Palimpsests of identity and memory: contemporary perspectives on South Asian diaspora literatures

Roshni Sengupta's picture
Call for Papers
February 15, 2023
Subject Fields: 
Area Studies, Literature, South Asian History / Studies, Cultural History / Studies


Palimpsests of identity and memory: contemporary perspectives on South Asian diaspora literatures


Edited by Roshni Sengupta

The South Asian diaspora remains one of the fastest expanding and culturally, politically, and financially influential diasporic groups in the world. Interestingly, for scholars and observers of diasporic literature, it is also a prolific producer of literary works that reflect processes of identity and community formation, diasporization, homemaking, cultural preservation and conservation of diasporic heritage. Diasporic writers like Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (Sister of my Heart, Shadowland); Jhumpa Lahiri (An Unaccustomed Earth, Interpreter of Maladies, The Lowland), Kamila Shamsie (Kartography, Broken Verses) and Monica Ali (Brick Lane) represent the intersectionalities that pervade much of diasporic writing and literature. Those such as Salman Rushdie (The Moors Last Sigh, East West), Mohsin Hamid (The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Exit West, Moth Smoke), and Sunjeev Sahota (The Year of the Runaways, Ours Are the Streets, China Room), bring to the foreground the assemblages of pain, nostalgia and memory that underline the diasporic existence for a very large proportion of people across the world. The volume that is being proposed, seeks to deep dive into the contemporary, ongoing processes of diasporization among the South Asian migrant settler groups globally, while providing a special sectional focus to the diasporic communities with South Asian roots, i.e., the indentured labour diaspora. 

For a large part of the nineteenth century, Indian workers were transported by the colonial masters to other colonies, including British Guiana, Trinidad, Jamaica, Suriname, Mauritius, Fiji and Natal (now part of South Africa) (Dabydeen and Samaroo 1987, 1996; Bandyopadhyay 2010). This was a result of the woeful shortage of labour due to the abolition of slavery in British (1834), French (1846) and Dutch (1973) colonies. A new system of indenture was introduced to keep up a steady stream of workers – cheap labour from impoverished parts of the empires as the ‘slaves needed to be replaced’ (Hegde and Sahoo 2018). Scholars have characterized indenture as a ‘new form of slavery’ (Tinker 1974) or a ‘bridge between slavery and modern forms of contract labour’ (Mahmud 2012). Upon their arrival in the colonies, the indentured workers were assigned to plantations where restrictions were imposed on their movements. Here were formed communities – growing out of abysmal living conditions – which came together through religion, ritual, music, and other forms of communal practice. Eventually, with decolonization and colonial dispersal, indentured diaspora communities developed in parts of Europe (for instance, Netherlands, Belgium), South Pacific (like Fiji and Mauritius), the UK (East African Indians) and the Americas (Indo-Trinidadians), besides others. As the colonial diaspora developed in several parts of the world, including the Caribbean and parts of Africa, literary responses to diasporic identity formation and the process of homemaking began to emerge. Notable among them remains the works of Indo-Caribbean writers like V S Naipaul (A House for Mr Biswas, A Bend in the River, The Enigma of Arrival), Kevin Baldeosingh, and Shiva Naipaul, among others. Amitav Ghosh has, in Sea of Poppies, narrated the heart-wrenching story of loss and longing, solitude and grief and the eventual coming-of-age of colonial diasporic communities. Peggy Mohan’s Jahajin and Gaiutra Bahadur’s Coolie Woman are deeply moving semi-fictional accounts of forced migration, displacement, and identity formation.  

The primary aim of the volume is to bring to the foreground contemporary literary studies of writings on the South Asian diaspora. Besides South Asian diasporic writing in English, it also encourages recent research on literary works produced in languages other than English (Hindi, Dutch, French, Portuguese, etc) in order to engage with conceptual frameworks such as identity, memory, community formation, homing desire, homemaking, diasporization, twice migration (in many cases). The articles will be, of course, in English! Some key themes that the volume seeks to explore are as follows:

  • Postcolonial literature and the South Asian diaspora
  • Writings from ‘within’ and ‘without’ the colonial diaspora
  • Identity and memory in literature on the South Asian diaspora
  • Writing the ‘coolie’: the ‘forgotten’ South Asian
  • The post-colonial gaze in South Asian literatures
  • Colonial diasporic literary spheres
  • Engagement and disengagement in South Asian diaspora literature
  • Literary developments in South Asian diasporas in Europe and Africa
  • Twice migration and its literary representation
  • New trends in South Asian diasporic writing

Interested scholars may send in 300-350 word abstracts with a clearly defined title (it may be a working title for the time being!) and brief bio-notes to on or before 15 February 2023. The volume will be considered for publication as part of Routledge’s South Asian Literature in Focus book series.

Following the selection of abstracts, full papers (between 6000-7000 words in length, including bibliography and notes) will be commissioned, for submission in June 2023.


Dabydeen, D. and Samaroo, B. (1996). Across the Dark Waters: Ethnicity and Indian Identity in the Caribbean. London: Macmillan Education.

Bandyopadhyay, S. (ed.) (2010). India in New Zealand: Local Identities, Global Relations. Dunedin, New Zealand: Otago University Press. 

Hegde, R. S. and Sahoo, A. K. (eds.) (2018). ‘Introduction’. In Routledge Handbook of the Indian Diaspora. London: Routledge.

Tinker, H. (1974). A New System of Slavery: The Export of Indian Labour Overseas, 1830-1920. London: Oxford University Press.

Mahmud. T. (2013). Cheaper than a Slave: Indenture Labour, Colonialism and Capitalism. Whittier Law Review (online).

Editor’s bio

Roshni Sengupta is Senior Assistant Professor at the School of Modern Media, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies (UPE), Dehradun. Previously, she was Assistant Professor at the Institute of Intercultural Studies, Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland and Assistant Professor at the Institute of Middle and Far East, Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. She was Assistant Professor at the Leiden Institute for Area Studies, Leiden University, Netherlands from 2016-2019. She has been a Fellow of the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS), Leiden. Roshni did her post-doctoral research as an Erasmus-IBIES Fellow at the Leiden Institute for Area Studies from 2015-2016.

Among her published work is the monograph Reading the Muslim on Celluloid: Bollywood, Representation and Politics (Primus Books, 2020), and the co-edited volumes Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Gender and Culture in Contemporary Literature, edited by Parul Yadav, Roshni Sengupta, and Chandni Sengupta (Authors Press, 2021), and Film, Media and Representation in Postcolonial South Asia: Beyond Partition, edited by Nukhbah Taj Langah and Roshni Sengupta (Routledge, 2021). Her co-edited volume Narratives of Loss and Longing: literary developments in postcolonial South Asia with Nukhbah Taj Langah is forthcoming from Routledge in 2023, while she is currently working on a volume on visual politics of contemporary Bengali cinema (Routledge) and one on marginality in Indian cinema (Palgrave Macmillan).

Roshni has published several book chapters and peer-reviewed articles with indexed journals and books published by Routledge-Taylor and Francis, Brill, Sage etc. The article ‘Making Sense of Homemaking in the Diaspora: the case of the Indo-Surinamese Hindustanis in the Netherlands’ has recently been published in Diaspora Studies (Brill Leiden, 2022).


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