India is not known for funding literary projects in the making. There are – or were, before pandemic – several literary prizes, but these are or were given well after the winning books are published. And although there are prizes or categories for non-fiction books among them, the focus is on fiction.
It is against this backdrop that the bi-annual – once in two years – fellowships of Rs 18 lakh each granted by the New India Foundation on what it considers worthy proposals for writing books assumes importance. In the tenth year of the awards, which focus on books meant to throw light on some aspect of independent India through a work of non-fiction, eleven scholars and writers have received the fellowships.
This is the highest number of fellowships given out so far, warranted by the high number of applications, which ran to over 900. The grant, amounting to an annual stipend of Rs 18 lakh, runs for a year, and is meant to allow the writer sufficient time to conduct most or all of the research and writing of the book. So far, 22 books written by Fellowship winners have been published under the aegis of the NIF.
The jury this year comprised political scientist Niraja Gopal Jayal, historian and author Ramachandra Guha, Pratham Education Foundation CEO Rukmini Banerji, entrepreneur and author Nandan Nilekani, historian Srinath Raghavan, and Teamlease Services Chairman Manish Sabharwal. The chosen 11:
Anjum Hasan, writer and critic
Shillong: First City of India’s Northeast
Hasan is the author of the novels The Cosmopolitans, Neti, Neti and Lunatic in my Head, the book of poems Street on the Hill, the short story collections Difficult Pleasures and A Day in the Life, which won the Valley of Words Fiction Award, 2019. Her books have also been shortlisted for the Sahitya Akademi, Hindu Best Fiction and Crossword Fiction awards. She has been a Homi Bhabha Fellow and a Charles Wallace Fellow.
Chitrangada Choudhury, multimedia journalist and researcher
Power, Profit and Protests: Forest Communities on the Frontlines of Environmental Justice
Choudhury is a multimedia journalist and researcher, and an Editorial Board member of Article 14. Her reportage on the environment, social justice and rural, in particular indigenous communities, has been cited for multiple awards including the Sanskriti Award, the Press Council of India’s National Award for Investigative Reporting, and the Lorenzo Natali Journalism Prize twice. She has published peer-reviewed research in top-tier academic journals; and is an incoming Associate Professor at Krea University.
Jaideep Hardikar, multilingual freelance journalist, researcher and writer
The Rise and Fall of “The Empress”, exploring the story of Tata’s first venture, the Empress Mills’ rise and an eventual fall, and its lasting impact.
Hardikar is currently a freelance journalist reporting on India’s hinterland and heartland, specialising in rural and peri-urban issues, with a focus on stories of human interest. He is a Roving Reporter with the People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI) and also a Fellow at the Mumbai School of Economics and Public Policy. He is the author of A Village Awaits Doomsday, and his forthcoming book on the agrarian crisis is due for publication later in 2021.
Jayaseelan Raj, social anthropologist and academic
The Egalitarian Paradox: Dalits and the State in Kerala
Currently based at the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, Raj is also a research associate in the egalitarianism project at the Department of Anthropology, University of Bergen, where he received his PhD in Anthropology. He was a postdoctoral research fellow at the London School of Economics and is the co-author of Ground Down by Growth.
Maya Ratnam, academic and researcher
Dwelling in the Forest: The Government of Nature in Tribal Central India
Ratnam has completed her PhD in Anthropology from Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore in 2017, and is currently working as an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Ahmedabad University.
Mohsin Alam Bhat, lawyer and academic
Constitutional Culture: Muslims and Popular Constitutionalism in India
Bhat works as an Associate Professor of Law, Jindal Global Law School, and also heads the Centre for Public Interest Law at the OP Jindal Global University Sonipat. He is a recipient of the Azim Premji Foundation Research Grant 2017, and a Peter and Patricia Gruber Fellow in Global Justice and Women’s Rights (Yale University). He is the recipient of many international and national fellowships.
Raza Kazmi, conservationist, wildlife historian, researcher and writer
The First of Nine: The Story of Palamau Tiger Reserve
Kazmi currently works as a consultant with the Ashoka Archives of Contemporary India, Ashoka University. His fields of expertise include the wildlife history of India, conservation policy, and conservation issues in the country’s “Red Corridor” landscape. His work focuses on the interplay between forest governance and Naxalism on one hand, and Adivasi rights and conservation needs on the other. His writings appear in many media outlets, and he has also contributed essays to edited anthologies.
Simin Patel, Scholar and Founder Director, Bombaywalla Historical Works
Irani Restaurants of Bombay
Patel’s proposal on Irani restaurants dives into the world of Irani strongmen and dons and the cafes they operated from. Her DPhil dissertation from the University of Oxford traced the role the Parsi community played as cultural intermediaries in colonial Bombay.
Sohini C, independent journalist and writer
The Losers: A History of Women Runners and Running in India
Sohini C writes on film, health and politics, and her work has been published in many leading publications across the world. She has been adjudged the winner of the National Award for Film Criticism in 2019. Her writing has been translated into German and Bengali, and is the recipient of several awards and international fellowships.
Srikar Raghavan, independent researcher and writer
From Malnad to Mysore: Following the trail of Literature and Activism in Karnataka
Raghavan has graduated with an MA in English from the Manipal Center for Humanities in 2020.
Suryakant Waghmore, public sociologist, academic and writer
Is a Post Caste City Possible?: Examining Caste Erasure in contemporary Ahmedabad and Mumbai
Currently an Associate Professor of Sociology at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Bombay, Waghmore is the author of Civility against Caste and co-editor of Civility in Crisis. He received his PhD as a Commonwealth Scholar from University of Edinburgh.