writes that the “new nationalism ‘has entered its phase of racial, religious, and cultureal persecutions. The solidarity which transcended racial, religious, and cultural differences has weakened or totally collapsed in many Third World countries” (219). Prashad attaches this form of 90s “sectarian” and “parochially cruel nationalism” to “be the form that IMF-driven globalization has taken since the late 1970s” (219).   

 It is undeniably true that the era of neoliberal globalization has bolstered cruel nationalisms in the Third World. I also understand the Fanonian argument that declares the necessity of anti-colonial national liberation in the battle against European colonization. However, I find that Prashad’s periodization of anti-colonial nationalism in India is incongruent with the connected transpacific histories of Mexican and Indian racial formations, revolutionary movements, and anti-colonial nationalisms that I sketch out in my chapter. As the writings of Paz, Roy, and Khankhoje show, especially from the vantage point of the cultural, economic, and political connections developed between India and Mexico in the longue dureé, we do not get any sense of anti-colonial revolutionary nationalisms untainted by the racialized imagination, one inflected by caste, mestizaje, which are themselves deeply implicated in religious and spiritualist idioms. Closer attention to India and Mexico, the imbrication of anti-colonial nationalisms with transpacific racial imaginaries and formations, as well their role in the expansion of global capitalism through the Green Revolution, pose a challenge to what I understand as a lingering trace of Prashad’s own attachment to the ‘Bandung Spirit.’ Rather than allowing the ‘Bandung Spirit’ to guide our assessment of the Third World and anti-colonial nationalisms, the task is, instead, to revitalize a famous revolutionary maxim that Karl Marx penned in an 1843 letter: “…what we have to accomplish at present: I am referring to ruthless criticism of all that exists, ruthless both in the sense of not being afraid of the results it arrives at and in the sense of being just as little afraid of conflict with the powers that be.”

Recently, literary critics and scholars of comparative literature have begun to interrogate the “Bandung Spirit” in a manner reminiscent of Marx’s mode of “ruthless criticism of all that exists.” For example, Shu-mih Shih, in an article titled “Race and Relation: The Global Sixties in the South of the South,” writes that “Bandung has long been considered the inaugural moment for racial brotherhood, but both the terms ‘racial’ and ‘brotherhood’ are haunted…by what happened following the conference…but also by revelations of what had transpired during the conference itself” (Shih “Race and Relation,” 149-150). She writes: “the host of the conference, as has been recently revealed, ran a ‘hospitality committee’ consisting of beautiful women, some of whom were already married, to offer, among other things, sexual services to the delegates. The masculinist thrust of the conference is perhaps best embodied in the all-too authoritarian states that the participant countries became: in the words of Samir Amin, ‘Bandung regimes’ of one-party states and authoritarian regimes that abused basic human rights and deprived workers and peasants of economic rights. Most of the countries involved, including India and Zanzibar, practiced racial nationalisms in which social inequality was structured by ethno-racial hierarchies” (149-150).

She concludes her essay with a call to proliferate new narratives about the Bandung Conference in relation to the “global formation of race” and that “rethinking our piety towards the global sixties has recently spurted critical reflections on the Bandung Conference, such as Antoinette Burton’s calls for a new history that would ‘refuse all of Bandung’s pieities and romances and break, finally, from its presumptive fraternal narratives, if not its epistemological grasp” (Shih “Race and Relation” 150).

Antoinette Burton, a historian of the British Empire, has elaborated upon the enduring power of the “Bandung Myth” in the contemporary imagination in her book, Africa in the Indian Imagination: Race and the Politics of Postcolonial Citation. She argues that the vocabulary of “Bandung” has in fact bolstered a “syntax of postcolonial nationalism” that shores up a racial hierarchy of ‘Brown’ Indians over ‘Black’ Africans. Through detailing specific examples on the literary, economic, and cultural encounters between India and the African continent, Burton extrapolates and makes the more general claim, which has consequences for thinking about South-South political internationalisms more broadly: “Bandung needs to be re-imagined less as an emancipatory lesson than as a cautionary tale about the racial logics embedded in postcolonial states from the moment of their inception: about the enduring power of ‘blood and nation,’ in other words” (6-7).  

It can be very easy to read the autobiographies of Paz, Roy, and Khankhoje as innocuous instantiations of Mexican-Indian ‘cultural exchange’ or within the terms of the romanticized ‘Bandung Spirit.’ But I have sought to puncture this narrative throughout my chapter, by connecting colonial interwar internationalisms to postwar internationalisms, and by reading closely and critically Paz, Roy, and Khankhoje’s narratives. In Paz, we witness the Orientalist, ideological renovation of anti-colonial nationalist mestizaje his poetry and writing on India; this was not incidental to his post as the Mexican diplomat to India, but a register for South-South racialized geopolitics. In Roy, we see his concern over brewing forms of chauvinism taking shape as cultural nationalisms within the interchanges between Mexico and India, particularly in the global proliferation of nationalist idioms produced by Swami Vivekananda and other Hindu reformers. And, in Khankhoje, we see the failure for socialist agrarian development to become fully-fledged globally and its cooptation by capitalist financial institutions and postcolonial heads of state. His own personal testimony and his difficulties to integrate back into India after Partition and the glimpses of communal, racial conflict taking shape there..  

My hope is that the study of wayward internationalisms, narratives like Paz, Roy, and Khankhoje, will not only trouble romantic narratives of the ‘Bandung Spirit,” but also lead us to other archives and literatures that can limn hitherto under-explored horizons of collective liberation.  

Thank you, CASI, for supporting my research and writing this summer!

Wrapping up the summer

Fri, 10/08/2021 - 03:05

As I mentioned in my earlier posts, I was tying up some loose ends to my current empirical chapter during the summer. In this time I also went back to listen to some of the interviews I did last year in order to theorize more about the mechanisms that drive women’s political empowerment in the absence of their migrant husbands. In fact, during this time I was also feeling a bit out of touch with the field since I have not been able to talk to people face to face in a long time. We spend a great deal of time crunching numbers and writing up analyses but after a point actual interactions with respondents and those whose lives we are studying bring us back on track and reinvigorate us. I a grateful to these interviews. I went back to listen and re-listen to them. I listened to them as I walked to work and sometimes even while I was grocery shopping.

During this period, I also began preparing for fieldwork as things in India began to slowly open up. This involved setting up connections with local researchers in order to get their help to enter these communities. I was glad to be connected to Kailash ji – a mid mannered and soft spoken man from Araria, Bihar. He has experience in conducting surveys on various themes in Bihar and other parts of Northern India. He has now moved on to be a supervisor and is on the look out to start out on his own. I was delighted to be connected to him as his knowledge of the local community helped me navigate villages in Araria. With his help I hired a surveyor who was to accompany me on the ground. It was also exciting for me since this was my OWN project and I had to manage all the logistics related to it. Preparing for fieldwork might not yield tangible outputs but it teaches you a lot of skills like time management, planning, supervising and managing a team and so on. These are skills that come of use later on in life even if they are not directly visible in the academic outputs we produce.

I am grateful to have spent a last part of last year and this suer working on understanding the broader patterns related to women’s political empowerment in migrant sending communities. All this knowledge prepared Mme to have a targeted approach to my upcoming fieldwork stint. Therefore I spent some time devising questions under each module or theme that I was interested in. While preparing I felt like I knew what I was looking for (even if it was not that clear). I briefed the field team on the project and we discussed the main themes to pursue. I was specifically interested in understanding women’s access and interaction with the state, the extent of their ability, the role of household structures in explaining empowerment and finally women’s networks. Thus, with I prepared questions along these lines before I went on the field.

All in all, this summer involved preparing for the next big data collection exercise for my dissertation based on all the prior analysis conducted on secondary data.