Ms Pankhuri Agarwal

Ms Pankhuri Agarwal

Ms Pankhuri Agarwal
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11 Priory Road, Clifton, Bristol
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School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies

A socio-legal ethnography of the effect of the law in the everyday lives of internal migrant informal workers in post-colonial Delhi at the juncture of citizenship rights, personhood, and access to justice

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PhD Researcher in Sociology

Linkedin Profile | Twitter @Pankhuri_A | linktree


MSc Development Studies, SOAS, University of London (Felix Scholar)


Slavery, freedom, migration, work and labour, gender, rights, law, ethnography


Supervised by Professor Julia O'Connell Davidson and Dr Katie Cruz.

Summary of the PhD: My research is an ethnography of the lived legal experience of internal migrant workers (sex workers, construction workers, brick kiln workers, domestic workers, manual scavengers, and others) in India who are in the legal process from 3-30 years as "victims of trafficking" or "bonded labourers". I focus on their experience of exploitation, personhood, and rights to critique the slavery-freedom binary underpinning anti-trafficking and modern slavery laws.

Methodology: This research uses multi-sited socio-legal ethnography (ethnographic interviews, courtroom observations and participant observation) with internal migrant workers; law enforcement officials including judges and lawyers; district-level stakeholders and district and central government officials. 7 months of fieldwork was completed between January - July 2019.

fieldwork 3  G.B. Road, red-light area, Delhi, India.

fiedlwork 2

A rehabilitation colony of former bonded labourers near Delhi, India.



My teaching methods are centred around decolonising the curriculum by introducing thought-provoking contemporary and historical illustrations from Africa and South Asia in my teaching. I also continually build on my teaching methods through regular feedback from my students and peers.


  • Co-organiser of the online study group 'Critical Modern Slavery Studies' with Maayan Niezna which has participants from over 4 continents discussing emerging concepts and ideas around exploitation, personhood, rights, citizenship, migration, and waiting. 
  • AFACM0016: Assistant Teacher on the 'Research Skills' unit of the MSc Migration and Mobility Studies, University of Bristol. I also lecture in this module on 'Ethnographic Methods in Migration Research' and deliver seminars with the course convenor.
  • SOCI10005: Teaching Assistant on the 'Doing Social Research' unit of the BSc Sociology, University of Bristol.


  • SOCI10009: Assistant Teacher on the 'Introduction to the Sociology of Culture' of the BSc Sociology, University of Bristol.  
  • Teacher on the Access to Bristol Sociology Pathway, University of Bristol. Conceptualised and taught the following, ‘Inter-Disciplinarity in Studying Sociology: Through the Concept of Slavery’.


  • Tutor, 'Law and Ethics', Sutton Trust Summer School, University of Bristol.


Teacher Volunteer at Make a Difference, India (NGO working to empower children living in orphanages and street shelters across 23 cities in India).

  • Project Connect Strategist (North Region, India) - Curriculum design, teacher training, and volunteer management for impacting 1000 children through 400 teachers across 5 cities in India (Chandigarh, Dehradun, Gwalior, Lucknow, Delhi).

  • Assessment Project Head, Research and Development Team - Led a team of 6 content writers to create assessment tests for various levels (Primary, Starters, Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3, based on the Cambridge English for Schools (CES) curriculum.

  • Teacher, Cambridge English for Schools Curriculum (Level 2 and 3), Make a Difference, India.


(2020): Research Assitant, University of Bath.

(2019-present): Part-Time Research Administrator on the European Research Council (ERC) funded project, 'Modern Marronage: the Pursuit and Practice of Freedom in the Contemporary World' at the University of Bristol. 

(2018-19): ESRC Research Assistant for the ESRC-GRCF Strategic Networks Grant Scheme titled ‘Beyond Trafficking and Slavery: Towards Decent Work for All’, led by Professor Prabha Kotiswaran, Dickson Poon School of Law, King’s College, University of London.

(2016): Summer School Research Scholar at the Cambridge Centre for Applied Research in Human Trafficking, University of Cambridge.


  • (2019-present) Member, Working People's Charter, a collective of over 150 informal worker organisations, representing the aspirations of over 500 million informal workers in India.
  • (2018-present) Management Committee Member, Migration Mobilities Bristol, Specialist Research Institute, University of Bristol.
  • (2018-19) Member, Socio-Legal Studies Association (SLSA).
  • (2018-19) Member, British Association for South Asian Studies (BASAS).


(2020): 'Stuck in the middle: Perpetual denial of rights to Indian migrant informal workers', Futures of Work, available here. 

(2020): 'Waiting as domination, Waiting as resistance', The Sociological Review blog, available here.

(2019): ‘Can we really spot slavery from space?’, Beyond Trafficking and Slavery (BTS) OpenDemocracy, available here.

(2019): ''Stop talking; listen to me first!' Fieldwork in India', Migration Mobilities Bristol, available here.


(2019): Edited a manual outlining the legal, social and economic rights of domestic workers in Delhi for the Delhi Gharelu Kamgar Sangathan, an informal union of domestic workers in Delhi.

(2017): Conceptualised and prepared a handbook of guidelines for the understanding and implementation of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 in UK for the Department for International Development (DFID).

(2017): Created a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) in association with the National Human Rights Commission in India on laws and investigation of cases relating to child labour, bonded labour, sexual exploitation. 

(2016): Prepared a study report on the closure of Ganga Jamuna red light area in Nagpur, India, based on interviews with Save the Children, India.

(2015): Successfully investigated, evaluated, and submitted a report to the Delhi Government on the migration of 11 children from Nepal to India (post the 2015 Nepal earthquake) for commercial sexual exploitation at Delhi’s red-light area, G.B. Road.                                      

(2015): Assisted a committee set up by the Honourable Supreme Court of India to amend the ‘Immoral Traffic Prevention Act 1956’.

(2015): Conceptualised and authored a handbook on Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for the Police to investigate cases of forced labour and sexual exploitation in India for the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India.  

(2014): Assisted Dr P.M. Nair, Chair Professor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, in editing and compiling a research study titled, ‘Quantitative Research on Survivors of Cross-Border Trafficking in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal’. 

(2014): Reviewed and offered suggestions on the following research studies - ‘Community-Based Models of Prevention of Human Trafficking’, ‘Compendium of Standard Operating Procedures on Human Trafficking’ (submitted to the apex committee set up by the Honourable Supreme Court of India), and ‘Reintegration of Survivors of Human Trafficking’ at the UN Women South Asia Office in India.


I have completed the following professional certifications and training, in order to enhance my technical knowledge and skills in fields of interest:

(2017-18): Research methods training, the University of Bristol (Quantitative Research Methods, Advanced Qualitative Research Methods (including data analysis on NVivo11), Philosophy in Research Design Methods).

(2017-18): Training to teach undergraduates, University of Bristol.

(2015): Justice Institute Training on ‘Gender-Based Violence, Domestic and Sexual Violence in India’, conducted by the Vital Voices Global Partnership: The Prosecutor’s Resource on Violence;

(2014): Distinction in an online course on human trafficking and how it is constructed in relation to slavery by the Ohio State University, Columbus;

(2014): Merit in a certificate course by the Indira Gandhi National Open University, India on the prevention, prosecution and rehabilitation policy and law on slavery, bonded labour and child labour, including the relevant national and international conventions.


(2020): Recipient of the Alumni Grant (University of Bristol) to attend and present at the British Association for South Asian Studies Annual Conference, University of Southampton.

(2020): Recipient of the Sociological Review Conference Funding to attend and present of a paper in the Law and Society Association Annual meeting 2020 in Denver, Colorado in May 2020.

(2019-20): Recipient of the Migration Mobilities Bristol Networking Funds Award and the Bristol Doctoral College PGR Development Fund to organise a series of 3 seminars and 1 writing workshop for PhD students on various themes around fieldwork experience, leading to an edited collection of a book/report/podcasts.

seminar poster

(2019): Recipient of the post-graduate bursary to participate and present a paper titled, 'A socio-legal documentation of the legal journey of 'freed bonded labourers' and 'victims of human trafficking' in India' at the 'Critical Perspectives on Modern Slavery: Law, Policy, Society' conference at the University of Hull.

(2019): Awarded a Socio-Legal Studies Association Fieldwork Grant.

(2017-18): Recipient of the International Office Scholarship from the University of Bristol and the Tata Scholarship from the Tata Trust in India.

(2015-16): Awarded four different scholarships (the British Chevening Scholarship from the UK Government Foreign and Commonwealth Office; the Felix Scholarship from the Felix Trust (administered by SOAS, University of London); the J.N. Tata Endowment Scholarship for the Higher Education of Indians (Indian Trust); the Aga Khan Foundation International Scholarship (Indian Foundation)) to study MSc Development Studies at SOAS in 2015-16.


(2020): Paper presentation at the 2020 Qualitative Research Symposium (QRS) titled Tick tock: Unpacking temporal aspects of qualitative inquiry at the University of Bath. (funded)

(2020): Panellist at the British Sociological Forum Postgraduate Forum Regional Event, 'Facilitating Holistic Wellbeing in the Research Process at the University of Glasgow. (funded)

(2019): Panellist at the SPAIS 'Annual Gender Question Time 2019' at the University of Bristol.

(2019): Presented my working paper titled, 'Waiting Women: A socio-legal ethnography of the legal journeys of sex workers and bonded labourers in India' at the Wilberforce Institute (University of Hull) Conference, 'Critical perspectives on Modern Slavery: Law, Policy and Society. (funded)

(2019): Presented preliminary research findings, ‘Legal Journey of Bonded Labourers from Release to Rehabilitation in India’ on the ‘ITPA from the Perspective of Forced Labour’ panel at the ‘Disrupting Traffick? Assessing the Impact of Anti-Trafficking Initiatives’ conference organised by the University of Chicago at their centre in Delhi, India. (funded)


 Panel discussion

(2019): Invited speaker and panellist at the ‘Panel Discussion on Human Trafficking: Prevention, Rescue and Rehabilitation’ by the Society for Participatory Integrated Development and Arz at the Vishwa Yuvak Kendra in Delhi, India.

(2018): Student Helper, Socio-Legal Studies Association Annual Conference, University of Bristol.

(2018): Participant, Methods Master Class by Professor Jennifer Blair, University of Bristol.

(2016): Presented on the challenges faced by human rights defenders at the 8th Annual Human Rights in Asia Conference, University of Essex.


Previously, I have worked for over 5 years in India on related issues with civil society organisations, international development organisations such as the UN Women and the Government of India. This has provided me with insights and skills of working at various levels of governance with different stakeholders such as the Government Ministries and Departments, NGOs, beneficiaries, funding bodies, the police and medical professionals, besides others. For instance, my work with the UN Women South Asia Office was on projects relating to labour rights violation, gender-biased sex selection and making cities safe for women; with Bachpan Bachao Andolan in applying evidence-based research from the field to ensure stronger legislative frameworks and policies around child labour and juvenile justice systems; with other national and international organisations on the rehabilitation of female survivors of sexual exploitation by way of life skills training, training of police officers, investigating and evaluating cases of cross-border migration after the 2015 earthquake in Nepal with the Government of India, besides others in my capacity as an independent consultant.


(2020): Communications, fundraising, and coordination support to the Working People's Charter in its relief efforts for migrant informal workers across India amidst the COVID29 lockdown.

(2019): Drafting Public Interest Litigations, editing research reports and following up on cases of released bonded labourers from Haryana, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan with the Human Rights Law Network and the National Campaign Committee for the Eradication of Bonded Labourers in Delhi, India. 

(2015): Conducted life-skills sessions at the S.M.S. Centre G.B. Road (Delhi’s red-light area) with 15 children of sex workers on self-worth, goal setting, dealing with failures, dealing with emotions, dealing with change and leadership.


An artwork made by children during one of the workshops documenting their hopes, journeys of migration and life in Delhi's red-light area.


(2015): Conceptualised and directed the documentary, ‘Freedom Matters’. This documentary generated a series of actionable impact stories. It also won two major awards: the ‘HART (Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust) Prize for Human Rights 2016’. This documentary was also incorporated into the curriculum of BA Development Studies at SOAS, University of London.


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