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Singh Named Peter White Scholar

After spending the last academic year in India fulfilling her Fulbright Teaching and Research Award, Jaspal Singh (English, center) has returned to campus with a new honor for the year ahead. She is the 2013-14 Peter White Scholar at NMU. Singh opted for reduced time instead of a monetary award so that she can complete her book, Imagining Nations and Homelands in Indian Literature: Gender and Sikh Identity in India and the Diaspora. She will also present her final piece of research in India, where this week a jury convicted four men of December’s brutal gang rape and murder of a college student. Singh was in Delhi for her Fulbright when the incident happened and recalls getting caught up in the aftermath.

“The case shocked the country and world and turned into a huge revolutionary moment,” said Singh (pictured center during a protest). “I was among those who took to the streets afterward, trying to convince lawmakers to strengthen sexual assault legislation. Some laws did change related to rape, stalking and voyeurism. But marital rape still is not considered a punishable crime in India. Women cannot press charges against their husbands. That’s something Indian feminists continue to fight against.”

Despite such moments, Singh said her year in India was “transformative” and one of the best of her life. She taught a graduate course on apartheid and post-apartheid South African literature at Jawaharlal Nehru University. She said the school’s English department is ranked 100th in the world.

“It attracts the best students from all over India and they really challenged me,” Singh added. "The Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in Delhi hosted many talks on gender and violence, which I attended. I also went back to Punjab, where a majority of Sikhs are located. At the Guru Nanak Dev University, where I presented talks to doctoral students and faculty on a number of occasions, I uncovered more texts, fiction and historical narratives that really helped with my research. I was also one of the keynote speakers at the anniversary celebration of the university where students from all over Punjab participated in cultural and academic programs. I had occasions of interacting with many of them at length, which led to my personal growth. While I have visited India many times, I haven’t lived there since the early 1980s, and that was as an immigrant because I am originally from Burma.”

It was a harsh, discriminatory event of a different nature in India that first compelled Singh to pursue her line of research. In 1984, the year she moved to the United States, thousands from the Sikh religious minority she identifies with were massacred across the country. The violence was retaliation for Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination by two of her Sikh bodyguards. In the aftermath of the Sikh genocide, Singh began investigating the representations of Sikhs in Indian literature in order to uncover violent social forces at work in the construction of identity. She is particularly interested in the gendered construction of identity of both Sikh men and women within India and the diaspora.

Singh received NMU faculty grants for related research in 2009 and 2011, prior to her Fulbright award.