Fulbright Scholar Speaks at Bonas About Eurasian Indian Women Who Migrate in Search of Jobs

Fulbright Scholar Binitha Thampi speaks at St. Bonaventure about her research on north-to-south migration patterns by women seeking employment in India, her homeland. Credits: Jenn Eng

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY – The visiting professor from India began the annual Mary Devereux Lecture acknowledging “a classroom understanding of gender,” a definition she said teachers and students recognize.

“Every society has norms and practices on masculinity and femininity,” Fulbright scholar Dr. Binitha Thampi told the group of 30 students, faculty and community members gathered in the William F. Walsh Science Center. “We create institutions according to these norms and practices.”

Thampi is an associate professor at the Indian Institute of Technology and a Fulbright Scholar in residence at the Rutgers University School of Arts and Sciences, Department of Women’s and Gender Studies for the 2016-2017 academic year.

Sign Up for E-News

In her lecture, “Migration, Aesthetic Labour and the Citizenship — A Case of Northeastern Migrant Women to Southern Cities of India,” Thampi focused on a newer “institution” in her homeland: the services sector.

Thampi detailed the results of quantitative and qualitative surveys she and a team of researchers conducted with 180 women who have migrated from India’s northeastern rural area to two southern metropolitan areas, Bangalore and Chennai, to take jobs in salons that offer services such as manicures, pedicures and massages.

Employers at those salons, Thampi noted, prefer to hire the northeastern women who have facial features associated with the “Asian look” of peoples such as the Thai and the Chinese. They have lighter skin and taller, more slender bodies than the women of southern India, whose skin is dark and whose bodies are shorter and stockier.

The northeastern women also tend speak more softly and exhibit patience, politeness and a willingness to interact with the opposite sex “without inhibition” – characteristics that constitute the “right attitude” to their employees and the clientele their employers hope to attract.

Despite being preferred for these jobs, these northeastern women told Thampi and her team that they experience discrimination in and out of the workplace and are not well paid. They reported being called slang names such as “Manipuri” and “Chinky” and listed the disadvantages that challenge them including minimal break time, working overtime without additional pay, sexual harassment and exploitation.

The team of researchers decided to focus specifically on women after discovering that because of feminization of poverty 51 percent of migrants within developed countries and 46 percent within developing countries are women. Thampi said her team believes these numbers may be higher. Surveys underestimate the number. Transient circulation and invisible and undocumented migrants are often not full accounted for.

The researchers noted that since the 1990s, migration of women looking for employment in the services sector in Bangalore and Chennai has been prominent. And within their sample of 180 women, they identified the existing associations of migrant workers formed based on ethnicities.

“The northeast region of India is very distinct compared to the rest of India,” Thampi said. “They are, at large, a tribal indigenous community. Christians entered this region in the 1880s and educated people. They are more egalitarian, more westernized and their knowledge of English is higher.”

Those two southern cities in which the researchers conducted their study of women’s migration patterns and work environments differ drastically from each other.

“Chennai is more conservative,” said Thampi. “They are inward looking, closed, less welcoming and proud of the local community and land. Bangalore is a more cosmopolitan area. These differences are due to historical reasons.”

The researchers focused on the kind of “neo-liberal shift” the Indian state has been taking.

“Our five researchers looked at labor as a vantage point to understand the change,” Thampi said. “Why leave is the question. When you work, you have certain rights, entitlement and social security. We want to look at how these were tied to the category of labor, what is happening as these rights are concerned and look at different kinds of labor in regards to the topic.”

Labor mobility has historically been high in the United States. In India, that had not been the case in India because traditional agriculture ties people to the land. The researchers discovered enhanced mobility in India can be tied to the implementation of liberalization and privatization policies in India.

Thampi, who holds a Ph.D. in development studies from the Institute for Social and Economic Change in Bangalore, a master’s degree in applied economics from the Centre for Development Studies in Trivandrum, and a master’s in politics and international relations from Mahatma Gandhi University in Kottayam, said she plans to continue researching the topic of migration of women workers.

“As part of my Fulbright work, I would like to make a comparison between the United States and the Indian case,” Thampi said. “I will attempt to see if I can find something, but I don’t know if I will get anything out of it. There are some differences. The United States’ service sector is more mature, while India’s is just taking off. I would like to do a continuation of the work I’ve been doing for the past two years.”

Thampi said she is in the process of writing a book based on the Indian study, which should be released by the end of 2017.

The Mary Devereux Lecture honors Mary Devereux, who with her husband Nicholas Devereux was among the founders of a college and seminary that became St. Bonaventure. The lecture celebrates successful women around the world.

Alva Cellini, director of the women’s studies program at St. Bonaventure, said the annual first-week-of-April lecture serves as a continuation of March as Women’s History Month.

During her Fulbright visit, Thampi visited classes at St. Bonaventure. She also gave a lecture, “Engendering Development: Debates and Issues in the Context of Global South,” during the Thursday Forum, a weekly luncheon for university faculty, administrators and staff.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Greater Olean

After a 46-year absence, I'm Still at Home on Bona Radio

A timeworn idiom asserts that you can’t teach old dogs new tricks.  As a retired guy, floating around in my mid-sixties, I easily qualify as an “old dog.” But since September I’ve been doing a weekly radio show on St. Bonaventure University’s radio station, WSBU FM, 88.3, the Buzz, and I’m thinking that perhaps that old negative phrase can be turned into a ...

Self-Defense Empowers Women

Real estate agent Mary Stachowicz fears becoming a victim of violence.

Why? Because she shows houses to groups of men by herself.

Stachowicz voiced those fears after the Jan. 27 “Beyond Self Defense Seminar” she attended at AKT Combatives Academy in Olean. And she said she believed that in order to overcome this fear, it would be valuable to learn self-defense.

“My son ...

The Story of Punxsutawney Phil

With Groundhog Day landing on Friday this year, thousands will watch in person and even more will tune in from home to see Punxsutawney Phil make his yearly prediction.

As legend has it, if Phil sees his shadow at dusk on Feb. 2, six more weeks of winter are on its way. If Phil doesn’t see his shadow, and early spring can be expected.

Phil may very well be the world’s second ...

Upcoming Events

Mon, February 26, 10:00 AM

Cuba Circulating Library, Cuba

Cabin Fever Playgroup


Mon, February 26, 1:30 PM

Olean Public Library, Olean

Car Air Freshener Craft

Arts & Entertainment

Mon, February 26, 6:30 PM

Olean Public Library, Olean

Reading the Rainbow

Arts & Entertainment Education

CRCF grant gives $22 thousand for biennial, artist support

February 20, 2018

ALLEGANY, NY -- The Cattaraugus County Arts Council recently received a $22,207 grant from the F. Donald Kenney Fund at the Cattaraugus Region Community Foundation, once again in support of the Southern Tier Biennial Art Show.

The endowment fund was established through Mr. Kenney’s estate to support the biennial art exhibition in perpetuity.

A graduate of Olean High School, Holy Cross ...

Exhibit Opening at JCC's Olean Campus Offers New Ways to Visualize Disease and Recovery

OLEAN, NY -- A new exhibition, titled “Artist/Patient/Advocate: Works by Elizabeth Jameson and Ted Meyer,” offers new ways of visualizing disease and recovery.

Opening Friday from 6-8 p.m. in the Center Gallery on the Jamestown Community College Olean campus, this exhibit features artwork that incorporates diagnostic brain scans, photographs and rubbings taken from body scars. Los ...

'A Day in the Life': One Transportation Supervisor Serves Portville and Olean

PORTVILLE, NY – A whiteboard with dozens of destinations and vehicle numbers written in various colors sits inside the Portville bus garage, ready to be changed at any moment. David Youngs, the transportation supervisor of the Portville and Olean School Districts, knows that before 2 almost every afternoon, he is likely to receive an email changing the entire meticulously planned ...

'A Day in the Life' Follows Della Moore of the African American Center for Cultural Development

OLEAN, NY – When Della Moore walks down the street, she greets everyone she passes and makes sure to ask, “How are you doing?” 

From the moment I joined her at the 7-Eleven on a cloudy, cold December morning until we finished making our stops along State and North Union streets, she remained ...

'Day in the Life' Follows Warehouse Selector Justus Elliot

OLEAN, NY -- For Justus Elliot, time and pace are essential. As a warehouse selector for Olean Wholesale Grocery Co-Op, most of the 21-year-old’s job calls for efficiency.

“Everything is time-based," Elliot explained. "One hundred percent is the norm, and it’s what we work for every day. If our score is less, then we are moving too slow, and we kick it into ...

Happy Veterans Day, Mom

What began as an attempt to boost her GPA soon turned into a 22-year career for my mom, Ramona Lee Discavage.

On the first day of her freshman year at St. Bonaventure University in 1989, members of the Army ROTC Seneca Battalion helped incoming freshmen move their stuff into their dorm rooms.  Afterward, they invited all of the freshmen to a lunch.

“When they described the ...

Lynn Kemp: ‘Best Soldier I Could Be’

Lynn Kemp is nearing 95 and knows he has lived a good life.

“The good Lord has been awful good to me,” recalled the lifelong resident of Shinglehouse, Pennsylvania. “I never refused an order. I tried to be the best soldier I could be. I don’t know what your relationship is with God, but mine is pretty close.”

Born Oct. 29, 1920, Lynn grew up in a home on Turkey ...

WW II museum provides role models for young people

When Steve Appleby asks area students if they know Snoop Dog, Eminem, Kanye West, the Kardashians, Parris Hilton or Miley Cyrus, they answer yes. Then Appleby will ask which of them knows Jason Dunham is, and the students will not have a clue.

Appleby will explain that Jason Dunham was a Marine from Scio, in Allegany County, New York, who was killed in Iraq in 2006 after jumping on a grenade ...