Thursday, July 16, 2020

A Real Threat to Research and Safety

Any woman* considering dissertation research in India should read Audrey Truschke's recent essay** and take it seriously. As a scholar working in science studies, cultural heritage management, and architectural/landscape history, I've run up against the limits of what can be said without threat of a masculinist Hindutva retaliation. While my personal safety has never been threatened (that I know of), I have certainly done a lot of self-censoring when applying for visas, pursuing certain research topics, and publishing on certain topics. I thought long and hard before publishing my article on Ayodhya, and I had to take multiple deep breaths before publishing an article that undermines the myth of Jaipur as a Hindu city (city plan).

My dissertation research will probably never make it into book form, but that may be just as well, as interpreting Jai Singh's observatories as sites of an exclusively Hindu science is just not possible. Certainly earlier Hindu/Sanskrit texts played a role, especially early in Jai Singh's explorations, but arguably, Islamic and then European texts were more important during the era of design and construction.

I don't know what kind of risk I'd be willing to assume to see my book published. Professionally, I'm not dependent on it for promotion and advancement, so having my book pulped like Wendy Doniger's wouldn't necessarily hurt my career. But it would hurt personally, tremendously, beyond what I could express.

Knowing the problem is the first step: be aware of what's going on. Solving the problem is the second, third, fourth, and fifth step. Men, support your more vulnerable colleagues at home and in the field. Think about how networks that are so valuable to your research may be failing to help your female colleagues. If your voice is being heard, use it for change. Listen to the women with whom you work.

*Really, this warning is for everyone working in South Asian studies, but women, trans, and non-binary people are definitely more at personal risk.

**Thank you to the scholar who shared this essay via the ACSAA network this morning.

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