I grew up in India with all the privileges of being raised in an academic family – surrounded by books and debates. A brief stint with theatre (of the absurd) at The Players, Kirorimal College, Delhi University and with journalism, potentially altered my life trajectory. My instinctive belief in multimodal ethnographic work and participatory pedagogy emerged from these chance encounters. My PhD. in Sociology, on transnational surrogacy, made possible by a generous fellowship to University of Massachusetts, Amherst, was another life changing encounter. The “valley” was where I was exposed to the mentorship of some generous hearts and radical minds. I moved from this academic and safe cocoon to a diametrically opposite space filled with productive tensions : Tripoli, Lebanon. My work with several Lebanese and international non profit institutions there developed into a postdoctoral research with African migrant domestic workers working and living illegally in the country. The determined hope of African domestic workers and their (illegal) unions, as they fought against all odds, pushed my research to another aspect of the global intimate — migrant domestic work and paternalistic kafala (sponsorship) system of migration. The next continental move was to the University of Cape Town, South Africa –which has been my academic home since then.
My research lies at the intersection of globalisation and the intimate, with a focus on transnational reproduction, reproductive violence, reproductive justice and multimodal ethnography. I have spent the last decade or so conducting a multi-sited global ethnography of the fertility industry, focusing on surrogacy and egg provision. This culminated into a monograph Wombs in Labor: Transnational Commercial Surrogacy in India (2014, Columbia University Press). My work on surrogacy and egg provision has also appeared in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Gender and Society, Medical Anthropology, Journal of Gender Studies, Critical Sociology, Qualitative Sociology, Feminist Studies, Indian Journal of Gender Studies, Anthropologica, PhiloSOPHIA, Reproductive BioMedicine and in numerous edited volumes. I have written for national newspapers across the world and appeared in Laurie Taylor’s Thinking Allowed on the BBC, Sarah Carey’s Newstalk on Irish radio, DR2 Deadline on Danish National television, TRT World on national Turkish TV, Morning Live on SABC2 and Otherwise SAfm, South Africa to discuss national and international surrogacy laws. I am currently writing my next monograph on the global fertility industry of eggs, sperms, embryos and wombs which connects the world in some expected and many other unexpected ways.
In my other avatar, I am an educator-performer touring the world with a performance lecture series, Made in India: Notes from a Baby Farm (Produced and Directed by Ditte Maria Bjerg, Global Stories Production, Denmark) based on my ethnographic work on surrogacy. In 2012, the production premiered in Södra Teatern (Sweden’s foremost international venue for theatre, music and political debate). Since then I have been invited to perform at venues and forums that range from international documentary film and theatre festivals to Human Rights, midwifery, ethnography, medical ethics, Science and technology in Society, and Women’s playwright conferences.
My work on African migrant (domestic) work in Lebanon and Bangladeshi migrant and masculinity in South Africa has appeared in Gender and Society, Critical Social Policy, International Migration Review, and as policy documents for governments and migrant workers themselves. If you are interested in the policy documents, please send me an email. These are not available online.
in 2022 I edited a volume Birth controlled: Selective reproduction and neoliberal eugenics in South Africa and India released June 2022, by Manchester University Press. Birth Controlled analyses the world of selective reproduction – the politics of who gets to legitimately reproduce the future – through a cross-cultural analysis of three modes of ‘controlling’ birth: contraception, reproductive violence and repro-genetic technologies. I argue that as fertility rates decline worldwide, the fervour to control fertility, and fertile bodies, does not dissipate; what evolves is the preferred mode of control. To empirically and historically ground the analysis, I hosted several workshops with and invited contribution from activists, artists and scholars from South Africa and India to facilitate an interdisciplinary dialogue around the interconnected modes of controlling birth and practices of neo-eugenics. The book was released in July 2022.
Another book, Scripting Defiance: Four Sociological Vignettes (Columbia University and Tulika Press), which I co-authored with four brilliant interdisciplinary scholars from across the world, Ari Sitas, Sumangala Damodaran, Wiebke Keim, and Nicos Trimikliniotis, was also released in 2022. The book attempts to unravel narratives of discontent and scripts of defiance that endure through subaltern people’s cultural formations despite and in response to dominant ideas and ideologies. The various vignettes look at some specific figures of discontent: the worker, the woman, the student, the artist, the migrant, the prisoner, and, as a counter-voice, the movements of authoritative restoration.
This year (2023) saw the release of Epistemic Justice and the Postcolonial University, an edited volume which I co-authored with colleagues, Dr Ruchi Chaturvedi and Dr Shari Daya, at University of Cape Town. At a time when debates on decolonisation have gained urgency in academic, civic and public spaces, this interdisciplinary collection by colleagues and scholars based at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, aims to serve as a valuable archive documenting and reflecting on a turbulent period in South African higher education. Epistemic Justice and the Postcolonial University calls for concerted and collaborative work towards greater epistemic justice across diverse disciplines. It puts forward a new vision of the postcolonial university as one that enables excellent teaching and learning, undertaken in a spirit of critical consciousness and reciprocity. The book was released in August 2023, see the events page for details on book launches and seminars.
Between Sept 2023 and June 2024 I will be on an exciting roller coaster of research, writing and collaborations in Brandeis University and Boston University in the US and the Institut Convergences Migration (ICM) in Paris. See the events page for details on my public lectures.