South Asian Women: Gender, Religion, Class, Caste and Family Lives

  • This ethnographic study of South Asian women in ethnic enclaves focuses on two groups of women – a) Muslim Bangladeshi women and their religious participation and b) South Asian mothers working in ethnic labor markets. To date, three empirical papers have been produced from this project. The first paper explores how participation in two types of gendered religious groups - mosque-based and home-based - structures the material lived experiences of immigrant Bangladeshi women in terms of their immigrant experiences and gendered relationships within their families. The second paper out of this project, co-authored with a graduate student at Vanderbilt, examines the lives of single mothers working in ethnic enclaves and their negotiations with their identities of being South Asian women, single mothers, working mothers, low-paid workers in the ethnic enclaves, and the main breadwinners for their families. The third paper published in an edited volume looks at the experiences of South Asian women working in ethnic labor markets.

  • A second study deploys Southern feminist epistemology to critically appraise the ways in which media discourse on gendered organizing during the Indian COVID-19-induced migrant crisis resists or reinforces hegemonic caste hierarchies. The work historicizes scholarship on feminist organizing around land rights, hunger, and violence while noting the politics of contagion and pollution narratives plaguing the pandemic discourse in India. The study is based on qualitative content analysis (QCA) and critical discourse analysis (CDA) of media discourses including Twitter data across three tiers (international, national, and local). The findings suggest that international and national tiers of discourse largely deployed a savarna gaze that worked to 1) Reinforce brahminical and technocratic pandemic narratives and 2) Delegitimize Dalit marginal organizing feminist work and Dalit sensibilities through seven overlapping metrics of erasure. On the other hand, the local tier of discourse confronted the savarna gaze, amplified voices of Dalit and Muslim women by centering their narratives of resistance, and tackled the exacerbation of casteist oppression under the pandemic, in the service of emancipation. Local discourses also highlight how marginal organizing during the first pandemic lockdown involved the provision of essential resources and services (food, medical care, security) for mostly Dalit and Muslim migrant workers, and women intersectionally facing domestic violence and savarna violence. Despite the brahmininal structural oppression, Dalit feminist praxis’ emblematic resistance of oppressive structures through community-building, during and beyond times of crisis, constitutes what we call deep care.