Outbound/In: Locating Women’s Boundaries, a documentary film by Shashwati Talukdar, is the product of a collaborative project between the filmmaker, Dr. Diditi Mitra, Associate Professor of Sociology at Brookdale Community College and Dr. Nida Sajid, Assistant Professor, Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Minnesota, on Sikh migration from Punjab, India. The seeds for the project, however, were planted much before the idea of the film was born. It was Diditi Mitra’s doctoral dissertation project on immigrant Sikh taxi drivers in New York City and her subsequent scholarly engagement with Sikh immigrants in the United States that forms the background for this film.

Following Mitra’s study on immigrant Sikh cabbies, her interests evolved into understanding the larger social, cultural and economic factors that influence Punjabi-Sikh cabbies, her interests evolved into understanding the larger social, cultural and economic factors that influence Punjabi-Sikhs to emigrate, and specifically the gendered components of international migration from Punjab, India. Expanding her research to obtaining primary data in Punjab, thus, seemed the next natural step to better grasp the lives of the immigrants in America. It is Mitra’s interest in the visual form which sparked the idea of collaboration with Shashwati Talukdar, who as a filmmaker, was also interested in the sociological dimensions of Sikh international migration.

Shashwati Talukdar had previously worked on the mural paintings of Garhwal in the Western Himalayas. Her work led to Sikh Studies. Talukdar developed an interest in the movement of the Sikh community in and out of Punjab in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. She became interested in the community’s pathways of migration that went well into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, something that Mitra had been studying for over twenty years.

With time, the collaboration expanded to include Nida Sajid. Sajid’s involvement in the project was motivated by her life-long interest in transnational justice movements and global histories of racialization. As a feminist human rights activist-scholar, Sajid introduces an intersectional and interactional lens for interpreting lived experiences, memories, and everyday practices of memorialization and authentically translating them into the sphere of academic research through audio-visual media.

The film, Outbound/In, thus presents only one piece of the puzzle on Sikhs, Punjab and international migration. That is, it focuses on three Sikh women (two of whom live in Punjab, and one lives in the United States) and their views on international migration. Each of these women inhabit different positions in the socioeconomic hierarchy of both India and America. They also differ on account of rural versus urban backgrounds, professional trajectories, intra familial relationships (particularly with their respective spouses) and experiences with international migration. The larger narrative emergent from conversations with the three women offer much thought to questions about certain basic and faulty assumptions about what it means for women to be free and equal, particularly for women from the Global South.

“Our goal in presenting this film is to bring to the audience stories of Sikh women, and South Asian women by way of that, that are rarely heard,” explained Dr. Mitra. “Differences among the women show the complexity of their lives that cannot be neatly classified into any one category. A nuanced analysis is, therefore, required to achieve a fuller understanding of Sikh women and their motivations, or lack thereof, to emigrate.”

Please join us on Friday, November 4 at 12:00 pm on Zoom for a screening of Outbound/In and a Q & A with the project creators.