Raghav Mehrotra (B.A. 2018)
B.A. in History, 2018
Tell us about your Stanford degree and what you are doing now.
At Stanford, I studied History with a focus on modern South Asia and the Middle East. The History, Philosophy and the Arts track within the major allowed me to take classes outside History, including in Anthropology, Political Science and Religious Studies. I am currently a research and communications intern at the Udaipur-based Centre for Migration and Labour Solutions (Aajeevika Bureau), a nonprofit that provides services and security to communities dependent on labour migration in India. I have had a chance to move from an interrogation of historical migration in South Asia to understanding contemporary mobility patterns in the country.
How did you engage with Center for South Asia (CSA)?
In addition to attending several speaker events and workshops at CSA during my time at Stanford, I had a chance to work with two CSA-affiliated professors on South Asia related research projects. I interviewed Professor Thomas Hansen for a paper about Hindutva in postcolonial India, and more recently, worked with Professor Jisha Menon on my History honors thesis.
Tell us about your research on the Partition. What sources, methodologies did you use? What have you found out?
My thesis, "Removed, Remade, Remembered: The Concept of Home for Witnesses of India’s Partition", was supervised by Professors Robert Crews and Jisha Menon, with support from Stanford Ph.D. candidate Madihah Akhter. Broadly, it uses “home” and “belonging” as analytical categories to understand the lived experiences of Partition for Sindhis migrating from Sindh to Bombay in 1947-48.
I begin by developing a conceptual framework—placing Saadat Hasan Manto’s Toba Tek Singh in conversation with Muhammad Iqbal’s 1939 Allahabad Address—and contest that rather than locating “home” within the abstract nationalism of the 1940s (home as homeland), it must be understood in its materiality as a sensory experience. Situating oral history interviews within this understanding of “home,” I argue that Sindhi migrants expressed their belonging to spaces (in both Sindh and Bombay) by performing their selfhoods through Sindhi food, clothing, and language. In doing so, I also highlight the impact of Bombay’s post-Partition nativist politics on the ability to publicly (and privately) perform Sindhi selfhood. As a result, the pre-Partition Sindhi “home” gradually loses its material form, and turns into an idea that simultaneously evokes nostalgia and the memory of violence.
How did this research project contribute to your professional growth?
Having conducted and analyzed oral histories in the context of Partition, I have developed a broader interest in understanding contemporary lived experiences of mobility and borders. It is this interest that led me to my current job, where I have had the chance to conduct an ethnographic study in areas of high rural to urban migration in south Rajasthan.
As for the thesis itself, I am thinking of how I might strengthen my analysis and methods—specifically by introducing a gendered lens to the historical understanding of “home” and including a more socioeconomically diverse set of interviewees. Whether this takes me to graduate school is still unclear!
If you were to give a piece of advice to CSA students, what would that be?
I valued the interdisciplinarity of CSA’s events, particularly when I was undeclared, because speakers and workshops were helpful to my understanding of various fields—History, Sociology, Gender Studies, among others. Frosh and Sophomores in particular can learn a lot about academic paths by taking advantage of CSA’s frequent and diverse events, and anyone interested in collaborating with faculty should definitely reach out—professors are more than willing to help!