Shriya Patnaik

Shriya Patnaik


Shriya Patnaik graduated from Cornell University in 2014 with a BA (Hons) in History, with a focus on Colonial History and South Asia Studies. At Cornell, she worked as a Research Assistant for the Future of Minority Studies Project and Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies. She pursued a Study Abroad Program at the University of Oxford (Mansfield College) during her Junior Year, and received the Anne Macintyre Litchfield History Award (2014) and Cornell University Cornelis W. Dekiewet History Award (2013) from the Cornell History Department for her ethnographic research on tribal societies and folk-cultures in India. Post her Bachelor’s, she went on to pursue her Masters’ in International History from the Columbia University – London School of Economics dual degree MA-MSc program.

Additionally, Shriya has been closely involved with public policy and development sector work. While at Columbia, she worked as a Legislative Assistant at New York City Council, where she conducted policy research on bills pertaining to socio-economic disparities in the K-12 education system. In her undergraduate years, she has interned at the Government of India-Ministry of Women and Child Development on public health and infant mortality research projects in rural areas.

Apart from her research background, Shriya is rather passionate about community service and the non-profit space. Over the years, she has had the chance to work with ground-level NGOs in India, as well as international organizations such as Amnesty International and Save the Children. She was selected as a Women’s International Leader at the International House-New York (2015-16 cohort), for her volunteer work with marginalized, gendered minorities. Moreover, in 2016, she co-founded an NGO (Sai Seva Gram), a shelter-home for victims of trafficking and homelessness from the railway stations of Odisha, as a recipient of the Davis Projects for Peace award.

Post her graduation from the program in 2017, Shriya worked as the Development Officer at the Brookings Institution (India Center). She started her PhD in International History with a focus on Gender Studies at The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva, in 2019, where her research has been funded by the Swiss Government Excellence Scholarship and the Swiss National Science Foundation. Shriya’s doctoral project focuses on the historical genealogy surrounding discourses related to prostitution, trafficking, sex-worker rights, and civil society movements in late colonial and postcolonial India. In particular, she focuses on the case-study of the now-extinct community of temple-dancers called Mahari-Devadasis in the eastern state of Orissa, along with their legal and healthcare frameworks under international humanitarian conventions across the 21st century. Devadasis have historically constituted groups of hereditary temple-dancers across various regions in India with matrilineal kinship practices, who were classified as “religious prostitutes” from the colonial period onwards under Contagious Disease and Prostitution Abolition regulations. Shriya’s research focuses on the regional community of temple-dancers in the Jagannath Temple of Puri in Orissa, known as Mahari-Devadasis, and examines their distinct regional practices of religiosity and quotidian cultures through an ethno-historical lens of analysis. Shriya’s research is methodologically reliant on oral histories, archival records, along with UN/ILO humanitarian conventions on the rights of marginalized communities in the Global South. Her work spans across archives in India, the United Kingdom, and Geneva, and also deploys fieldwork, through which she ascertains transnational connections in gender, sexuality, human rights, and women’s reform projects. Consequently, upon the extinction of the Mahari-Devadasi community in the state of Orissa in 2015, the thesis methodologically incorporates her interviews with the last living Maharis – Sashimani and Parasamani, alongside regional interlocutors in India, through which it articulates mutating contours of collective memory, popular culture, bodily agency, and the complex teleological subjectivities of such subaltern subjects. Shriya is also a Research Affiliate of The Graduate Institute’s Gender Centre and Global Migration Centre. During her doctoral studies, she has pursued research positions at the Swiss Network of International Studies and the United Nations International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation Project.