Articles with tag: visibilizing the Other

07/15/2022 _Perspective

Making the ‘Other’ Visible in Ethnographic Research

Reflections through the Lens of Caste and Gender, from a Non-Metropolitan City in West Bengal, India

1_ Introduction This paper is an attempt to find some possible contextual answers to the ethico-political concerns that surround the question of methodology in feminist ethnography. My larger research project sought to understand the forced migration induced by the Partition of British India (1947) in my hometown, Asansol in West Bengal, India. [1] In doing so, I took as my protagonists women from the Dalit/Bahujan families, [2] who had hitherto been invisibilized in the narrativization of the Partition. I understand invisibilization as a political act through which dominant groups reduce heterogenous experiences of an event, such as that of the Partition, to a homogenous ‘master narrative.’ This master narrative in the case of the Partition in India, and in West Bengal specifically, was told largely from an upper-caste point of view and comprised of multiple cultural productions—films, autobiographies, memoirs—and was crucial for the ways in which the upper-caste population negotiated with state in seeking and achieving rehabilitation. In the process, the differential experiences of the Partition and rehabilitation as well as the caste-based injustices therein were erased. Consequently, both in its academic and popular culture versions, Dalit/Bahujan women and their specific experiences were not thematized. Even the feminist counter-narratives had erased the specificities of caste and its impact on the experiences of refugeehood. [3] In contrast, my doctoral research aimed to understand through an ethnographic approach how Dalit/Bahujan women experienced the Partition and its aftermath, especially in the long-durée, in the context of Asansol, a non-metropolitan city in West Bengal, where the refugees from government camps, largely from Dalit/Bahujan backgrounds had been rehabilitated to provide cheap labor for the industrial development in the area. I began my doctoral research in 2017, seeking to rethink the Partition-migration in West Bengal India, through the intersecting frameworks of caste, gender and region. In the process of this ethnographic research, as a cis-het, upper-caste woman and a third-generation member of a Partition-migrant family, my established notions of ‘feminist’ ethics and politics were continuously put to test. I constantly battled the insider and outsider status throughout the course of my research: Being part of a migrant family on my mother’s side, I had been exposed to milieus similar to the research context since my birth. [4] In fact, some of the respondents of the study were acquaintances of my mother’s whom she had lived and grown up with. Her class background was similar to that…