Ahmedabad University (India)


The proposed research study examines the local impact of a global pandemic in the city of Ahmedabad in the western Indian state of Gujarat, India. Specifically, the project explores the pathways by which the pandemic is rendered local, by examining the context-specific effects of “lockdown,” a policy measure designed to restrict contact and movement and prevent contagion. “Lockdown” has unleashed massive socioeconomic vulnerabilities that have been compounded by the enforcement tactics deployed by the state. Concurrently, relief efforts are underway to mitigate starvation and destitution. While Gujarat continues to report high rates of infection and mortality, the project explores how governance and relief play out in particular localities and neighbourhoods, depending on their pre-existing relationships with the state and the wider city. Thus the proposed study asks: How does state action in the management of the pandemic unfold along specific, local nodes of containment, enforcement, and care? How do relief workers mediate between people and the state, and how do they evaluate risk and responsibility? Finally, how do neighbourhood social relations enable survival in the context of one of the harshest lockdowns in the world? By exploring the social, political, and economic life of a public health emergency, the project not only contributes to an emerging anthropology of the pandemic but also marks a significant scholarly advance in regional social history.

Principal Investigator

Maya Ratnam

Assistant Professor, School of Arts and Sciences, Ahmedabad University

Maya Ratnam is assistant professor at the School of Arts and Sciences, Ahmedabad University, Gujarat, India. She is an anthropologist trained in Delhi University and Johns Hopkins University. Her research interests are primarily in the overlapping fields of environmental, social, and legal anthropology, with a focus on the land and forest rights of indigenous communities in India. Her dissertation fieldwork, supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation and the American Institute of Indian Studies, emphasized a close ethnography of the daily lives, work rhythms, and livelihood challenges of forest-dwelling, indigenous, or adivasi, communities in India. Her current work builds on these insights to address questions of environmental regulation, law, and policy. Environmental resource struggles and poverty are closely linked in India and across much of the global South. Ratnam’s work tries to understand the connections between structural forces that intensify vulnerability and precarity across different demographics, breaking down silos of economy and ecology. Her current research focuses on the pandemic and its impact on economically vulnerable neighbourhoods in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, examining how suffering and risk are exacerbated by the near-complete absence of social support engendered by neoliberal migration, labor, and industrial policies.