Recently, the South Asia Center graduate assistant interviewed Meghna Amin, a Fulbright-Nehru Doctoral Research Fellow who has joined the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies for AY 2022-2023. Read on to learn more about her journey to UW and her motivations behind her doctoral research.
GA: To begin with, I am eager to know about you and your journey of becoming a Fulbright Scholar.
M: My name is Meghna Amin. I am 30 years old. I am from a coastal town called Udupi in southwestern Karnataka, India. I am a 3rd year PhD student in anthropology and sociology at the Indian Institute of Technology, Hyderabad (IITH). I am affiliated with the Liberal Arts department there. I have a master’s degree in sociology (2016) from the Manipal Centre for Philosophy and Humanities, Manipal University. Post this I taught English to grade VI and VIII students for a year in Udaipur.
I first heard of the Fulbright fellowships in 2017 when I was looking to go abroad for a PhD program. Unfortunately, I didn’t make the cut and had to drop the idea of pursuing a PhD in a foreign university because of funding issues. I took up a job in Bangalore instead for an environmental advocacy organization called Jhatkaa.org. I worked there as an Executive Assistant to the Executive Director for 1.4 years. I was then promoted to the role of a Digital Campaigner for about 6 months. In August 2020, I started my PhD at IITH. Once I completed my coursework and started my fieldwork in the 2nd year, I thought it would be the right time to apply for a Fulbright fellowship. As destiny would have it, I made it to the final list of candidates for the Fulbright-Nehru Doctoral Research Fellows 2022-23 from India.
GA: Tell us more about your research area and interests. What are you working on?
M: My doctoral research examines the intergenerational occupational shift among the head-loading Mogaveera women who constitute the matrilineal fishing community of coastal Karnataka in India. Primarily based on fieldwork and ethnographic narratives, the study locates the constant deliberation of the Mogaveera women with fishing which is their caste occupation. To this day, the older Mogaveera women continue to assert their identity in public life by plying the caste-prescribed occupation of buying and selling fish. Despite the several dangers and challenges involved, fishing remains a matter of pride and a source of sustenance for many older Mogaveera women. However, the younger Mogaveera women aspire to move beyond ‘caste pride’ to pursue a life that affords them prestige in society. Caught between the web of caste and class, the younger Mogaveera woman is not always successful in moving up the occupational ranks. In most cases, the woman returns to the fishing trade. However, she prefers to be employed in canning factories or fish processing units away from the public eye.
The dissertation for my master’s degree in sociology from the Manipal Centre for Philosophy and Humanities was also on the Mogaveera women. The research study is titled “Putting Food on the Table: A Period Study on the Head Loading Mogaveera Women.”
GA: What motivated you to explore the field of anthropology?
M: I have always been fascinated by people/culture/society. Since I belong to a small town the subject that was most accessible to me there was sociology. I have been a student of sociology since my pre-university (grade 11 and 12). I had the opportunity of pursuing a triple major BA degree in Christ University, Bangalore. My subjects there were English literature, psychology and sociology. Out of all of them I continued to like sociology the most and hence got a master’s degree in the same subject. The institute I pursued my master’s program in Manipal encouraged inter-disciplinary studies and research. Giving me the chance to explore the discipline of anthropology. I loved it almost instantly and had decided that if I were to pursue a PhD it would be a mix of sociology and anthropology. It was the qualitative research methods used in anthropology such as ethnography, observation, interviews, etc. that attracted me the most to this subject.
GA: Why did you prefer the University of Washington to affiliate with? What are you looking forward to in the upcoming nine months at UW?
M: In the process of applying for the Fulbright fellowship, I was on the lookout for potential host universities in the US. During this search, I came across Dr. Radhika Govindrajan’s profile. She was a familiar name as we had discussed her work in class in India. So, when the opportunity presented itself and I had the chance to work with her, I took it up instantly. The South Asia Center in UW also has other faculty working on gender, caste, anthropology, ethnography, and women’s studies all of which intersect with my research interests.
Through the Fulbright fellowship and my time at the University of Washington, Seattle I will have access to their world class library and dedicated anthropology writing labs both of which are integral for the stage of research I am at currently. Over the next 9 months I am keen to collaboratively interpret ethnographic narratives and accounts from my fieldwork at the intersectionality of caste, class, and gender in relation to occupational mobility within the discipline of native anthropology.
GA: How was your experience so far in Seattle? Anything, in particular, you liked about it?
M: I have been in Seattle for about 3 weeks now. I am so grateful that the weather has been kind to me. It continues to be sunny in mid-October and I was told that it’s not usual. But for someone who has come to the US for the first time from South India, the warm climate has been a blessing. I have been exploring the neighborhoods and site seeing. I had the opportunity to go on a hike to the Rattlesnake Ledge with a bunch of other international students which I really enjoyed. Every weekend I make it a point to step out with friends/acquaintances to discover a new part of the city and that has been exciting. I am slowly getting used to this way of life!