Rovel Sequeira, a postdoctoral fellow of women’s and gender studies at the University of Michigan, was surrounded by a flurry of LGBTQ+ activism during his years at St. Xaviers in Mumbai and St. Stephen’s College at the University of Delhi. He found himself wondering, as he was earning his undergrad and master's degrees in English - if literary studies was a natural space for queer studies in India.
“There was a lot of activism around court cases over Section 377 of the Indian penal code,” says Sequeira. “As a student of gender studies and literature, all of it got me thinking about how India was handling the rights of the LGBTQ+ communities.”
Finally struck down by the Indian Supreme Court in 2018, Section 377 discriminated against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, violating the rights to life, dignity, and autonomy of personal choice. It was a significant win for activists in India and the second time homosexuality was decriminalized after a previous High Court judgment striking down parts of the section in 2009 was reversed.
As a U-M LSA collegiate postdoctoral fellow and incoming assistant professor in the Department of Women's and Gender Studies, Rovel continues to work on the connected histories of formations of race, gender, and sexuality in modern South Asia and Europe as both a cultural historian and literary critic.
“My research has branched out in many different directions since I started this journey in queer and trans studies,” adds Sequeira. “I’ve covered everything from an HIV/AIDS clinic for sex workers, labeled as a sex museum, in Mumbai’s red light district to how prisons in colonial Calcutta and the Andaman Islands tried to control sex between inmates.”
Sequeira’s current manuscript, The Nation and its Deviants: Global Sexology and the Racial Grammar of Sex in Colonial India, rethinks the historiography of modern sexual science (and its centrality to contemporary queer and trans studies) from the vantage point of colonial India.
In addition to earning his bachelor's and master's in India, Sequeira holds a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in English with a concentration in gender, sexuality, and women’s studies. He also was a Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion fellow, a Harry Ransom Center dissertation research fellow at the University of Texas (Austin), and a Phil Zwickler Memorial Research Grant awardee at Cornell University.
“One of the most interesting things for me was how India projects homosexuality and queerness on the western world and on the legacy of Mughal rule in India,” says Sequeira. “I argue that India's encounter with the racist literary and scientific infrastructures of modern sexology engendered forms of ‘deviant’ Indian sexual life that were not rooted in individualist understandings of sexuality as an interiorized inborn identity but in vocabularies of racial excess”
Please visit Sequeira’s U-M faculty page for more information on his past and present work.