After a Natural Science undergraduate degree and seven years in environmental consulting, I came to SOAS to study anthropology in 2014. I initially completed the MA Social Anthropology with Distinction, focusing on South Asia, and was subsequently awarded Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funding to undertake a PhD. My geographical focus is India, specifically Mumbai, and I am interested in questions of identity and social interaction in an urban context. Outside academia I compose and perform on the piano.
I spent a year (Jan 2017 to Jan 2018) conducting fieldwork in Mumbai researching questions of social interaction and identity in a neighbourhood of chawls.
Chawls are a form of community living strongly associated with the working class of central Mumbai, many of whom were traditionally employed by the city’s cotton mills. Following a year-long strike in the early 1980s, the mills declined and in most cases shut down, leaving large sections of the city searching for new employment. Compounded by scarring religious riots in 1992-3 and the knock-on effects of nationwide economic liberalisation, these events have resulted in profound changes in the political economy of the city.
My fieldsite, a close-knit network of 32 chawl buildings, is often romanticised in city folklore as one of the last bastions of the old working class culture that characterised twentieth century Mumbai. During my research I became preoccupied with understanding the extent to which the legendary chawl spirit of togetherness, tempered by squabbles and fighting, persists in the post-mill era. In particular I grappled with questions of belonging and difference, and focused on the following research strands: (1) the Dalit (low caste) Buddhist community and the way their religious, political and social identity is expressed both within the community and in their interaction with other communities in the chawls; (2) the relationship between chawl and village and the way village identities and relationships are recreated, through an ongoing process of back and forth migration, in an urban context; (3) the overarching identity of being a chawl resident, and the extent to which this unifies the disparate chawl communities in light of ongoing government plans to demolish and redevelop the site.