The importance of domestic service as a growing area of occupation and employment in contemporary South Asia is marked by a surprising silence about it in historical scholarship.
The second volume of Servants’ Pasts covers the colonial and postcolonial periods. It lays out the intricate relationship between domestic work and employment in light of the growth of first, new moral regimes under colonialism and second, public avenues of employment under colonial institutions such as the municipality, school and hospital.
A ‘reformed’ language of intimacy, conjugality and ‘duties’ developed in middle-class households, which impinged on the mistress-servant relationship while a distinct grammar of ‘racialised distancing’ underpinned the relationship between Europeans and Indians. These changes redefined the social and administrative relationships between state and subjects, masters/mistresses and servants, and more broadly, between colonisers and colonised.
At the heart of this book is the claim to push for a ‘domestic turn’ in the writing of South Asian social history. The essays explore the making of the site of the domestic at each historical conjuncture in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by exploring its interaction with, and plotting its formation through laws, customs, norms, and practices.
Nitin Sinha is Senior Research Fellow, Leibniz Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin, and Principal Investigator of the European Research Council-funded project, ‘Domestic Servants in Colonial India’ (ERC-Stg. 2015–18).
Nitin Varma is Fellow, International Research Center ‘Work and Human Life Cycle in Global History (Re:Work), Berlin.