Bio: Dr. Parneet Kaur Dhillon is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History, Punjabi University, Patiala, Punjab. Her areas of interest are the History of Modern India/Punjab and Gender Studies, and she possesses twelve years of teaching and research experience. Her doctoral work, “Women in Colonial Punjab (1901-47),” explores the various facets of the emancipation of women in India specifically during the British times. Covering nearly fifty years of history, the research work describes the contribution of Indians and particularly Punjabis, the British government of India, and women themselves in bringing women to the forefront. Presently I am exploring vernacular print media of colonial Punjab and how these sources raised issues and concerns pertaining to womenfolk.
I have worked as Convener and Organizing Secretary of South Asian History Conference organized by the Department of History, Punjabi University, Patiala annually. I am also the member of the editorial board of Proceedings of the South Asian History Conference.
1. Why did you decide to become a historian of the Punjabi region?
Born and brought up in Punjabi Sikh family of village Mukhmailpur I experienced th influence of that environment and was always keen to know more about my roots. The small village of Mukhmailpur is situated on the Punjab- Haryana border. My father S. Ajaib Singh Mukhmailpur migrated from my village to the city – Patiala – for the education of his three children (I am the eldest one). After completing school education, I cleared my Union Grants Commission’s National Eligibility test for Lecturers in May 2005 and I got the opportunity to start my Doctorate in Punjabi University. This led a turning point in my life. Choosing the research topic on women’s issues made me ponder about the contribution of Punjab and Punjabis in the history of India. This was the time when I decided to work on the Punjab region as an historian.
2. What — for you — is the greater significance of Punjabi history, in relation to world history?
The nature of Punjabis – their zeal for adaptability, the courage of Punjabis and the noteworthy contribution of Punjabi men and women in the history of India and world – always make me proud to be a Punjabi. Major events in World history like the First and Second World Wars witnessed the bravery of people of Punjab. Hence, one cannot compare the importance of the events of Punjabi history and World History. On the contrary, both the histories are equally relevant and cannot be studied in isolation.
3. The focus of these interviews is on female scholars – what are your experiences as a Punjabi historian, as a woman? Have you had to face any special challenges? Could you share those with us?
As a Punjabi woman historian I never faced any special challenge as such. I am lucky to work in the department which was started by the renowned historian Dr. Ganda Singh. The safe and secure environment of the department and Punjabi University always helped me to work harder and achieve my goals without any fail. Recently in October 2020, I even got elected for the designation of an executive member of Punjabi University Teachers Association.
4. What is the importance of studying Punjabi language, as a historian of the region?
The Punjabi language is my mother tongue and it is the best medium for me to express my views properly. I have seen that the resource material available in the Punjabi language is still unexplored. Hence, deep research on resources of Punjabi is the need of the hour, to bring out unexplored areas of the history of Punjab to the world.
5; What do you think the importance of Punjabi language is, more broadly?
The Punjabi literature in form of narratives, stories, novels, plays and more is a store house for the researchers of today from any part of the world and from any discipline, from the social sciences or sciences. In addition, the Punjabi speaking community is migrating to every part of the world, thus spreading their culture and values, and with them the Punjabi language also travels to various parts of the world. Thus, the Punjabi language is becoming an important medium for research.
6. Can you share more about your story and what led to you becoming a professor?
Joining the teaching profession was never a first choice for me. Migrating from a small village to a city for better education made me the first female graduate, then the first female post graduate and later the first female doctorate of my village. Joining the Punjabi University, Patiala as an Assistant Professor in 2008 is the best thing to happen to me, to fulfill the dream of my father. My father S.Ajaib Singh Mukhmailpur – an agriculturalist and a renowned politician of the Punjab – is my inspiration, and he had left no stone unturned to get me a better education in the city. He wished for me to join the Indian Civil Services but destiny led me to join the teaching profession. So, with God’s grace, now I am trying to utilize all efforts to do justice to my role as a teacher and researcher in History.
7. What is your current research project, and what do you hope to do next, when it is complete?
Presently I am working on Punjabi literary sources, and especially the print media – newspapers, magazines, journals and others published during the colonial period. The primary focus is to explore the selected print media either edited by women or published for women. After this work is complete, my next project would be likely look into the constructive role played by women during the present agitations in India, with special to Punjab, in the context of the Anti-Farmers bills passed by the government of India in 2020.