Waseda Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies Colloquium Series

2022 Migration Lecture Series

“States of permanent temporariness, questioning notions of
agency and belonging in Asian migrant mobilities: the case of
the nowhere people from South Asia”

Date and venue:

June 1 (Wednesday), 13:00-14:30 JST (11:00-12:30 ICT) | Online (Zoom)


Dhooleka Sarhadi Raj (PhD, Cambridge) is an anthropologist of South Asia and its diaspora, specializing in migration, migrant mobilities, belonging, multiculturalism and the Emigrant State (Geoforum 2015). She has held fellowships at South Asian Studies, The University of Cambridge and at The Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University. Previously, Dr. Raj served as the Associate Chair of South Asian studies at Yale University. She has taught undergraduate and graduate students at Cambridge, Harvard and Yale. At Battelle, she worked in Public Health on bioterrorism, inter-agency cooperation, cancer, smoking cessation and Intimate Partner Violence. She served on the Ethics Committee for the American Anthropological Association. Dr. Raj researches Partition refugee families and is the author of Where are you From? Middle
Class Migrants in the Modern World (University of California Press). She is currently working on a poetry collection based on her fieldwork and ongoing partition research.
She currently serves on the International Jury of the NEEV Book awards (Co-Chair 2020, 2021) which recognizes Indian children’s writing in English from picture book to young adult. She serves as Co-Chair of Principal’s Forum, International School Bangkok. Originally from the edge of the tundra in Canada, Dr. Raj transformed from studying diaspora to being diaspora and has lived as a global nomad in London, Sydney, Tokyo, Singapore, Dubai and New York. She has always been active in museums as a volunteer, currently with the National Museum, Thailand. She teaches mindfulness, enjoys traveling and taking pictures.



The talk examines the dislocation of partition as a determining moment in Indian migrant mobility and looks at the longer term implications for families and government policy. Despite the growing scholarship and attention to the largest population transfer in modern world history, with an estimated 10-14 million people crossing the border in1947, little attention has been paid to the links between the dislocation and its connection to the so-called, Indian brain drain. In this talk, based on substantial regular ethnographic fieldwork over the last nineteen years in London and Delhi, and informal interviews in Singapore, Dubai and Bangkok, Raj examines the links between memory, dislocation and mobility. Specifically, she is interested in how these two different forms of mobility (traditionally referred to as voluntary and involuntary in the migration literature) intersect. Previously, her work has addressed how Hindu migrants identifying as Punjabi experienced cultural change, ethnic difference, changes in social and cultural markers of difference as they settled into Britain (Where are you From? Middle Class Migrants in the Modern World, University of California Press, 2003).

In this talk, she wants to broaden the focus beyond the ‘Asian migrant’ story prevalent in Western scholarship in which the origin state provides a backdrop or is erased from migrant mobility. Instead, she wants to deepen our understanding of the complications of these layered mobilities for the emergence of the new ‘regulatory regime’ of the Indian Government towards its emigrant diaspora population. The talk aims to contribute to wider discussions on the complications of Asian mobility, by advancing an argument to examine the intersections of territorialization, citizen, sovereignty, nation as seen through the lens of erstwhile categories of forced and voluntary Indian migrant mobility. What happens to our notions of migration if we tell the migration story from the perspective of the migrant family?

Her research is driven by a central focus on understanding a longish-duree of South Asian migrant mobilities using the lens of family transmission of displacement. This talk shares the migratory and traumatic grief stories from those who were part of the large displacement of families from what became West Pakistan. Migration research is often driven by linear concerns of sending or receiving societies. Her interest, as an anthropologist, has been to capture the voices of those who migrate to allow for a spectral understanding of how migration memory complicates every day life. Her interest is in understanding what passes through the generations? How does history play out through families- living over generations through colonialism, socialism, and capitalism?