The IFP Newsletter

July 2022


LES RENCONTRES DE L'IFP -The French Institute of Pondicherry is associated with the Alliance Francaise de Pondicherry for a monthly cycle of conferences aimed at sharing the activities of researchers with the general public, "Les Rencontres de l'IFP". The cycle was inaugurated by Christophe Jalil Nordman and his documentary film "One Side of The Road", about the lives or rural Dalit labourers in Tamil Nadu during the Covid-19 pandemic.
(UPCOMING) CONFERENCES ON THE PALM LEAF MANUSCRIPTS PROFILING INITIATIVE (PLMPI) - A series of lectures by the PLMPI project team is planned from July 2022 onward to familiarise IFP researchers across departments with the multiple analytical techniques that will be deployed within the CSMC Container Lab to be stationed in Pondicherry through 2023. The aims are to explain in detail how each technique will be useful to the study of palm leaf manuscripts, and how they could be used by IFP students and researchers to develop  parallel projects and collaborations.
- 13 July 2022: Metabolite Profiling of Wood and Plant Food by non-targeted high-resolution Mass Spectrometry. Speaker: Marina Creydt, Hamburg School of Food Science, University of Hamburg
- 22 August 2022: Title to be announced. Speaker: Dr Sebastian Bosch, Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures (CSMC), University of Hamburg
- 24 August 2022: Classification and characterization of complex data with chemometric approaches. Speaker: Dr Stephan Seifert, Hamburg School of Food Science, University of Hamburg
INTERNATIONAL SEMINAR ON ‘KAVYADOSA’ (POETIC FLAW) - The Department of Indology has planned to organize a two-day international seminar on the topic ‘Kāvyadoṣa’ (Poetic flaw) on the 4th and 5th of August 2022. A poetic flaw is a reason that obstructs the real essence of the poem (in Sanskrit) intended by a poet. This flaw may exist in a word, sentence, or even in the sense of a poem. Many poets starting from Bharatamuni, the author of Nātyaśāstra, had discussed poetic flaws a lot and each had a different opinion and categorization. But, on the whole, the cumulative view of the poets on the flaws is that a poet should avoid flaws while composing a poem even if a few flaws are considered not to be major blemishes. There are many texts in Sanskrit literature that discuss poetic flaws. Around 12 renowned scholars are invited to deliver their talks either on a particular poetic flaw or on a group of poetic flaws with a special reference to the text or the poet/rhetorician they choose. The seminar will be organized in a bilingual mode (Sanskrit and English). Most of the speakers are requested to present their papers in English to make the seminar accessible. Dr. Vinoth M, Researcher, Indology Department, will be organizing the seminar on the behalf of the department with the assistance of other researchers.
LOCAL FOOD SYSTEMS - IFP's annual Local Food Systems program sprung into insightful monthly events in the form of conferences and discussions, further cementing dialogue beyond Science and Society in Pondicherry. This new series builds on the success of the 4th edition of the yearly Local Food Systems Festival, organized in March around the themes of food and cuisine This year's edition dealt with food diversity and brought participants from all backgrounds to the discussion, from farmers and consumers to academics. Events included fields visits to villages, round tables discussions and movie screenings. A photo contest involving school children was also organized, with the winning pictures being displayed at IFP. Making the program live throughout the year with regular events brings exciting prospects for knowledge sharing both between academics and with the public and local actors.
WORKSHOP - POLITICAL WORK: DEFINITION, BOUNDARIES AND IMPLICATIONS - On April 21st, the Observatory of Rural Dynamics and Inequalities organized a workshop on the concept of "political work", defined as the set of activities and negociations that citizens perform on a daily basis to access their rights and welfare programs. The concept was introduced by Prof. Kaveri Haritas (Global Jindal University), around her recent book In Search of Home (Cambridge University Press, 2021), then by Prof. K. Kalpana (IIT-Chennai). Both interventions were followed by comments from Prof. Aruna Chinappan, Prof. Bibhuti Mohanti and Prof. Nalini Ranganathan (Pondicherry University) and a discussion with the whole audience. The debate that followed with the thirty or so participants (researchers, students, activists) confirmed the relevance of the concept and the need to conduct further research on the topic. 
WETLAND PHOTO CONTEST 2022 - On Saturday March 19th, IFP awarded the winners of the Wetland Photo Contest 2022, in presence of Mr. Candane Sivaradjane, Director of Arts and Culture of Pondicherry. This free contest, open to all and organized by IFP’s Ecology Department, aims at raising awareness of the rich natural and cultural heritage of wetlands in TN and Puducherry at a time when these essential habitats face multiple threats. 55 participants responded to the challenge. The pictures awarded first place in each category were displayed on the walls at IFP’s entrance. You will find all the winning photos at this page:
KARAIKUDI  WORKSHOP - A workshop on Computing Culture of Chettiars was organised in Kottaiyur, Karaikkudi, on 29 and 30 April 2022. The objective of this two-day workshop were (a) to understand the historical background of Chettiars - a merchant community from the state of Tamil Nadu emerged as an essential source of financial capital during the British Colonial rule in South and South-east Asia and the various factors that determined the community's rise and decline. (b) to understand how the computing culture of the community is related to money and wealth accumulation. (c) the methods of accounting, book keeping and modes of financial transactions and (d) their pedagogic systems such as the tinnai schools. Other than the lectures we visted the family archives of K.V.AL.M.RM. Valli Muthiah, which we are digitising with a grant from the British Library, the Kovilur Mutt Museum and other places of interest.
ART CAMP ON WOMEN AND LABOUR IN FISHERIES - The French Institute of Pondicherry, India and the New York University – Shanghai, China are collaboratively involved in an archival project on fisheries for more than a year now. One of the focus of this project is to explore and conceptualize the changing nature of women’s work due to technological changes and increase in capital intensive fisheries in the Coromandel coast. Historically, it is acknowledged that women have played ancillary roles in fisheries since they have been largely prohibited from accessing resources directly from sea. It is a male dominated sector and women perform secondary tasks such as selling fish, salting and drying fish, curing and processing of fish and making and repairing of nets. In the Coromandel coast (of Tamil Nadu), women from Pudupettai village (in Cuddalore district) are known for their unique fish processing skills and marketing of dry fish.

However, in the last decade or so, women fish vendors are slowly losing their control over fish harvest. They are not able to compete with large-scale traders who have the capital and political influence to dominate procurement of harvest from craft owners of all kinds. The species-targeted fishing is not catering to the small scale, day to day vending needs of women, again creating monopoly conditions of trade in both harbour and shore landing sites. The central role that fisher women played in sustaining the reproduction of labour at the household and on the shore, is being altered by new value chains in fisheries. In other regions, women became workers in fish processing units but the possibility of their absorption in large scale in this part of the coast is not promising. Women are being forced into various kinds of indebtedness and exploitative financial networks or to move into other occupations, such as domestic servants, as is seen in Pondicherry. In this background, a group of nine artists assembled in an art camp to study and sketch the lives and livelihoods of women fish vendors of Pudupettai village. Mr. Anthoni Guruz, an artist and art educator coordinated this five day camp, which included field visits, discussions with women fish workers as well. In total, twenty seven acrylic paintings were made and we shall be curating them online as part of the digital archives that the IFP and NYU Shanghai, will be making.

New projects

URBALTOUR - Small and medium-sized cities account for more than half of Asia's population but still remain largely unstudied. Looking at hill stations founded during the colonial period in India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia, URBALTOUR intends to fill this gap by analyzing the overlap between urban and tourist dynamics in mountainous areas. Historically, hill stations were designed as new frontiers of colonization. Today, this function is reactivated by the pivotal role they play in the expansion of globalized urban societies into mountains. In many cases, their permanent resident population has risen, their economy has diversified, and their tourist frequentation is now primarily driven by a domestic clientele. In addition, the combined effects of COVID and global warming are currently reinforcing their appeal, bringing back their historical sanitary function and turning them into places of refuge from the heat and diseases associated to lowland cities.

The URBALTOUR project strengthens inter-UMIFRE collaborations between the Institute of Research on Contemporary Southeast Asia (IRASEC – coordinated by Emmanuelle Peyvel), for the Vietnamese, Malaysian and Indonesian part of the project, and the French Institute of Pondicherry (IFP – coordinated by Rémi de Bercegol), for the Indian and Sri Lankan part and funded by the French National Research Ancy (CNRS) from 2022 to 2025.
EX POST EVALUATION FOR THE FRENCH FACILITY FOR GLOBAL ENVIRONMENT (FFEM) OF A PROJECT OF GREY-GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE IN SMALL ISLAND TERRITORIES - The department of Geomatics has been selected to conduct the evaluation of a project dedicated to build coastal resilience for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in Concepcion (Iloilo, Philippines), by integrating green (mangrove replantation) and grey (breakwater) infrastructure. By crossing remote sensing, field observations (geomorphology and botany) and interviews with stakeholders, we are trying to provide a reasoned opinion on the relevance, efficiency, effectiveness, impact and sustainability of the funded project in relation to the context and policy. It has been an excellent occasion to put together the researchers usually working separately on coastal risks and mangrove.
PATAMIL - Coordinating local food projects for the promotion of food equity (Centre-Val de Loire / Tamil Nadu-Pondicherry) - Funded by the French region Centre-Val de Loire, the PATAMIL project (2022-25) addresses a crucial inequity both in France and India: locally and environmentally-produced food, bought by rich consumers, does contrast with products of poorer quality, produced far away in disastrous environmental conditions, aimed at poorer consumers. PATAMIL is based on exchanges of experiences between Centre-Val de Loire and Tamil Nadu-Pondicherry, with multifarious stakeholders (consumers, farmers, schools, NGOs. It undertakes participatory action-research on two French and two Indian sites (Pondicherry, Jawadhu Hills) for developing equitable food systems (PAT: Projets Alimentaires Territoriaux).
GLOBALSMOG - Air pollution plays a direct role in 4.2 million deaths worldwide each year, of which low and middle income countries account for 90%. The GLOBALSMOG project has been designed with this scientific challenge in view. Its core objective is to identify and explain the technical, social and political processes that negatively or positively influence the management of air pollution in cities of the Global South, and through this study to improve the theoretical and practical knowledge on urban and multilevel public policy processes in the Global South. Working with the tools of the sociology of science, urban geography, political anthropology and the sociology of policy-making, researchers involved in this project will explore the social construction of ambient air pollution both as a global and as a local issue, the way it is embedded in socio-technical representations of health, the environment and the economy.
Partners: ARENES (CNRS), CAPHRI (Maastricht University), CED (CNRS), CEPED (IRD), CERMES3 (CNRS, INSERM) CESSMA (IRD), EHESP, IFP (CNRS), PALOC (IRD). GLOBALSMOG is supported by the French National Research Agency (2022-25)
INDIAN CULTURAL KNOWLEDGE AND HERITAGE - Transcribing ancient palm-leaf manuscripts  in collaboration with the Muktabodha Indological Research Institute (MIRI) - Since the 1950s, about 10,000 palm-leaf manuscripts have been collected in temples and mutts of South India by IFP researchers, and more than a thousand have been transcribed on paper. Besides the preservation of this extremely valuable material and the editorial work on rare documents, our foremost aim is to make these manuscripts available for scholarly usage. This necessarily passes by a careful identification of their contents. Thanks to previous collaboration with the MIRI, all IFP transcripts are now available online (1148 items), and for many of them electronic texts are also available. The process of cataloguing of the manuscripts, however, is still far from complete. The aim of the present collaboration is to produce detailed descriptions of 75 manuscripts on palm-leaf containing Śaiva works and to transcribe them so as to obtain complete electronic texts, which will be the basis for further editorial work, within 3 years’ time. Deviprasad Mishra and Hugo David are leading this project.
Contact: Deviprasad Mishra (
RE-LAUNCH OF THE PĀṆINĪYAVYĀKARAṆODĀHARAṆAKOŚA - The current project consists in preparing for publication the fifth and last volume of the dictionary entitled "Pāṇinīyavyākaraṇodāharaṇakośa–Pāṇinian Grammar through its Examples." This dictionary intends to show in an innovative and concrete way the functioning of the Paninian system of grammar through the examples provided by four major commentaries on the Aṣṭāḍhyāyī: the Mahābhāṣyaof Patañjali, the Kāśikāvṛttiof Jayāditya and Vāmana, the BhāṣāvṛttiofPuruṣottamadeva and the Siddhāntakaumudīof Bhaṭṭojidīkṣita. Around 77,420 examples have been collected from these four grammatical works, illustrating 3,978 sūtra-s.This fifth volume deals with the 2,300 examples provided by BhaṭṭojiDīkṣita in his Kṛdantaprakaraṇa (Chapter on primary derivatives) for 557 Pāṇini’ssūtra-s. This project is funded by the Central Sanskrit University (CSU), New Delhi under their major scheme namely “Ashtadashi – Eighteen Projects for sustaining the growth of Sanskrit” for a period of one year, from 1st June 2022. Dr.S.Lakshminarasimham, senior researcher of the Indology Department of the IFP is leading the project as the Principal-Investigator. For more details contact:

Fieldwork and ongoing projects

Farmers transporting millet bags in Southern Karnataka - Credits: Julie Jacquet

Fieldwork on Millet in Karnataka
Julie Jacquet (PhD student) - Social Sciences Department
I have spent the last few months comparing the impact of the millet renewal in four rural areas in South Karnataka for my PhD in geography at the University of Paris Nanterre. These geographic zones have in common the historical production of finger millet but they vary in their agricultural history, their access to irrigation and to markets, among others characteristics. I’d like to understand how farmers are responding to the increased promotion and demand for millets in Karnataka. Does the new minimum support price at government mandis support or encourage the small-scale dryland farmer who grows ragi? Will the new demand modify the way millet is grown, exchanged, and eaten by villagers? In any case, my work thus far has led me to question the government’s promotional slogan “millet is good for you, good for the farmer, and good for the environment”.
Photo taken during field observation in Southern Sri Lanka - Credits: Julien Andrieu

The hidden villages in Southern Sri Lanka.
Julien Andrieu - Head of Geomatics department
Remote sensing with satellite multispectral imagery is a powerful tool to monitor land cover and environment and enable to do a lot… even during COVID lock-downs. The SEDRIC project (see previous newsletters) has been using as much remote sensing as possible to compensate the impossible missions in COVID time. After the re-opening of the boundary (unfortunately after the end of the project) such work has (finally) been confronted to field observations. Such observation can reveal surprises. In Southern Sri Lanka most of habitations are scattered and under a very dense and high tree cover therefore completely hidden to satellites. Only after field observation the land cover maps have been able to distinguish forests and “home garden” localities and such distinction bring a new understanding to land cover changes.
Measurements and monitoring at Uppangala, Karnataka - Credits: Debabrata Behera

Uppangala field work
Debabrata Behera (PhD Student) - Ecology Department
Under the project entitled “Study of Climate driven effects on Indian forests through long term monitoring” funded by Indian council of forestry research and education (ICFRE, MoEF, Govt. of India), a field mission was conducted for about 150 days (23rd Dec, 2021- 26th May, 2022) at Uppangala, Pushpagiri wildlife sanctuary, Karnataka. During the mission, around 37000 trees with a threshold of 1 cm dbh (diameter at breast height) within the 10 ha permanent plot were inventoried and tagged; monthly phenological changes in plant communities (about 600 individuals representing 95 species) were documented. A scenic event of mast flowering observed in Vateria indica. This phenomenon is an evolutionary strategy of Dipterocarps that is believed to satiate predators ensuring greater seedling survival. In addition, sixty litter traps were established in the permanent plot to understand litter productivity of Uppangala. The procured data will enable the team to develop newer insight into the functioning and dynamics of the tropical forest and will eventually strengthen the data repository from the past three decades of Uppangala. The rich amounts of data coupled with climate information (temperature, humidity and rainfall collected on a daily basis) are likely to yield a plethora of scientific information regarding the functioning of a tropical wet evergreen forest.
The team members include doctoral students Devika Menon and Debabrata Behera, as well as IFP staff Dr. N. Ayyappan and N. Barathan.
Manuscripts studies and conservation - Credits: Gopinath Sricandane

Numbers in Business: Documenting Chettiar Mercantile Account Keeping Practices in 19th-20th century South India (SOCIAL HISTORY OF MATHEMATICS)
Gopinath Sricandane (Project Manager) - Social Sciences Department
The EAP 1309 project titled Numbers in Business: Documenting Chettiar Mercantile Account Keeping Practices in 19th-20th century South India began in October 2021. The project aims to digitise the family archives of the Mrs. Valli Muthiah. The archives hold palm leaf manuscripts and paper materials dating from late nineteenth century to the mid twentieth century. Digitisation and metadata creation work began in December 2021, followed by delays caused by Omicron (third wave in India) until early February 2022. Thus far about 450 odd items have been digitized amounting to over 73,000 images, this translates to 30% of materials that constitute the archive. Metadata creation is simultaneously undertaken and once the digitisation phase is over, more manpower will be made available to complete metadata creation to deliver them on time. The first interim report was submitted in May 2022. Under the supervision of Dr. Senthil Babu of the Dept. of Social Sciences, the project is coordinated by Dr. Prakash Venkatesan as Principal Investigator and managed by Gopinath Sricandane. For further Information, please send an email to
Iron tape used for measurements in Medieval and Early Modern South India - Credits: Prakash V

Social History of Mathematics
Prakash V (Researcher) - Social Sciences Department
As part of the ongoing project on the Social History of Vernacular Mathematical Practices, we are creating a digital historical atlas of meteorology in south India from the 8th to the 16th centuries. In order to visualize the relation between units of measurements found in inscriptions and the actual devices of measures used in the past, we document the objects of measurement from various museums and private collections in the state of Tamil Nadu. As part of this work, scholars Prakash and Gopinath Sricandane visited government museums in Madurai, Ramanathapuram, and Cuddalore, digitized the iron tape used to measure land, weighing stones of ancient and modern measurements, various varieties of marakkāl, a volume measure. This will help the users of the Atlas to associate measuring practices of land, grain and gold with actual instruments they used.
Project team during a field visit in a temple. Credits: Social Sciences Department

Tracing agrarian unrest in 12th century Kaveri Delta (SOCIAL HISTORY OF MATHEMATICS)
Shibi Nandan (PhD Student) - Social Sciences Department
Field work was undertaken in the Kaveri Delta region in April, in the districts of Tiruvarur, Nagapattinam and Thanjavur. The objectives of this field visits were to trace the emergence of the checkered board pattern of land alignment during the medieval Chola period in Kaveri Delta region, which gave rise to the systemic taxation methods. This is being done by taking the land measurements recorded in temple inscriptions of the time and re-measuring the land that is mentioned in the inscription using the same scale. Through this exercise we believe that we would be able to unravel how measurement and the manipulation of that helped in extracting revenue and building up a new political class in the medieval Chola period. The other objective was to trace the resistance of tenant farmers against increased taxation, and the settlements made between the land owner and the tenants. This was done by visiting the temples where the records of this uprising are found in inscriptions, and the inscriptions were read together with Prof. Subburayalu, historian and Mr. Rajagopal, epigraphist. This effort had people from various areas of expertise such as photographers, journalists, students and research scholars from different disciplines.
Study of a Ganesha statue - Credits: Ranjithkumar G

Between texts and practice among sculptors (SOCIAL HISTORY OF MATHEMATICS)
Ranjithkumar G (Research Engineer) - Social Sciences Department
I am studying the relationship between texts, practice and practitioners in the artisanal traditions of south India as part of the programme in the Social History of Vernacular Mathematical Practices in South India, at the IFP. We are documenting the various stages of different artisanal practices such as sculptors of stone, wood and metal. We had a series of introductory meetings with the stone sculptors of Mahabalipuram, followed by organized interviews with the artisans of two workshops, where we are doing audio, photographic and video documentation. We hope to make a short film as well on the computational practices at the workshop of the sculptors, and among various other artisans.
Image: Fish stall in a market, Kerala - Credits: Bhagat Singh

Following Sardines (FISHERCOAST PROJECT)
Bhagat Singh (Post-Doctoral Research Fellow) - Social Sciences Department
To better understand these emergent dynamics in fisheries trade, we observed the changing relations between fishing techniques and post harvest processes in the Cuddalore coast for the last two years. One species that dominates the market is the oil sardine. Having already documented the procedures and techniques associated with its harvest, there was need for understanding the patterns of its supply chain and consumption.It is estimated that almost 95 percent of Oil sardine caught in Cuddalore are supplied to the markets in Kerala. So, we wanted to follow the journey of the oil sardines from the shores of Cuddalore to the food plates in Kerala. We met fishers, fish merchants and consumers in the districts of Malappuram, Kozhikode and Wayanad, and gathered their perspectives and narratives. Such information is crucial in explaining market dynamics in Kerala. Oil sardine occupies a major part in the consumption of sea food in Kerala. Being one of the delicacies of the landscape, its affordability and nutritive value are key to its dominant presence in the market. It’s not to be forgotten that oil sardine was once available in the coast of Kerala but got depleted due to the introduction of mechanized fishing practices, which did not consider the consequences of overfishing. Now sardines travel across the coasts through organized value chains, meeting the protein needs of the people of Kerala.
Image: GIS in operation in the shrimp farms of Cuddalore district, Tamil Nadu - Credits : Arunkumar AS

Hand-on Geographic Information system (GIS) training session surveying the shrimp farms (FISHERCOAST PROJECT)
Arunkumar AS (Post-Doctoral Research Fellow) - Social Sciences Department
For almost two years now, the fishercoast team at the IFP has been studying the role of shrimp farms in the transformation of the coast and the well being of its people. We have been focusing on the impact of these farms on the local communities and the ecological changes in the villages of Pichavaram and TS Pettai, both in the Cuddalore district of south India. The periodic release of effluents into the backwaters and its impact on the mangroves in the protected area has been an abiding concern for us. The legal- ecological and livelihood issues of the communities and the farms are entangled in different ways creating varied consequences for each. The spatial dimensions of this changing relationship then becomes important to our study. With the facilitation of Mr. Saravanan from the Coastal Resource Center, Chennai we organized an on-field training session in GIS in order to ground truth our own findings over the last two years. We tracked the entire stretch of shrimp farms using Global Positioning System (GPS) using an application called Openstreet Maps and then embossed it on to an already existing authorized Coastal Zone management Plan map constituted under the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) 2018 notification. We were surprised by the results which showed us that most of the shrimp farms were constructed on the regulated CRZ 1B area which restricts any activity as it is considered within the 50 meters mangrove buffer zone.

IFP collections

SCIENCE BEYOND BORDERS - IFP is one of the scientific partners in the Science Beyond Borders exhibition curated by the IFI as part of Bonjour India 2022. The exhibition highlights the shared history of scientific cooperation between India and France from the 18th century to the  present, in fields as diverse as medicine, aviation, physics, cartography, mathematics, Indology, and ecology. IFP’s research in vegetation cartography, palynology, geomatics, social science and Indology as well as its legacy of building dynamic and rich research archives is being featured prominently in the exhibition, as examples of ongoing co-creation of knowledge between French and Indian researchers. IFP’s panels were made possible by the combined efforts and contributions of IFP staff across departments.
ARCHIVING THE CONTEMPORARY - The Archiving the Contemporary International Conference was held in IIT Madras from April 6-8, 2022. The conference was organized by IIT Madras in partnership with IFP, ICSSR and CNRS. Bringing together archivists and researchers from across India and Europe, the conference stimulated an intensive conversation on the many forms that archival work can take in the contemporary landscape, revealing the diversity of techniques, challenges and complexities that characterise this work. Dr. Senthil Babu presented a paper on ‘Mathematics as Work: Rebuilding Archives and Rewriting Histories of India’. Dr. Blandine Ripert showcased the IFP’s collections in her presentation ‘Collections of the French Institute of Pondicherry’ and Bharat S. focused on recent and ongoing efforts to enrich and valorize the IFP’s archival wealth in his paper ‘Reimagining the IFP Archives: Methodologies and Processes’. Dr Kannan M. played a key role in thi event, as part of the organization committee.
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