“My talk will focus on the research of Irish prison doctor John Mulvaney in Indian prisons,” said Sequeira. “When discussing his work, Mulvaney would say that the government knew all about it but wanted to know nothing about it.” 

Focusing on Calcutta (and the Andaman Islands settlement) prisons, the talk highlighted how prison medical officers’ experiments on and desire to correct subaltern sexual “deviants” helped reconstitute the architecture of the prisons they administered from association-based prisons to cellular-based ones. Second, it showed how such investigations shifted from foregrounding anatomical observation to documenting prisoners’ voices to frame Indian homosexuality as a problem of habitual “native” racial and cultural excess. In the process, however, these studies negated prisoners’ individuality and inflicted both psychological and physical forms of trauma on them—provoking repeated assaults on prison officers’ lives. Finally, it documented how the state prevented the circulation of such studies, anticipating outcry about exposing Indian political prisoners to potential sexual abuse. The talk theorized an imperial will-to-ignorance as an alternative epistemology in India, particularly subaltern sexual life, in contrast to the European metropolitan paradigm of the will-to-knowledge.

“Ultimately, the government only allowed a sanitized version of the prison doctor’s report to be circulated,” added Sequeira. “Based on sexological experiments, Mulvaney’s work challenged the government’s will to not know about prison sodomy.” 

Rovel Sequeira (he/they) is an LSA collegiate postdoctoral fellow and incoming assistant professor of women’s and gender studies at the University of Michigan. They are affiliated with the Institute for Research on Women and Gender, where they co-direct the Global South Gender and Sexuality (GS2) Collective. 

Sequeira earned their PhD in English, concentrating on gender, sexuality, and women's studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Their research interests span colonial and postcolonial South Asian and imperial British cultural history, global feminist, queer, and trans studies, and the entangled histories of science and literature in the modern era. Sequeira’s work has been featured in or is forthcoming in interdisciplinary venues like GLQ, History of the Human Sciences, Modernism/modernity, Signs and Museums, Sexuality, and Gender Activisms

Sequeira is currently working on a book manuscript on sexual scientific histories and fiction in India, tentatively titled The Empire and its Deviants: Global Sexology and the Racial Grammar of Sex in Colonial India.