Masculinity & Globalization in India

A review of Becoming Men in a Modern City: Masculinity, Migration and Globalization in North India, by Harjant S. Gill. 

Harjant Gill’s dissertation, a study of young men living in Chandigarh, Punjab, India, focuses on patterns of migration, masculinity, and identity-making. Gill discusses traditional gender norms among Punjabi men, and the notion of ‘successful masculinity’ as resting upon the ability to become transnational citizens by migrating abroad. Gill explains the juxtaposition between urban dwellers of Chandigarh and young men who come from rural areas to the city for vocational and language training to migrate abroad. Gill contends that contemporary notions of Punjabi masculinity are characterized through successful migration and transnational movements.

The dissertation is structured in five parts. In the first chapter, Gill provides a background of theories on men and masculinities before moving on to discuss contemporary Punjab migration. Gill situates contemporary Punjabi masculinity within a longer history of migration and displacement that have been ongoing since Punjab’s annexation (1848-1849), including the wave of migration which occurred after the attacks on the Golden Temple in 1984. Gill shows that historical events contributed to the construction of Punjabi and Sikh masculinities, and how these discourses in turn helped spur a desire to go abroad. He then elaborates on particularities of Punjabi migration.

In Chapter 2, Gill discusses the origins, history, and urban planning of Chandigarh and how Punjabi men’s view of the city contrasts with the city’s modern landscape and architecture. It is here that Gill outlines his methodology, including a discussion of his participants (largely young men between the ages of 18-29), his methodology (participant observation, focus groups, formal and informal interviews, film analysis, researching secondary sources) and his approach to ethnographic research. He discusses in detail two significant public sites – Sector 17 and Technology Park – which carry with them utopian and neoliberal sensibilities, respectively. Gill then goes on to discuss his NRI (“Non-Resident Indian”) status which afforded him the opportunity to be situated, and situate himself as, not entirely foreign, yet at the same time created a hierarchical structure which Gill worked to negotiate.

In Chapter 3, Gill examines the lives of young Punjabi men, specifically rural Punjabi migrants who have moved to Chandigarh in order to complete vocational and language training they require for emigration. He argues that Chandigarh ultimately serves as a departing point for these men, a space that must be crossed before moving transnationally. Here, the transnational aspirations of young, rural Punjabi men clash with the more stringent rules of the modernist city of Chandigarh, leading to a general sense of ambivalence and suspicion but also a sense of gendered success, having successfully adjusted to urban life.

In Chapter 4, Gill examines popular Punjabi culture and representations of Punjabi masculinity depicted in Punjabi cinema, including participants’ reactions to such films. He then interviews filmmakers in Chandigarh in order to ascertain their motivations to create such films, which are often set in a transnational location with characters that have successfully emigrated. Gill concludes that the participants of his study base their notions of successful masculinity in part on these Punjabi films and their depictions of successful migrants’ lives and transnational locales.

In Chapter 5, Gill follows the trajectory of transnational migration by examining the lived experiences of Punjabi men who have migrated abroad. He finds that their lives rarely match up to the lives they had envisioned for themselves, with many living in fear of precarious citizenship while working in low-paying jobs with little community support. For example, the racial discrimination and poor living conditions that one participant experienced led to a sense of disappointment and disenchantment with life abroad, yet also an overall sense of accomplishment.

Gill bases his study on fifteen months of fieldwork carried out in Chandigarh, Punjab, India, including focus group discussions, participant observation, formal and informal interviews, and analysis of secondary sources. His work can be placed within a genealogy of work on masculinity studies, South Asian masculinities, and life in the Punjabi-Sikh diaspora. Through his nuanced understandings of gender relations in urban Punjab and the construction and lived experiences of masculinity, as well as his grasp of transnational migratory processes among Punjabi men, Gill’s work contributes to the literature on South Asian masculinities and helps the reader understand being and belonging within these larger globalized processes of transnational migration. Gill’s work particularly contributes to the literature on South Asian masculinities by examining what has previously been largely neglected, namely, the impact of popular culture and film in gendered identity construction and transnational aspirations among Punjabi men.

Kamal Arora
Department of Anthropology
The University of British Columbia
arorakam@interchange.ubc.ca

Primary Sources

Fifteen months of research conducted in Chandigarh, Punjab, India, including informal and formal interviews, participant observation, focus groups, and an analysis of contemporary Punjabi films
AJK Mass Communication Research Center, Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi, India
Panjab University, Chandigarh

Dissertation Information

American University. 2012. 230pp. Primary Advisor: David Vine.

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