The IFP Newsletter

December 2022

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NOV 28- DEC 2, 2022

The Social Sciences Winter School in Pondicherry (SSWSP) is an annual event of intensive, multidisciplinary training workshops addressing theoretical and methodological issues in social sciences research. This initiative started in 2014, originating from an Indo-French cooperation in social sciences between the IFP and Pondicherry University.

This year was the sixth edition of the SSWSP titled “Rethinking Inequalities”. It took place at the UMISARC campus of Pondicherry University from November 28th to December 2nd.

Following the framework of the past editions, the SSWSP was organised according to three complementary axes: (a) Plenary sessions at the beginning of the school; (b) Three thematic workshops lasting four days: Workshop 1 – Spatial and Environmental Inequalities in Indian cities, Workshop 2 – Economic Inequalities and Sustainability, Workshop 3 – Interrogating and Narrating Inequalities – Youth Anxieties and Aspirations in India Today; (c) Restitution of the students’ collaborative projects, discussions, exchanges.

About 50 trainees of Ph.D. students and young researchers from different disciplinary fields and universities across India participated in this event. The objectives were to focus on and understand research frontiers in social sciences using qualitative as well as quantitative research methodologies on the multifaceted dimensions of inequalities. The school provided everyone with the opportunity to share knowledge, experience and frame research questions.

The SSWSP 2022 has benefited from the scientific support of the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD, through its DIAL and PALOC research units), the Centre for South Asian Studies (CEIAS, Paris; CNRS-EHESS), the Centre for South Indian Studies (UMISARC, Pondicherry University), the Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS, Chennai), the Centre des Sciences Humaines (CSH, Delhi), and the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS, Leiden).

Dr. Senthil Babu talking about the need of the hour in fisheries.


NOV 1st & 2nd, 2022

This workshop was funded by the Indian Council of Social Science Research through the Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS). Writers, documentary filmmakers, journalists, media professionals, activists and researchers were invited as participants.

A round table was organized at the end to discuss ways to build solidarity to protect the livelihood of fisheries and the coastal environment. Many participants thanked the organizers for providing such a platform; they also expressed interest to hold such workshops periodically to discuss issues, technically train coastal writers, and shape writings for a better future for all.

Sanskrit scholar Durga Sharan receiving the workshop participation Certificate from Prof. K. V. Ramakrishnamacharyalu.


3rd & 4th Nov, 2022

The Sun is praised in various Vedic mantras as the one who traverses the horizon in his chariot, bestowing health and well-being on all living beings. To understand more about Sūrya, we had a two-day International Conference on “Sun in Sanskrit Literature”. Dr. Hugo David, HoD, Department of Indology, IFP welcomed the scholars and gave the inaugural speech. The introduction to the seminar was given by Deviprasad Mishra, Deputy Head of Indology, IFP followed by the key-note address by Prof. Gopabandhu Mishra, Professor of Vyākaraṇa, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi. He spoke about the Analysis of Surya in the Literature texts and opened the floor for further discussions.

Directress Blandine Ripert in dialogue with Mrs. Bhagyalakshmi, farmer and entrepreneur specializing in organic mushroom cultivation.


25th NOV, 2022

The meeting focused on women as Agripreneurs. The keynote speaker Mrs. Mithra Ravichandran, Managing Director of SWAASAM Global Farmer Producers Organisation, PS Palayam, shared her journey from moving out of a corporate job to establish a family-run agri-business back at her native place in PS Palayam. She spoke about her educational background and her first steps in working life. The second speaker was Mrs. Bhagyalakshmi who spoke about her initial years working at the MS Swaminathan Foundation after which health, as well as social-economic challenges, led her to start something of her own, an enterprise on organic mushroom cultivation. G . Parvathi concluded the speech by sharing her activities of maintaining a terrace garden as a way to grow one's own food organically.  Post-meeting farmers displayed their products for sale at the IFP which served as a space for awareness-building and networking.

Project Spotlight

CASEKA Project
Delphine Thivet (Social Sciences)

The interdisciplinary research program CASEKA (CArbon SEquestration to mitigate climate change in tropical soil-plant systems: sustainable biochar production and application in KArnataka, South India) is funded by the CNRS Mission for Transversal and Interdisciplinary Initiatives (MITI) (Call for proposals 2021: “Carbon Capture, Sequestration and Valorisation Challenge”). It is based on collaborations at the frontiers of disciplines as it involves researchers with different disciplinary backgrounds: one sociologist, Delphine Thivet, from the Social Sciences Department of IFP, and three terrestrial biogeochemistry scientists, Samuel Abiven, Research professor at the Ecole Normale Supérieure Paris, Department of geosciences; Katell Quenea, Assistant Professor at Sorbonne Université, Paris and Fréderic Delarue, CNRS Fellow, Sorbonne Université. The research focuses on the production of biochar, a charcoal-like substance obtained through the pyrolysis of biomass under low or no oxygen conditions. Biochar is indeed one of the most promising options to mitigate global climate change as it can store carbon efficiently, but may also increase soil fertility. In the meantime, its production yields energy that can be used for farms and industrial applications. However, we know yet little about how to optimize its implementation at the farm level and how to economically sustain this technology for farmers, in particular in places where its action can be the most valuable, like tropical agricultural systems, where soil carbon content is low, organic wastes important, and soil fertility often a problem. It is why South India and Karnataka in particular have been chosen for qualitative fieldwork (interviews with experts of soil sciences, farmers, eco-entrepreneurs, etc.) and the implementation of field experiments. The research project relies on a multidisciplinary approach and methodology, including technical innovations, new findings providing a novel view of the biochar systems, and a unique opportunity to combine outstanding research sites and scientific complementary expertise between Earth and environmental sciences and social sciences.

PaTRI-MOI: Cultural Heritage in the Indian Ocean from global to local: Tanzania, Reunion, India Mauritius. 
Dr. Jenni Balasubramanian Postdoctoral fellow University of La Réunion / IFP Pondicherry

August 2022 was the month of conducting fieldwork in India. A considerable number of documents were collected from the Tamil Nadu State Archives and Pondicherry center for National Archives on the indentured labourers who left from the Coromandel coast to the sugar Islands of the Indian Ocean. These official documents consist of acts and proceedings on emigration, reports by the emigration officer, statements of the returnee labourers from the islands, and fragments of litigations filed by the emigration officer, etc. These pieces of official narratives promoted emigration as free labour than forced labour like slavery.
I collected a number of popular songs on emigration towards Burma and Rangoon from Roja Muthiah Research Library, Chennai. Even if there are very few direct references available regarding emigration towards Reunion Island, these popular songs help us understand better migration as a process in the mid-19th  century. Some recent literary works in Tamil on emigration were collected to the primary corpus on the memory of indentured legacy in India.
I presented a paper on the tamil labourers and merchants from La Reunion in the international conference held at BHU from 15th to 18th November 2022 on Global South Asians: Transformative experiences. Title of my Postdoctoral Research: Indian Indentured labourers from Madras Presidency to La Reunion and Mauritius: 1830-1917.

This is a project funded by the EU, as a FEDER project.


Botanical explorations in dry coastal plains. IFP staff: Dr. N. Balachandran, Dr. Doris Barboni and Kokilavani © P.Umamaheswari
Coastal plains with water channel - inhabited by Pandanus odorifer (Forssk.) Kuntze). IFP staff: N. Barathan © N. Ayyappan

Tranquebar Botanical Exploration

Team members: N. Ayyappan, N. Balachandran, N. Barathan, Doris Barboni, Kokilavani, Debabrata Behera, P.Umamaheswari.

A botanical exploration was conducted between October and November 2022 at Tharangambadi (Tranquebar), Mayiladuthurai district of Tamil Nadu. The region is situated between the rivers Uppananar and Nandalar, both distributaries of the Kaveri River. It was under Danish possession from 1620 to 1845. The study area has been a human-modified landscape since ancient times. Coastal plains, sand dunes, and salt panes with fringe mangroves were predominant landforms in the past. The fertile area has been under paddy cultivation. At present, there are practices of fish and prawn farming in the salt panes. We have collected data on species occurrences and about 80 voucher specimens in the region. Amongst, the invasive species Prosopis juliflora is ubiquitous, followed by Borassus flabellifer and Lannea coromandelica. During our fieldwork, the region received extremely high rainfall (particularly on 11 November 2022) and the majority of the area was submerged. Some remnants of the sand dune vegetation were observed whilst most of it is now converted into agricultural land and prawn culture area. Identification of collected species is under progress. This project aims to compare present data on plant species diversity with the historic collection made during the colonial period some 400 years ago as part of the HALLE Mission (1771) and the Plantae Malabarica Manuscript.

This project is supported by the Danish Cultural Institute, India.

Endemic plant exploration at Vallanadu Wildlife Sanctuary.

A botanical expedition to find the endemic plants, Coromandel coast of Tamil Nadu

Team members: Balachandran N and Barathan N, Ecology Department.

Over the last two and a half decades of botanical exploration along the Coromandel Coast of Tamil Nadu, we have found more than 100 endemic species, recorded in different habitats like reserve forest, coastal sand dunes, sacred groves, wetlands, saltpans, pasture land, and roadside bio-fences. Recently a mission has been planned to take digital images of them, aiming to prepare a pictorial field guidebook. The first field exploration was between 7th-10th June 2022 at the sacred groves of Pudukkottai district, Azhagar hill MPCA, Karantha malai, and Sirumalai from Madurai district. During this visit, we collected and photographed the endemic species in their type locality. The second mission was from 10th-14th Oct 2022 along the coastal districts: Cuddalore, Mayiladudurai, Nagapattinam, Tirunelveli. We came across interesting endemic grasses - (Chrysopogon asper), epiphytic orchid (Vanda tessellate, syn: V. roxburghii), a rare male tree of Diospyros peregrina (syn D. malabarica)- the first record from the sacred groves along the coastal region. In Nagapattinam district near Vedaranyam taluk, the groves are very well protected with iron barbed wires so as to not disturb the vegetation or encroach the land areas. It is remarkable to mention that at one of the groves, we found four endemic species and no invasive species or exotics.

Climate intervention in Kaveri Delta: Its socio-economic impact

Team members: Dr. Y. Subburayalu, Dr. Senthil Babu, Dr. Prakash Venkatesh, Dr. Rajagopal, Dr. Gopinath Sricadane, Shibi Nandan, Ganesh Gopal, Prabha Bharathi, Pearson, Tathagatha Sengupta

To better understand the ground-level impact of large-scale climate financing projects, fieldwork was undertaken in the Vennar sub-basin of the Kaveri Delta, where a climate adaptation project funded by the Asian Development Bank had been implemented by the Tamil Nadu government. While the hinterlands of the delta are largely dependent on the freshwater that the Kaveri brings every monsoon, for agriculture, the coastal region is dependent on the confluence of fresh water from the river and saline water from the sea for fishing and aquaculture. In the hinterlands, the project had widened and deepened the major rivers, enabling them to withhold large-scale floods and prevent flooding and inundations. In the coastal region, Tail End Regulators are built to prevent seawater intrusion.

Our field visit focused on the Talainayar wetlands where the tail-end regulators have been constructed across the rivers Harichandra and Adappar. This infrastructure clearly blocks the natural inflow of saline water during high tide. Along with that the infrastructure also blocks the inflow of fish and prawns from the sea, which come to the wetlands to breed. The local Dalit women and men who are dependent on these fish for their livelihood are affected.

We met and interacted with the women of Palankallimedu, a Dalit village on the eastern bank of the wetland, who catch prawns in the same area. Most of them through their earnings from fishing and prawn catching have successfully paid for their children's education. They now find it difficult to sustain themselves as fish catch has been dwindling since the construction of the Tail End Regulators. While on the other hand, education has not paid off much, most of the village youth are either unemployed or do not have jobs that fit their education. This has in turn only added more burden on the women while also the fish resource is dwindling.

While environmental actions taken up by the government, particularly in India are predominantly interventions through engineering projects, we could observe from our field visit that such engineering solutions often fail to take the interests and welfare of the marginalized people into account.

Entrance of Rabindra Mandap, the main venue for performances in Bhubaneswar, 20.08.2022 © Suko Lam

Stories from Odissi Dancers' everyday lives in Bhubaneswar
Barbara Curda (Social Sciences)

Undertaking ethnographic fieldwork immerses one into a complex web of different facets of life experienced by people in the location where investigations take place. Many of those may never make it into the final outcomes of a research and yet, they may be relevant for understanding the research subjects’ trajectories.

For example, one afternoon in August 2022 I met *Subrat, an Odissi dance master, at his home. He spends ample time relating the story of the snake he spotted a few days back in the green space outside the house. His home is situated in one of the new residential areas at the margins of Bhubaneswar which has developed in the past two decades. Through his worries about the wild animal's presence, Subrat conveys a sense of his present-day experience of being an Odissi dance practitioner in the rapidly expanding capital of the State Odisha. By narrating this story, he actually relates to his strategies to manage his and his family’s livelihood, in fact, he recently shifted from an apartment situated just a few meters away, on the opposite side of the mud road in order to save 2000 Rupees on his monthly budget. And he apprehends the new place, which is situated closer to ground level than the previous one, as providing less safety in regard to snakes.

Unlike others I met in the field, Subrat has not shared how far his present concern about the family budget is in consequence of the Covid pandemic. His long-term story of shifting away from the town center and periodically reconsidering this choice resembles that of other practitioners of Odissi who like him, inscribe their personal life histories into that of the development of a dance practice considered to constitute national heritage and evolving in the context of a galloping urban growth.

GATRODI will continue to conduct fieldwork in Bhubaneswar until mid-2023 to investigate gender asymmetries in the transmission of Odissi dance.

*Subrat as well as all other names mentioned in this article are all pseudonyms.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 101033051"

Students' Works

Pooja Chopra presenting at Fulbright Conference in New Delhi

A Feminist Historiography of Pondicherry from the 1930s onwards | Pooja Chopra - Fulbright Nehru Researcher (Social Sciences Department, IFP) | At the Fulbright Conference, New Delhi 

Pooja Chopra presented at the Fulbright Conference in New Delhi her work on archived materials regarding the labor movement during the 1930s and its evolution into what later became the independence movement within Pondicherry. An examination of archived photographs, V. Subbiah’s autobiography, and the first issue of the Swandanthiram, a radical working-class newsletter, this presentation put forth a historical analysis that has not been incorporated into the larger history of Pondicherry’s independence movement.

Ecology and habitat suitability modeling of two endemic species for conservation and management | Kanda Naveen Babu, Kurian Ayushi, Sourabh Jetty, N. Ayyappan and N. Parthasarathy | At the International Conference on Unifying Biology through Diversity (ICUBD – 2022) The American College, Madurai, India.

Field studies on the distribution and ecology of endemic species are fundamental for conservation planning. This paper presents a detailed account of the distribution, habitat preferences, population ecology, and biomass of Terminalia paniculata Roth and Lagerstroemia microcarpa Wt. from 119 (0.1 ha) plots sampled in the Shettihalli landscape of central Western Ghats, India. The findings of this study will be extremely helpful in developing proper conservation strategies to protect these species and their habitat. We highly recommend the incorporation of SDMs in conservation studies.

Comparison of parametric regression model and a machine learning algorithm for the prediction of the above ground biomass in a regional tropical forest landscape, Western Ghats | Kurian Ayushi, Kanda Naveen Babu, Narayanan Ayyappan | At the International Conference on Applied Geoinformatics for Society and Environment – 2022 Digital University of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram, India.

Forest ecosystems are critical to the global water cycle, biodiversity, and the global carbon balance. Carbon accounts for roughly 50% of the dry weight of trees, often known as biomass. In the study, the Random Forest model was developed and compared with the MLR. Model evaluation and accuracy assessment was done using a 10-fold cross-validation technique with ten repetitions utilizing the caret package in open-source R statistical software. The data was split into two sections at random, with 80% of the training and 20% for the model’s validation and evaluation (testing). Statistical metrics like Correlation Coefficient (r), Mean Absolute Error (MAE), and Root Mean Squared Error (RMSE) were used for estimating the performance of each model.

Open Calls

Call for Papers: Nicolas Bautès, Barbara Čurda and Delphine Thivet are hosting a panel at the 27th European Conference of South Asian Studies in Torino, Italy, in July 2023 (26 to 29 July, 2023): "Transmitting know-how in a shifting world – the case of contemporary India."

Focusing on post-liberalization India, this panel intends to give an insight into how traditional knowledge and know-how, both as a discursive category and as practice, are produced, negotiated, maintained, politicized, and reinvented. It proposes to explore the various social structures and moral relations in which the transmission of such practices is embedded. Who benefits from the transmission processes, and who may be excluded? How do social actors engage with the past? What legacies do they leave behind?

Deadline: January 15, 2023.

TRAVELS TO EUROPE- Memoirs & Stories from IFP Permanent Indian Staff

Anupama Krishnamurthy’s Travel Anecdotes from Rome, Italy- Invited as a member of the Scientific Board of INQUA

Finally, an in-person meeting of the current INQUA Board was possible this year in Rome in October. INQUA, the International Union for Quaternary Research is an international network of scientists and researchers from diverse disciplines with an interest in this geological period going back ~2.5 million years ago.

This was an opportunity to actually interact with all other board members on a professional as well as personal level, instead of just signing in and off, online conversations. Our interactions spanned over our scientific works, political situations in each other’s countries, discussions on food, culture and family. It was really nice to connect over lunch or dinner and make friends.

Aritina Haliuc, a young Post Doc from the Czech Republic, currently in charge of the INQUA secretariat who was the main coordinator for this meeting shared with us about how her parents who live close to the Ukrainian Border can hear the bombshells and the war sounds not too far away.

Laura Sadori, Vice President of the Board, our host in Rome, and Professor at the University of Sapienza, brought us a homemade local drink the ‘“real LimonCello”.

Food in Italy is great. I got to taste real pizzas, tiramisus and of course pasta! It was amusing for us to discover that restaurants that alter the recipe of tiramisu have to print on their menu: “Wrong Tiramisu”. The university campus had a very nice atmosphere. One of the memorable sights was the graduating Master’s students walking around the campus wearing wreaths made of orange flowers and leaves.

A funny incident I remember is spotting a fruit-filled Guava tree during one of our walks through the campus’s botanical garden. Apparently, nobody there knew that these fruits are edible. Another Indian researcher and I cut the fruit and ate a piece after which the others also enjoyed it!

Back at the meeting, there were many memories and bonds being made to be strengthened at the forthcoming INQUA Congress. One of the achievement highlights of this event was including research grants as part of the 2023 proposal. INQUA mainly funds networking events and grants as part of the 2023 proposal. INQUA mainly funds networking events and grants fellowships (14 fellowships have been given this year), the members of the board proposed that INQUA also include in its 2023 proposal to fund research grants for researchers from low and middle-income countries. All of us were happy about this milestone.

The guava tree in the university botanical garden.

Balasubramanian Dhandapani- Invited to the University of Caen Normandy and UFR SEGGAT/Maison de la Recherche en Sciences Humaines at Caen.

As an effort to explore collaborations to build on the coastal program of IFP, Nicolas Bautes who led the Fishercoast project at IFP extended an invitation for a stay of two months at his home institution, The University of Caen Normandy and UFR SEGGAT/Maison de la Recherche en Sciences Humaines at Caen.

The visit started with a week-long students' field school in Meyreuis, Lozere for the students of the Department of Geography. As part of the faculty team, we guided students in studying the unique geospatial aspects of the region and the human geographical dynamics that shape the agro-pastoralist practices and conservation challenges specific to this region which is also part of a national park and a significant tourist destination. This gave me an opportunity to reflect upon the balance sought between conservation and development challenges across different social-ecological systems. Two significant aspects that I noticed during the field school are the dynamic collaboration and commitment of the faculty in working with student teams to conduct their studies. And the second is the open availability of well-curated datasets, for example from IGN’s public geospatial data repository which made everyone’s life so easy. Having worked for a long time in promoting open data in biodiversity in India, it was fascinating to see how such open science practices call help students and researchers in action.

Back at the University, I interacted with experts on coastal monitoring, hydrology and impacts of climate change on the coastal ecosystems and undertook many field visits around the coast and hinterlands of Normandy region. Discovering the beautiful and diverse landscapes of the region of Normandy as part of the many field trips, may it be for checking data loggers or scouting for appropriate streams for installing new ones in the bocage, or participating in a survey for measuring cliff movements at the Falaise des Vaches Noires on the Normandy coast was an exhilarating experience. Being exposed to the gentrification of Colombelles municipality in the east of Caen around the former steel mill and the region’s effort in rejuvenating the area with new experimental ventures such as makerspaces is illustrative of two things. First, it tangibly maps the effects of the flight of capital in a spatially explicit manner and second, the region’s eagerness in collaborating with academia in innovating new solutions for reviving the local economy and spatial planning. It was also interesting to see the space available for civil society and activist groups to influence local and regional administration in terms of environmental concerns and urban planning well integrated with the immediate concerns of the local communities.

At the Maison de la Recherche en Sciences Humaines – Caen and at MSH Paris Nord, I interacted with many poles of research covering maritime studies in the Caribbean which have produced a Caribbean marine atlas, Documentation pole which innovates in creating interactive archives for various projects and the diverse set of geographers looking at coastal commons to spatial inequalities in education and health. These interactions allowed teasing out similarities of challenges in technological practices across disciplines, despite vast geographical and political economic differences. Nevertheless, this memorable stay, though short as one realizes interacting with a diverse set of researchers lay a good foundation for building multi-disciplinary collaborations around the important questions of technological practices and complex relationship with social-ecological systems.

Building renovation

Replacement of the last beam in the IFP's Manuscripts room.
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