Travel Award

Pursuing original research in Punjab, India

February 28, 2020

Written by Rupi Sandher, International Studies Travel Award (ISTA) recipient Spring 2019.

With the money I received from the International Studies Travel Award (ISTA), I was able to fund travel to Punjab, India in order to conduct research in support of my Master’s thesis. My original research study planned to explore how and why educated and employed young Jat men are socialized into using opiates, in the city of Jalandhar, in Punjab, India. However, due to time and ethical constraints, my revised study focuses on how prolonged absences of main male wage earners in Punjabi households influence the autonomy of wives. I examine how a different gendered division of labour within the household could affect women’s autonomy. More specifically, I focus on Punjabi truck-driver families in which the male wage earner is often away for a prolonged period, and the wife must perform traditionally “male” tasks in his absence. Additionally, my study also examines how the effects of a different household division of labour on women’s autonomy may be manifested differently under different social contexts. To do so, I will compare the experience of Punjabi truck-driver families in Punjab and in BC and address how the prolonged absences of male wage earners in Punjabi households influence the autonomy of wives.

During my field work in Punjab, India I conducted 17 interviews with woman aged 24 to 65, through which I learned that each woman has a unique story and many factors contribute to her level of autonomy. Contrary to much literature, I found that in Punjab, most of the women I interviewed to be in fact, quite autonomous. Moreover, I found the level of autonomy to be directly related to the relationship with their husbands. Women who have solid relationships and are equal partners in marriage, have the most autonomy. Women who don’t have ideal marital relations are much more likely to be suppressed and not supported. I also found that very few women perform traditionally male tasks in their husband’s absence. While the husbands are on the road, family farms are either leased or farmed by hired help.

The ISTA was invaluable toward my research process, and gave the opportunity to speak directly to these women in order to better understand their autonomy. I am highly grateful to the department of International Studies, the awards committee, and my supervisors, Dr. John Harriss and Dr. Irene Pang for their ongoing support of my thesis.

Academic and career objectives, and fostering engaged, global citizenship

While I feel I have been successful and fulfilled in my career endeavors to date, this research study has provided me a deeper understanding of the underlying factors currently challenging the state of Punjab, economically, socially and politically. Pursuing a thesis and conducting field research has provided me with a much richer and deeper understanding of the academic process in general and specifically of my research topic. Conducting the study using in-depth interviews allowed me to build on my natural strength of facilitating interpersonal connections, while furthering qualitative research and analytical skills, written and verbal communication skills, while being mindful of being in a sensitive environment. I believe these skills, in addition to completing my thesis, will prove useful in any future career endeavor.

The global and cultural aspect is also very significant for me, generally, as it will provide me with a deeper understanding of the intricacies involved in daily decision making in my ancestral country but also specifically, as I examine the treatment and autonomy of women in Punjab. I also am striving to set a strong positive example for my children, in pursuing this degree and having the strength and independence to conduct field work, on my own accord, in India, as a woman. It is my desire that my son and daughter grow up understanding that we have the ability to build a more equitable world and that we all have the ability to make contributions towards the betterment of humanity, across the world.