CASI Student Blog
The end of July marks the end second month of my summer research on cultural conservation efforts in India. Over the past two months, I have built and expanded a database of local and international organizations that contribute to the preservation of the subcontinent’s built heritage. Driving this work is the desire to catalog the sheer number of actors in the Indian conservation space which, in the long-term, may help illuminate relationships between these actors.
This, I’ve discovered thus far, is no small task: according to official government counts, there are 19,220 culture and art NGOs formally registered in India, and beyond that, there are scores of other international trusts and non-profits operating within the country’s borders. With such expansive yet poorly categorized digital records at my fingertips, my challenge has not been finding information per se but finding enough hours in a day (or summer) to comb and catalog it into something comprehensible.
In pouring over these ledgers of registrations, however, I cannot help but make a few notable observations. First, the exceptional multiplicity of preservation projects is striking. While my expertise and this summer’s work mainly centers on India’s built environment, this research is opening my eyes to unique, unusual, and utterly fascinating conservation ventures: underwater archaeology that addresses shipwrecks in the Bay of Bengal, institutes that track tattooing practices of the Wancho, ecological conservation groups aiming for snake control in Assam, and many others.
Regardless of the idiosyncratic nature of some organizations, it is important to note that the sheer volume of NGOs, national trusts, and non-profits in the the Indian NGO space yields an undeniable redundancy that only further underscores India’s significant and sometimes puzzling levels of bureaucratic bloat. For instance, the small but mighty capital city of New Delhi has a shocking NGO density of nearly 62 arts/cultural organizations per square mile. In this archaeologically-rich slice of India’s Golden Triangle, certainly there is a poignant need for preservation. Still, I can’t help but ask: where is all that money going? Who all is it coming from? And why–after decades of conservation campaigns–do sites continue to be at such risk?
In my view, this database will not just allow us to approach such questions about India but will enable a broader snapshot of the highly global, highly connected market in which cultural heritage investments circulate. With this aerial view, I am interested in revisiting the question of “effective” heritage management and ultimately reconsidering which sites–or whose interests–preservation actually seeks to save versus destroy, shield versus sacrifice, prioritize versus trivialize.
For the time being, though, it is back to data-collection for me.
Hello! My name is Simran Rajpal and I am a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences studying public health and computational biology. This summer, through my Undergraduate Research Internship under the Water Center at Penn, the Center for the Advanced Study of India and Safe Water Network, I’ll be studying how integral water infrastructure is to improving health and gender equity in the US and India, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve learned a lot about the Safe Water Network and the role of women in water collection efforts in India. In countless households across the country, with homes left unconnected to city water supply, women typically pick up the burden of water related obligations: water collection, storage, purification, use in domestic chores, and treating family members who fall ill with water-related diseases. The lack of convenient access to affordable safe drinking water affects their ability to participate in economic, social, and political activities – effectively locking them into a sustained cycle of disadvantage.
With women making up only 26% of the workforce in 2018, Safe Water Network’s critical work to empower women through sustainable water enterprises – making water more accessible and creating workplaces for women entrepreneurs – is so incredibly important to alleviating this burden.
Over the course of my internship, I’m excited to learn more about the work being done to expand these efforts throughout the rest of the Indian subcontinent. As an aspiring global health professional, it has been so illuminating to see all the work that goes on behind the scenes of a nonprofit doing such vital work. And, on a more personal note, as an Indian-American, it has been so fulfilling to begin to work on projects revolving around the country I’m so proud to claim my heritage from.
The Evolution of Family Planning and Sexual Science in Post-colonial and Contemporary India: The Role of the Family Planning Association of India (FPAI)
(This update has been based upon research conducted using the digital archives of the Wellcome Library, London as well as digital resources of the FPAI).
Two Indian states ruled by the Hindu nationalist right wing political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Uttar Pradesh and Assam have, recently proposed population control legislations that would considerably disadvantage families having more than two children as they would be barred from receiving any benefits from government welfare schemes and would also be ineligible for employment in government jobs. While proposed as legislations to reduce demographic pressure on limited resources, the chief ministers of both the states that have proposed these legislations have explicitly targeted Muslim minorities as being primarily responsible for indiscriminate population increase in India. The rate of population growth among the Muslims has been consistently declining since the past two decades and the argument of Muslims driving the population growth in India lacks factual merit. However, it is not surprising that population control has become a vehicle for Hindu majoritarian politics of the BJP with the advancing authoritarianism in India. Such a communal discourse centered on population dates back to the early 20th century since when the management of population has been linked to goals of national development.
The subaltern population in India, whether it be the Muslim minority, the lower classes and cates and the tribals have been consistently framed as the subjects of demographic policies in both colonial as well as post-colonial India. After independence, India was one of the earliest nations to formally include family planning as a part of ‘national planning’ under the First Five Year Plan in 1952. The government worked closely with organizations like the Family Planning Association of India (FPAI) to enact its demographic policies. The FPAI established in 1949 distinguished itself from earlier birth control associations as being a national organization which was connected with international bodies such as the International Planned Parenthood Foundation (IPPF) established by American birth control activist, Margaret Sanger. The FPAI formulated itself as an organization that was not just involved in birth control advocacy but was also at the forefront of generating scientific knowledge on sexuality and included gynecologists as well as leading sexologists such as R.D.Karve, A.P.Pillay and later Mahinder Watsa in the organization. The FPAI was instrumental in institutionalizing sexology in post-colonial India and also renewed the transnational association of Indian sexology through the organization of international sexology conferences and publishing the Family Welfare journal right through the 1980s and 1990s.The webpage of the FPAI, that has recently also been involved in tackling the COVID 19 pandemic in India. (https://fpaindia.org/) A pamphlet for marriage counselling produced by the FPAI. (Source: Wellcome Library) HIV-AIDS prevention advocacy by the FPAI (Source: Wellcome Library)
The evolution of the FPAI has been consistent with the changing socio-political and economic contexts of India. Through the 1950s and 60s, the FPAI worked closely with the Indian government focusing on birth control and maternal health. The FPAI developed centers in rural as well as urban areas and demarcated the mobilization of birth control among rural women as a foremost aim. Women continued to be the target audience of its policies through the 60s. From the 70s onwards the FPAI broadened its scope to include sex education, counselling and research in its activities spearheaded by Watsa. In this period, the FPAI received funding not only from the IPPF and the Indian state but also the British government’s Ministry for Overseas Development and a British NGO, Population Concern. Archival evidence shows how in 1980, Kenneth Baker, a British MP paid a visit to India to oversee the functioning of the FPAI before sanctioning funds. His itinerary included a visit to the slums in Mumbai along with a factory operated by the TATA group where 50 female sterilization operations were conducted every week. Funds were also sanctioned particularly for rural development as evidenced through grants provided for furthering contraception and improving reproductive health in Kundam, a rural area in Madhya Pradesh. Such activities were in line with the patriarchal, casteist and classist assumptions of earlier population control projects. Despite such shortcomings, the FPAI as an institution was at the forefront of producing as well as mobilizing sexual knowledge in India through the 1980s with the production of its annual reports and research authored by doctors, sexologists and psychologists. In the 1990s the FPAI was involved in advocacy of HIV AIDS prevention and treatment and altered it discourse to include more rights based and sustainable aims of empowering local communities and actors whether they be women, MSM (men who have sex with men) or sex workers. Corporate funding and sponsorship have only enhanced over the years. An interesting finding from my preliminary research into the activities of the FPAI has also been coming across ways in which sexology and birth control advocacy affected individuals. I came across the letter of a 72-year-old man, Ashwini Pal, associated with the FPAI and based in Calcutta. It was addressed to the British birth control advocate, Marie Stopes and written in 1954. In his letter he outlined ostracism that he had faced as he tried to open a birth control clinic in his ancestral village and wrote about collaborating with the Bacteriological Institute in Calcutta to further contraceptive research. In the same letter he also asks for sex advice from Stopes in addition to purchasing condoms as well as a lubricant for his personal use. The history of sexual science and contraception in post-colonial India therefore in addition to reflecting contemporary socio-political concerns was also about issues that affected the individual who was situated at the cross roads of national as well as transnational developments.
Since my last blog post, I have begun analyzing data from fieldwork conducted over the last year, and working toward outlining a chapter of my dissertation following this analysis. While outlining, I have been feeling a particular stuckness around writing about the fragmented nature of fieldwork during COVID-19. During this time, I have frequently returned to a number of methodological questions, particularly since the uninterrupted months of ethnographic work that I had initially planned were interrupted by several pandemic-related developments. Working through the pandemic to reconfigure what I had previously thought of as both my field sites and fieldwork methods, I realized that the pandemic represented a disruption that did not simply mean the movement of all that would have happened in-person to an online space. Instead, it raised several questions for me: how had I defined my field previously, and what would shift now when I located myself and my participants virtually? What methods would continue to allow for an attention to ethnography’s classic thick description, amidst the many ways in which COVID has continued to reconfigure my participants’ lives and my own? Between the fragmentation of our many virtual worlds, how might thickness itself come to be reconfigured? And finally, how might these insights influence not only fieldwork decisions and practices during this moment, but also those in future times?
As I work through this feeling of being stuck, I have found the patchwork ethnography manifesto by Gokce Gunel, Saiba Verma and Chika Watanabe to be particularly generative in thinking about how many of ethnography’s assumptions about long-term, in-person fieldwork may not always prove to be feasible. Gunel, Verma and Watanabe conceptualize patchwork ethnography as a “new theoretical and methodological approach,” consisting of “a set of ethnographic processes and protocols designed around short-term field visits, using fragmentary yet rigorous data, and other innovations that resist the fixity, holism, and certainty demanded in the publication process (2020). To this end, the authors also raise a few questions about how various components of the ethnographic process can be reshaped. Of particular interest to my writing in this chapter has been their fourth question in the manifesto: “How does the method of patchwork ethnography rethink the temporalization of data collection and analysis?” As the authors acknowledge, writing and fieldwork are typically imagined as linear, separate processes, and I found this question generative for its acknowledgement that the two often can – and do – happen alongside each other. I also found it particularly helpful to sit with their call to re-think linear temporal engagements with one’s fieldwork, one’s presence on the field, and by extension the field itself. How might data analysis and writing work with (or against) a range of temporal notions about data collection?
In my next post, I hope to work toward a fuller version of the chapter, and to expand upon how this question has been fruitful to engage with in my own research and writing. I look forward to drawing upon scholarship from disability studies as I outline the ways in which crip time might allow for an expansive engagement with ethnographic fieldwork and writing.
Hi! My name is Akhil Vaidya, and I am an undergraduate student at the University of Pennsylvania studying at the Annenberg School of Communication. I am originally from a suburb outside of Atlanta, Georgia, but I will be conducting research from my apartment in West Philadelphia this summer. As a senior, I am excited to spend my last summer at Penn working as a research assistant under a grant from the Center for the Advanced Study of India.
Over the next few months, I will be working with Professor Ramya Sreenivasan to gather findings for a new research project that focuses on Hindi films as a key vector of a mass culture in India that was formed during the twentieth-century. Instead of looking at Hindi films through the more traditional lens of academic cinema studies, this project aims to illuminate the communities and social landscapes that the creators of these popular narratives inhabited during these time periods. In analyzing the Hindi film industry from this perspective, we hope to deepen understandings of how the social backgrounds of these key creatives shaped popular films and, subsequently, mass culture in India.
My first major task is to watch a lot of old movies! I’ve been having a great time diving into the cinema that my parents and grandparents grew up with, analyzing each film for its narrative features and carefully noting the networks of film industry professionals that began to form during this time. I have been enjoying the work so far, and I am very excited to continue working with Professor Sreenivasan to develop this project!
Hello! My name is Josh Steinberg and I am a rising senior (Class of 2022) from Needham, MA. I am in the College of Arts and Sciences studying psychology with minors in neuroscience and legal studies/history. This summer, with the support of CASI, I will be assisting Dr. Robert DeRubeis (Dept. of Psychology) and Akash Wasil with various projects relating to mental health and wellness of Indian students. Notably, I will be focused on implementing and assessing the efficacy of brief, online mental health interventions for this population. Dr. DeRubeis and Akash (a graduate student in his lab) are very well-versed in research on global mental health, and on depression in particular. By working with the DeRubeis Lab I hope to improve my data analysis skills and learn more about how findings from intervention-focused research can be translated into clinical practice. As an aspiring clinical psychologist interested in the treatment of mental illness, I can think of no better opportunity given my interests and goals. I look forward to updating you as I continue my work this summer.
Sometimes while I am neck-deep in human rights reports from the Hampi Bazaar demolition, juggling Hindi and English during an informant interview in Delhi, or falling down the digital rabbit-hole of corporate linkages, I realize how slippery the category of “cultural heritage” can be–and, as such, how complicated it can be to appropriately manage it. With the support of CASI this summer, however, I hope to shed some light onto that very dilemma.
My name is Kathryn Kalady Osowski, and I am an M.A. student with the University of Pennsylvania’s South Asia Studies department. Since undergrad, I’ve been interested in questions of India’s cultural commercialization, consumption, and conservation. Coming from a background in Indian art history, my initial work investigated cases of small-scale art looting in North Indian tourist districts. With the coronavirus pandemic upending the lives of migrant subsistence diggers and my tourism-dependent shopkeeper informants, I have had to put much of that work on hold. Moving my work from a dusty Delhi storeroom to a sunny Philadelphia apartment meant that I not only needed to explore new research methodologies but entirely new questions as well.
Last summer, I connected with Dr. Lynn Meskell, a renowned heritage scholar and professor in the anthropology department. Her fierce passion for effective, ethical archaeological management both resonated with me and mobilized me. She took me under her wing, initiating me into an exciting approach of heritage as a global, neoliberal market. Our most recent projects have sought to catalog human rights violations at UNESCO World Heritage Sites and create a searchable database of ongoing archaeological conservation projects and their many shareholders.
This summer, I will be combining these approaches in order to qualify the linkages between Indian archaeological site management, local heritage NGOs, transnational corporations, and conflict. Building off of our past work, I seek to tease apart the major shift in heritage management from largely an inter-governmental effort in the mid- to late 20th century to an increasingly corporate endeavor. Particularly, I am interested in so-called “venture philoanthropy:” the investment of capital into charitable startups, business education, and other local operations as a neoliberal attempt to alleviate financial instability and humanitarian crises.
Through my CASI work this summer, I am excited to develop a clearer sense of how effective site management is being imagined in the case of India, who is doing that managing versus imaging, and what–and sometimes who–inevitably falls through the gaping cracks in conservation efforts.
It has already been over a month since starting as a Research Assistant for the Unstable Archives project under Professor Robb, and we have already completed several objectives on the agenda. Among the goals that we have met are transcribing the English-language letters of Gerard Gustavus Ducarel and coding metadata for each item featured in the digital archives. So far, I have gotten a fair share of experience working with both the digital humanities and archival research, as much of my daily duties involve digging through scholarly resources and fitting metadata into XML standards. Currently, we are in the process of moving over the project’s main page to WordPress, and I’ve begun going through the correspondence and documents of Robert Clive to find any references to Ducarel or even Sharaf un-Nisa. The process of searching through physical manuscripts on loan from Van Pelt library and digital archives to locate mentions of possible associates of Ducarel (Debi Singh, Robert Clive, etc.) has often ended up producing few results; however, I’ve still found the process of researching archival records to be still fascinating and has allowed me to gain more context of the time period and region. Overall, I have been thoroughly enjoying my experience on this project, and it has allowed me to experience various aspects of the work of a historian today. There are still several weeks to go and I’m excited to take on additional projects over the next month!
Project Balika, SMS Nudges, and Parental Engagement: a Behavioral Intervention in Mumbai, India during COVID-19 Schooling and Economic Disruptions
Greetings, all! My name is Anahita Kumar (she/hers) , and it’s such an honor to be a part of the CASI community and to contribute to the CASI summer blogs. I just wrapped up my first (and tumultuous, thanks to the pandemic) year of doctoral studies as a PhD student at Penn GSE in the Human Development and Quantitative Methods Division. I have been a Research Apprentice at the RIPPLE lab with Dr. Sharon Wolf (now my PhD advisor) since 2019.
My research interests lie in the various environmental factors that shape children’s development in the early years, and in leveraging evidence-based behavioral interventions to improve children’s cognitive, socio-emotional, and physical outcomes. Evaluating whether interventions such as cash transfer economic programs and nudges-based educational programs impact long-term parental decision-making will help researchers and policymakers alike in addressing questions on bringing solutions to scale. Addressing community-level questions to bring about policy-level change may be a sustainable blueprint for navigating a system so disrupted by COVID-19.
Parent engagement during COVID-19 related schooling and financial disruptions may prove to be a pivotal factor in shaping children’s outcomes, particularly in children exposed to severe degrees of schooling and home disruptions. Research documents the substantial differences in parental engagement between advantaged and disadvantaged parents and the importance of parental engagement to children’s future socioeconomic, health, and behavioral outcomes. This summer, I will be immersed in designing and leading a rigorous study in Mumbai’s Malvani area. Malvani is a low-income neighborhood with issues of chronic violence, communal tensions, and overcrowding. For this project, I am pleased to partner with a local education NGO, Project Balika (Hindi translation: Project Girl) (http://www.projectbalika.com). Project Balika has almost a decade long established relationship with the Malvani community, and has played a pivotal role in promoting girls education and girls rights in a predominantly traditional community. Project Balika is established as a trustworthy and reliable NGO with schools and families in Malvani, and is involved in implementing home visits, cash transfers, food distribution, and girls advocacy, among other initiatives.Official Logo: NGO Project Balika
This research project intends to (1) investigate families’ well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic through three rounds of phone-based interviews with 525 low-income families in Mumbai’s Malvani community (net annual income averaging $835), (2) to implement a high quality SMS nudges-based parent education program to promote parent-child engagement using an RCT design, and (3) to evaluate the effectiveness of the program in improving parent engagement.
I look forward to returning to this blog to share more about the project Theory of Change model, and research design. In the meantime, our efforts have culminated in wrapping up the nudges intervention, and preparing for endline surveys in the month of July, 2021. This has been an incredible experience, and would not be possible without the brilliant community leadership of Project Balika.
Hello, everyone! My name is Nico Millman, and I am a PhD Candidate in the English Department. My areas of interest include twentieth-century South Asian and Latin American literature, theories of the novel, postcolonial studies, and critical development studies. In Spring 2020, I designed and taught a Junior Research Seminar called “Global Detective Narratives,” which focused on the intersections across fiction, crime, and the British & American empires in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Before beginning my studies at Penn, I was a bilingual instructor (English/Spanish) for the Adult Education Center in Urbana, Illinois.
My doctoral dissertation, tentatively titled The Agrarian Question Across Latin America and South Asia, 1910s – Present, investigates land dispossession and peasant politics in the literary imagination and Left discourse across rural India, Mexico, and the Andes. I examine cultural production in the shared context of anti-colonial struggle and national liberation in the early-to-mid twentieth century, the period of revolutionary upheaval in the global 1960s, and the present moment of neoliberal enclosures and anti-systemic, counter-globalization movements. I integrate my analysis of literature with a range of scholarly conversations, including those between South Asian and Latin American Subaltern Studies, theories of the world-system and the novel, and studies of caste, indigeneity, and race. Some of the authors whose novels I analyze include Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay and the tradition of regionalist literature in Bengal as well as José María Arguedas and indigenismo (a literary movement that portrayed rural peasant and indigenous communities)in Peru. More recently, I have turned to non-fiction to study memoirs by Manikuntala Sen, Somnath Hore, and Godavari Parulekar, as well as oral histories recounting the experiences of peasant women in the Telangana, Tebhaga, and Warli rebellions in India, with the hopes of placing them in a dialogue with diaries and testimonios by Che Guevara, Hugo Blanco, and Domitila Barrios de Chúngara in Latin America.
This summer, supported by a CASI research grant, my goal is to draft a chapter presently titled “Wayward Internationalisms Across India and Mexico.” This chapter brings together three historical figures whose writings, lives, and travels across India and Mexico offer a critical view into the larger connections that brought these two continents into contact in the twentieth century. Part One of my dissertation attempts to devise a literary method for comparing novelistic fiction from far-flung regions of the world, specifically rural Bengal and the Peruvian Andes, which were not historically connected by patterns of migration or trade but whose literatures representing the peasantry bear many striking resemblances in both content and form. This chapter shifts gears and turns to non-fiction to explore when political, economic, and literary connections between India and Mexico began to deepen, from the interwar period to the years following India’s independence from Britain. I do so through a focus on the memoirs, letters, periodicals, and literary works by M.N. Roy, Pandurang Khankhoje, and Octavio Paz.
A radical nationalist turned internationalist revolutionary, Roy co-founded the Communist Party of Mexico in 1919 as an exile, and then, in 1920, co-founded the Communist Party in India upon his return. Roy’s Memoirs retrospectively detail his transformative experiences in Mexico and the ways they shaped his famous disagreements with Vladimir Lenin’s “Theses on the National and Colonial Question.” A lesser-known Indian anticolonial rebel, Pandurang Khankhoje, a member of the international Ghadar movement that sought to end British rule in India, lived in exile in Mexico, became an agronomist, and developed hybrid, high-yielding variety seeds, which were later used in the global rural development programs, broadly referred to as the ‘Green Revolution,’ across Latin America and South Asia following World War II. During his time in Mexico, Khankhoje befriended the famous muralist Diego Rivera, who painted a mural that celebrated Khankhoje’s agricultural advancements. Octavio Paz, a recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, was a Mexican poet who served as ambassador to India from 1962-1968, and produced several literary works remarking upon the similarities between India and Mexico (these texts include In the Light of India, The Monkey Grammarian, and “Eastern Slope”). By bringing the separate trajectories of Roy, Khankhoje, and Paz together, and their complex legacies in the Third Communist International, multilateral rural development institutions, and inter-state diplomatic affairs, I hope to theorize the unexpected, elite alliances that emerged in this period between India and Mexico as a style of “wayward internationalism.”
I believe one of the external challenges I will face is the lack of access to the archival resources that would otherwise strengthen my project. Although I have procured versions of the primary and secondary texts I wish to analyze for this chapter, the archives containing relevant materials pertaining to Roy, Khankhoje, and Paz are in Mexico and India. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it is still difficult to access them or consult with archivists abroad, even remotely. One of the internal challenges I will face is my own internally oscillating sense of scarcity (there is far too little written or available on this topic to support my argument!) and of abundance (there is far too much material to possibly include in a single chapter!) that hits me whenever I begin a new research project. So, confronting that peculiarly twinned sensation of ‘research scarcity’ and ‘research abundance’ will likely be my own special obstacle that I work through while beginning the chapter.
I plan share excerpts from my research in future blog posts for CASI, so stay tuned and follow along!
Hi everyone, I’m Rashi, a rising 2nd year in the Political Science PhD program. Before starting the PhD, I worked at policy research organizations on projects with rural households in Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Bihar, as well as industries in Maharashtra Gujarat. Since starting the PhD program, I have focused on better understanding women’s political participation in South Asia. Specifically, I’m keen to learn about the conditions under which women coordinate their political preferences and behaviour with other members of their household and when women may choose to depart from family-centered politics to participate in politics autonomously. An important part of women’s political participation is the role of the household in mediating access to and use of political resources. In India, over 75% of women over 22 years have left their place of birth, almost all because of marriage. Such norms foster a gender inequality in social networks—women’s ties within the household become more concentrated while men continue to enjoy more expansive networks outside the household.
Over the course of the summer, I plan to focus in further on the link between women’s labour force participation and their political participation. I’d like to analyse secondary data sources including the Consumer Pyramids Household Survey, produced by the Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy (CMIE) as well as the Indian Human Development Survey (IHDS) produced by the University of Maryland. I’d also like to spend some time learning more about India’s largest public workfare program, National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS). Though this differs from state to state, NREGS employs a significant number of women as part of its workforce. The Ministry of Rural Development maintains meticulous publicly accessible portals, containing information on household job cards, eligible members within the household, the number of days each member worked and the amount they were paid. The data are not in easily downloadable format but instead need to be scraped from the portal. Over the summer, I plan to take a Python class that would allow me to scrape NREGS data from the portal and continuously update the dataset in real time. This is a considerable exercise and I expect it to take me the better part of the summer to scrape these data.
I’m really excited to be part of the CASI Summer Research community this year. look forward to continuing to provide updates on my work here and learning more about the important and interesting work colleagues across disciplines are upto!
I am Arnav Bhattacharya, a Ph.D. candidate and rising 5th year student in the Department of History and Sociology of Science. I had been a part of the CASI summer research program last year and learnt a lot through the interactions and presentations of fellow participants. I look forward to another round of interesting and generative discussions this year.
My dissertation, tentatively entitled Making Sex Scientific: A History of Sexual Science in India, aims to provide a comprehensive historical account of the production, dissemination, and consolidation of the scientific knowledge of sexuality in colonial and post-colonial India. In my thesis, I argue that unlike the West, the history of sexual science in India cannot be understood as a niche discipline confined solely to the clinical chamber of the sexologist. Sexual science in India was a diverse and methodologically heterogeneous field which brought together physicians, alternative healers, academics, police officers, socio-religious reformers, political leaders, colonial officers, and ordinary Indians themselves. I argue that this methodological heterogeneity enabled the popularization and mainstreaming of sexology and sexuality in Indian society.
I had initially decided to conclude my dissertation by the mid-20th century, but my research on the role of the Kinsey Institute in the history of sexology in India, conducted as a part of the CASI Summer Research Program last year convinced me about the need to extend the time period of my project into the late 20th century. Moreover, the feedback I received during some of the CASI meetings last summer also made me think about the intersections between sexology and the queer rights movement in India. Building upon the research conducted last year, during this summer I will be further expanding my research on the history of sexual science in contemporary India. By the end of the summer, I hope to have produced a significant portion of the written material for my chapter on sexual science in contemporary India.The Sex and Sexuality digital archive that contains numerous collections on sexuality from the Kinsey Institute as well other archives and libraries across the world. (https://www-sexandsexuality-amdigital-co-uk.proxy.library.upenn.edu/) Available through the Penn Library.
My research focus will be on two broad areas. First, I will investigate the institutionalization of sexology in India in the period between 1947 to the early 2000s. What distinguished sexology in post-independence India was the institutionalization of the field as organizations such as the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) established their own affiliates in countries round the world. In India the IPPF founded the Family Planning Association of India (FPAI) in 1949 and over the 1970s and 80s it eventually grew into an umbrella organization involved in sexual counselling and sex education. Sexologists like Mahinder Watsa, who passed away recently in December 2020 at the age of 96 and had become a celebrity in recent years due to his witty sex column in the newspaper, Mumbai Mirror began his sexological career as a part of the FPAI. My research into the archives of the Kinsey Institute last summer made me aware of the involvement of Watsa and the FPAI in organizing several international sexology conferences in India between the 70s and the 90s which also led me to further investigate their roles in the institutionalization of sexology in India.Mahinder Watsa, perhaps the most celebrated sexologist in contemporary India is the subject of a 2017 documentary on Netflix called Ask the Sexpert.
Second, I will focus on some of the earliest civil society queer organizations in contemporary India such as the AIDS Bhedbhav Virodhi Andolan (ABVA) (AIDS Anti-Discrimination Movement) founded in 1988 which produced the first academic report on homosexuality in the country, called Less than Gay. I am particularly interested in exploring the role that such organizations played in producing knowledge on sexuality and influencing attitudes of both experts such as psychiatrists and physicians as well as everyday individuals.Less than Gay, the first academic report on homosexuality in India published by the ABVA in 1991.
My methodological approach in studying the institutionalization of sexual science both with respect to queer rights as well as organizations such as the FPAI will involve a study of not just the organizations themselves but also their role in society and their impact on individuals.
In addition to the Sex and Sexuality digital archive, I will be relying on the digital archives of the FPAI, ABVA, IPPF as well as those of the National Archives of India, the British Library and the Wellcome Library.
Hello! My name is Kim Fernandes and I am a joint PhD Candidate in Interdisciplinary Studies in Human Development (Graduate School of Education) and Anthropology (School of Arts and Sciences). I am a rising 5th year and will begin writing the first chapter of my dissertation, which is supported by summer funding from CASI. My dissertation is tentatively titled, “Categorizing Disability, Negotiating Belonging: What Does It Take To Be Counted As Disabled in India?” I am particularly interested in studying the processes behind obtaining documentation (i.e., the disability certificate and/or the Unique Disability ID) for one’s disability in India. Working from an understanding of disability not as a fixed status, but rather as the embodiment of interactions between a person’s body and the world, my project engages with what it means for various bureaucratic and medical experts to attempt to quantify these everyday experiences. I am also looking forward to thinking further about the policy implications of studying the process of certifying disability — in particular, what is made possible/accessible by acquiring a disability certificate or (more recently) a Unique Disability ID?
Over the course of the summer, I will begin transcribing and translating meetings between disabled communities, government officials and NGO interlocutors, paying particular attention to the moments at which it becomes important to identify and count a person as disabled (and, conversely, to the ones in which it does not). Broadly, in this chapter, I am interested in exploring further what being certified as disabled means for citizenship and belonging in India. Finally, I hope to explore how the process of certifying disability differs from other processes that certify belonging to different groups in India.
Most of my dissertation fieldwork has happened over the course of the pandemic and has thus necessarily been entirely virtual. As I analyze some of the data that I have collected over the past year and write up my chapter, I am interested in thinking and writing more about how the nature of the ‘field’ in fieldwork has shifted during the pandemic. In particular, I’ve been wondering about how the pandemic has shaped participant observation: what does it mean to participate when on Zoom, and how might the researcher record/note participation in a time where our attention and energy has been spread thin? As I begin analyzing my data, I look forward to coming back to this blog with more insights and updates.
I am a PhD Candidate in Sociology and Demography in the School of Arts and Sciences at Penn. I was excited to receive a 2021 Summer Research Grant from CASI to support my dissertation project. This is my final year at Penn as I plan to graduate in May 2022.
Last summer I received support from CASI to complete one chapter of my dissertation which utilizes interview data from New Delhi collected in 2018 and 2019. I conducted these interviews with recently married couples, matchmakers, parents, and unmarried young people in order to explore how middle class families navigate the marriage decision-making process. This summer I plan to use the same interview data to draft another dissertation chapter which will expand on themes discussed in my previous CASI blog post about changing patterns of marriage engagements (rokas) in urban India.
Read more about my research on my website.
My name is Michael Goerlitz, and I’m one of the research assistants working through PURM this summer on the Unstable Archives project with Professor Megan Robb. For the past few weeks, I have been contributing to the digitizing of the archives of a Persianate India woman named Elizabeth or Sharaf un-Nisa, who had left India in the late 18th century and lived in England until her death in 1822. Considering other records and documentation of East India Company men who cohabitated and engaged in relationships with native women, the archives of Sharaf un-Nisa provide a unique yet important perspective into the intersection of gender and European colonialism in South Asia. To prepare the archives for a digital exhibit, we have been working on transcribing the many letters and documents found in her or her husband’s hand, coding metadata for each item, and many other side projects. It has been an excellent introduction to archival research and I’m excited to engage with the digital humanities as well. I’ve had a phenomenal time so far working with a great team on a fascinating subject, and I’m excited for what’s to come!