Given the recent finding that nearly 40% of the world’s female suicides occur in India, and the seemingly constant outpouring of stories of girls and women being subject to horrific sexual and physical violence in the country, the research I have produced over the past seven weeks could not be more relevant. I have been working with Dr Manu Sehgal from the Department of History to research gender and violence in early twentieth century colonial India, using documents from the colonial archives. Grappling such a sensitive and difficult topic was a challenge, but I was drawn to the idea of learning about and researching the history of women in a country I haven’t really encountered in my studies so far.
The project was split into two parts; the first being compiling instances of violence against women and girls reported in Indian newspapers in National Newspaper Reports, and the second being compiling instances of violence towards women recorded in Law Reports. The majority of the documents were over 1000 pages long and all in all, I analysed over 50 years’ worth of data. This work felt tedious at first, running search terms through pdfs of reports, but I soon felt comfortable with the work I was doing and enjoyed learning more about life in India during this period through my background reading and stories in the newspapers and law reports.
Possibly the most challenging thing I faced was running searches through the Law Reports. I have never studied law before, so the terminology and language, especially since it was from the late 19th and early 20th century threw me off a bit. However, with a lot of googling of terminology, I was able to get through it, and had the brilliant opportunity to engage with the lives and stories of women living in early c20th colonial India. The subject matter was often hard to deal with as I frequently read reports about women and girls being subject to sexual and physical abuse, trafficking, and forced marriage. Though difficult, this is an important subject to research and shed light on. I found when doing my preliminary and background reading women in colonial India have often been overlooked and their troubles unreported by contemporary historians. I feel proud to have contributed to the production of knowledge about these women and their experiences.
These challenges, however, made the project all the more worthwhile. I was able to overcome them, and had the opportunity to study an area of history I have yet to encounter in my studies – we rarely have the opportunity to work so closely with primary source material in varying mediums at undergraduate level and I truly believe it has been invaluable in developing my independent research skills and has prepared me well for my dissertation preparation and my plans to pursue postgraduate study! It is also such a rewarding experience, and I learnt that despite the at time tediousness of creating databases, it is really brilliant when you find some really useful material or come up with an original idea which can help drive the research forward. I would definitely recommend the UGRS. It is a perfect opportunity to be able to get hands-on research experience in a topic you may not be familiar with – and get paid which is always nice!
Amy O’Neill, BA History