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Between the Lines

A blog by a research student making sense of unarticulated wor(l)ds

Being online at University

The inevitable online class hit me last September.

Till then, I was working remotely for a project implementation agency of the Indian government. This was the case for most colleagues of mine since March 2020, when the national lockdown began.  Remote working was not a major challenge as most of our workforce was dispersed across the country, working from field postings.

University was a different deal. Half an hour before the first seminar of my PhD, I was hastily picking the best-looking onions and beans for dinner. It was a rainy day; I struggled to close my umbrella and get into an auto-rickshaw (the three-wheeled, partly-open hiring vehicle ubiquitous to India) simultaneously. As I reached home, it was 10 minutes to class. I had set up a worktable with my laptop, screen, and study material. The laptop’s camera, though, looked into a shabby room with unfolded clothes, and books that were gathering dust. Horrified, I quickly rearranged the table to face an empty wall, and sat down for class.

18 new PhD students slowly began making introductions, thanks to the course organiser, who divided us into smaller breakout groups to chat. There were people whose time-zone ranged from 2pm to 8pm; some people were away from home for the first time, and others couldn’t wait to get back to Edinburgh again (after an earlier stint during Master’s). Each week’s guest faculty would bring something new to discuss. The course organiser had a look at common research themes and created smaller channels to prompt informal academic exchanges. Lasting friendships were formed.

I realised, after an eventful semester, that I was as ‘present’ in this online semester as I ever was, if not more.


I am Sambhavi Ganesh, a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh. My work is attached to the Centre for South Asian Studies, focused on the interplay of caste and gender among Brahmins (considered the topmost caste group) in contemporary south India.

Why this topic? I have learned, through experience and reading, that caste is the major determinant of life chances in India. Popular understanding of the caste system is that of a fourfold, occupation-based division of society. However, there are three issues here:

  • With increasing divergence between caste and occupation among the English-educated elite, the popular perception is that the caste system is dying out, or is already a matter of the past.
  • Reservation in university seats and government jobs for the formerly untouchable castes and indigenous people has led to a backlash from dominant caste groups.
  • As the political leader and thinker Dr. B.R. Ambedkar has written here, caste is reproduced because of endogamy (marriage within the community). It may have started as a system of hierarchical occupational division, but became a set of localised enclosed groups, likely at the whim of the Brahmins. Endogamy being the basis of caste, the system operates together with patriarchy.

It is with these contentions that I begin to explore my research area. Belonging to a south Indian Brahmin background, experience has led me to this topic. I would try to approach the study from the private sphere and life accounts. I also hope to ‘study up‘, or study the elites of the society as an act of resistance.

Why this blog? With the title ‘Between the Lines’, I hope to convey that lived experiences constitute much of caste patriarchy, those which are not even uttered, let alone recorded. One has to read between the lines, or interpret unarticulated wor(l)ds, to get a sense of this.

With this blog, I hope to ponder about my thoughts in the making, as well as my journey as a PhD student. I warmly welcome conversations and sharing of experiences. Good day!

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