Atomic Bombay: Public Representations and Perceptions of Nuclear Issues in India / Atomic Comics

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sussex
Department Name: Sch of Global Studies


The Research Leave will be used to complete additional research for publication of a monograph, Atomic Bombay, and for the publication of a journal article 'Atomic Comics' based on translation and analyses of 160 children's comics (already collected) on the atomic theme. Overall, the research concerns public perceptions of nuclear power and armament in India and their representations in popular culture. With the help of ethnographic fieldwork in India, the research reassesses nuclear issues so as they are do not remain simply the concern of nation-states and political parties, but are seen to be intricately entwined with notions of self, community and imaginings of 'national' and 'international' communities. This is complemented with a focus on how nuclear issues have percolated into aspects of Indian popular culture, such as the print media, drama, film, and their reception.

The research material has been largely collated during a term of ESRC funded research from January 2006- June 2008 (including 6 months maternity leave). There is no ethnographic literature providing socio-cultural perspectives on the subject for the case of India, although there are a couple of recent monographs on ethnographic yet quite specific nuclear topics for the case of the USA (namely, work by Hugh Gusterson and Joseph Masco).

The research contributes new knowledge in that it accounts for nuclear concerns from the viewpoint of local communities rather than states enabling a move away from conventional top-down approaches to nuclearisation in India. Ethnographic fieldwork was conducted in Mumbai focusing on people's memories of India's nuclear history, their views on nuclear power, weapons and radiation, and their perception of risk in relation to conflicts, terrorism and nuclear accidents etc. .

The research enhances understanding of how nuclear debates percolate into aspects of Indian popular culture including films, dramas, magazines and comics. Themes in relation to the history of public debates about nuclear weapons in Europe and the USA are considered as with my comparison of 'western' and Indian movies on nuclear themes; and for my analysis of 'atomic heroes' in children's comics. New perspectives are also provided through archival research, where original material on the atomic theme in mid-1940s public culture has been investigated.

During the period of this research from 2006-8, I completed a co-edited volume on censorship in South Asia, with a co-written Introduction (with William Mazzarella) and an authored chapter 'Nuclear Revelations'. I have also written a chapter for an edited volume by Itty Abraham. My last presentation of this research at the ASA Annual Conference 2008 was selected for the next edited ASA volume Ownership and Appropriation by editors Veronica Strang and Mark Busse (cf Publications). There was not enough time before resuming a heavy load of teaching/administration in September 2008 to complete this monograph although so far I have completed one chapter and drafted four others which require further research for their satisfactory completion:

Chapter 1 (not written)

Chapter 2 (draft - requires further research on Marathi/Hindi print media from mid-1940s)
The Dawn of the Atomic Age in the Subcontinent

Chapter 3 (draft - requires further research on Marathi/Hindi print media from mid-1940s)
The Atomic Imaginary in 1940s Bombay

Chapter 4 (draft - requires analyses of comparative contexts and update for recent developments eg the unprecedented Indo-Us nuclear agreement 2008)
Regimes of Nuclear Truths

Chapter 5 (draft - requires update to include perceptions of recent nuclear developments)
Hopes and Fears

Chapter 6 (completed)
Observing the Instruments of Armageddon

Chapter 7 (not written - requires translation and analysis of relevant strips from 160 Hindi comics, and interviews with illustrators/designers) Atomic Comics Chapter 8 (not written) Conclusion.


10 25 50

publication icon
Kaur R (2011) Atomic comics: Parabolic mimesis and the graphic fictions of science in International Journal of Cultural Studies

publication icon
Kranz S (2014) Book Review: Raminder Kaur. 2013. Atomic Mumbai: Living with the Radiance of a Thousand Suns in Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs

publication icon
Mishra, Smeeta (2014) Atomic Superheroes and 'Item Bombs' in The Book Review, Literary Trust

Title Atomic Bombay poster 
Description Poster highlighting research and outputs as part of Sussex showcase - both as artefact and for website 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2010 
Impact Greater visibility of the research and have been asked to talk on the issues for several talks including one for International Women's Day 
Title Collaborations with artists to develop research narratives into creative outlets 
Description I will develop a script based on my ethnographic research in India alongside further new research for further creative and public engagement of nuclear narratives 
Type Of Art Creative Writing 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact In process 
Title Short film on Nuclear India produced for Sussex Anthropology 50 years celebration 
Description Found along with my own audio-visual footage of research in south India developed into short film by producers, Will Hood and Nat Jeffers 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact It is to be placed on Sussex website as it was completed just now - November 2014 
Description •The project enabled the recording of idiosyncratic and lesser known accounts about atomic science which had been erased from India's national history in its bid to control atomic science to develop the post-independent nation.
•The atom bomb and the atomic metaphor have been simultaneously fetishised as a source of incredible power, and normalised through repeated use in the culture industries.
•By analysing the local impact of international treaties such as the Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement (2008) and national decisions on nuclear development, the study provided a unique, 'ground-up' perspective on nuclear issues, from culturally-embedded perspectives.
Other findings are highlighted in excellent reviews of the book Atomic Mumbai:
Exploitation Route to provide further insights into 'nuclear popular cultures' in south Asia including Pakistan and surrounding plans for a nuclear plant in Bangladesh
how scholarly work can be used to creatively engage wider publics to take interest in the nuclear issue
a focus on anti-nuclear movements which will be covered in forthcoming book
exploring user-friendly and people orientated energy networks
'sustainable cultures' that do not depend upon large development projects
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Energy,Environment,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Security and Diplomacy,Other

Description Collaborate with MP Caroline Lucas and others to highlight the south Indian case of the Koodankulam nuclear power plant. Led to parliamentary committee meeting on the issue.
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Implementation circular/rapid advice/letter to e.g. Ministry of Health
Impact The raising of awareness of issues that surrounded the development of the Indo-Russian nuclear power plant in Koodankulam revived media interest in India again. At one point in 2012 there were 8 pages of google entries of media interest in the story. I do not have any quantitative date on impact and have referenced a url site to the parliamentary committee meeting and Caroline Lucas's statement of support
Description Collaborations with Indian scientists and doctors to write reports on the Koodankulam nuclear power plant outages and accident
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in advisory committee
Impact Articles and reports that I co-wrote with Indian scientists and doctors from CUSAT, along with one in Bremen University, and based on official documents from India's Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd and their Russian counterparts were was referenced in Times of India report and led to taking seriously the discrepancies that lie between official reportage and the available evidence on power outages, an accident at the plant, and reactor details about a weld.
Description Invited to write Bulletin of Atomic Scientists article on nuclear India
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact I have several emails from those outside of Europe and India thanking me for highlighting the main points. The article in this highly important outlet for nuclear issues has been cited in several places - academic and non-academic including wikipedia.
Description Senator Ludlam raised the Koodankulam nuclear power plant issue in the Australian Senate
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Implementation circular/rapid advice/letter to e.g. Ministry of Health
Impact Although an ongoing debate, the case of the nuclear power plant development in Koodankulam that I began research on in 2006 alongside fieldwork in Mumbai has certainly become widely known.
Description I have become a member of Chatham House, a world-leading institute for the debate and analysis of International Issues. 
Organisation Chatham House
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Information taken from Final Report
Description request for wider access of 'A 'nuclear renaissance', climate change and the state of exception' journal article 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I was later asked to collaborate with Indian scientists and doctors seeking further information on India's civilian nuclear developments

I co-wrote 2 papers with them which were picked up by local and national media - details below
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011